Your Attention Please

The voice evacuation system is, in my opinion, a vastly underused and underappreciated piece of the fire safety arsenal. Everyone knows the monotonous tone of a fire alarm bell and the high pitched screech of a siren, but not many get to hear the dulcet tones of a Public Address Voice Alarm system announcing that there is a fire in the building.

There is clear scientific proof that people respond better to the sound of a voice command rather than the shriek of a siren, we’ve become so used to the background noise that we very rarely respond to sirens without further input. In a fire alarm situation this would more than likely be a fire warden shepherding us out of the building. The BS9999 code of practice for fire safety design allows voice evacuation text to be used to help mitigate risk profiling in certain circumstances.

I recently visited a large retail outlet for a client and whilst there the fire alarm was accidentally detonated. The system had an evacuation delay and a voice evacuation system. The voice evacuation system announced that the fire alarm had been activated, staff were investigating and guests should standby by for a possible evacuation. Unfortunately, the cause of the activation could not be found and the site had to be evacuated. The voice evacuation system announced that there was a genuine fire situation and that they should immediately leave the building.

I have carried out evacuation drills for many clients but this was the first with the voice evacuation system. The shoppers along with the staff immediately started moving towards the exit and the entire premises was evacuated in no time at all.

When we carry out fire training we discuss the fact that people want to define a situation before they respond to it and you can see this with alarms. Nowadays an alarm could be a security sensor, a car alarm or fire alarm so people stand there seemingly wanting more input before they go to the exit. The voice evacuation gives them the clear and concise instructions that call them to action.