Surge protection for K-12 schools

Surge Protection Solutions for K-12 School Fire Alarm Systems

Protecting children in K-12 schools is always a top priority for communities, no matter where they are located. For this reason, school administrators and boards spend considerable funds to provide security and emergency systems in these schools. The range of systems in schools may include access control, lighting controls, video surveillance, and emergency call boxes, among other elements, but arguably the most important system for overall safety is the fire alarm system.

Because of the importance of fire alarm systems, they are covered by every national and local fire code. If fire alarms are not functioning, schools can only operate under a costly “fire watch”. That means ensuring fire alarm system uptime is a critical task for school administrators since damaged, non-functioning alarm systems can instantly stop all school operations until they are repaired.

Fire Alarm Systems Need Surge Protection

Today’s fire alarm systems, and their controllers and fire panels, are sensitive electronic devices that include sophisticated detection and alarm functionality. They are often equipped with multiple sensor types, annunciators, and numerous communication features including telephone, data, and cellular connections to emergency responders. Their sensitivity and interconnectivity, however, also makes them particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of power surges, which can quietly and invisibly cause damage until the entire system fails, requiring urgent action to bring it back into operation.

Example: One of the largest K-12 school districts in the Southeast was plagued by fire alarm system failures. In a relatively short timeframe, the district spent over $2,000,000 repairing and replacing fire alarm systems that were damaged or destroyed by transient surges. In frustration, the responsible Fire Systems Operations Manager contacted expert consultants to help determine the cause of these system failures.

Surge Protection Solutions for Fire Alarm Systems

Over the next few months, the technical team performed site surveys at several of the schools in the district that had experienced the most significant damage. In that study, they discovered that there was no surge protection installed on the fire alarm power supply connections, nor was protection provided on the building-to-building data lines. In this case, correcting these protection errors significantly reduced the annual costs for repairing and replacing equipment damaged by power surges.
Clearly, every sensitive electronic system should have surge protection at the supplied power connection, in addition to any surge protection that is installed at the building power entry point. This is important because damaging power surges can be created inside the building perimeter from inductive load switching, (by HVAC systems, for example) in addition to coming in through the building power connections.

Best practices for protecting sensitive electronic systems also include surge protection at both ends of all connected network equipment, as the network cabling provides a conductive path for electrical power surges. This is vital for cabling paths that run to exterior areas for emergency call boxes, video surveillance cameras, lighting controls, or any other networked electronics or sensors.
Even in areas with little or no lightning activity, exterior electronic equipment is vulnerable to the effects of wind and rain. Any device that is powered has the potential to create an electrical fault or short circuit that can transmit damaging power surges to the network cabling.

Applicable products for these uses include rackmount surge protectors for interior network rooms, as well as single channel protectors for use at the remote networked equipment. There are even special models that are built for connections exposed to extreme weather conditions. Surge protectors for networked cabling are designed to minimize signal losses while passing high-speed digital network traffic. With a modular design, they are easy to replace when needed.

There are also surge protection devices designed specifically for cellular transmitters, bi-directional amplifiers (BDA) and distributed antenna systems (DAS) that are used to ensure public safety radio systems will have sufficient coverage in an emergency situation.

The Bottom Line

K-12 school systems depend on their fire safety systems to help keep children, staff, and visitors safe. Surge protection solutions are available that can protect every entry point from electrical surges that can damage these systems and decrease their reliability and useful lives. With a simple installation process, and very modest cost, including these protections with new systems and adding them to existing unprotected systems should be an easy decision for the leadership in every school district.

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