A new life safety system at the Children’s Museum of Denver has made believers out of early skeptics, who now see the benefits of providing visitors with easy-to-understand cues for finding an exit in the event of a fire.
The Children's Museum of Denver takes pride in offering surprises around every corner amidst its interactive displays, providing playful learning experiences for children. But museum management realized that the facility's fun-filled mazes of displays, which spans three floors, could make it difficult for visitors to find an exit in the event of a fire.

Per an agreement made with the City of Denver, the museum was allowed to open its 12,000-sq-ft facility with just a basic fire detection system. The museum would, however, eventually need to upgrade its fire and life safety systems to compensate for the lack of an adequate water supply and fire department access. When the time came to make good on this agreement, museum management enlisted the help of System Sensor and several Denver area installers and consultants, among others, to get the job done.

Sounding ‘On'

The museum enhanced its fire and life safety system earlier this year with the addition of duct and open area detectors, manual pull stations at its exits, System Sensor horns and strobes, and a Notifier intelligent fire alarm control panel with a remote annunciator, which has a zone map of the building for fire department use.

Surrounding all this is System Sensor's ExitPoint directional sound system, which, in the event of an emergency, is activated in conjunction with the building's other fire and life safety systems for enhanced personal protection. The system deploys a series of sounders along a perimeter route that emit non-verbal cues, which evacuees intuitively know to follow to reach an exit. The system operates very effectively in all conditions, particularly in smoke-filled environments where visual signage would be difficult, if not impossible, to see.

According to Dave Boswell, director of business development for Hughes Associates, the engineering firm for the project, ExitPoint is a good fit for the type of populations the museum serves. "The nature of the museum lends itself to this type of technology by the fact that you've got a transient occupancy," he said.

As many as 90% of the people in the museum at any given time aren't familiar with the building's layout, Boswell estimated, so giving the more than 225,000 annual visitors clear, easy-to-understand exit cues is a real benefit.

Testing, Testing, One, Two...

On-site tests made believers out of representatives from the City of Denver and local fire and building officials who had never heard of ExitPoint and were skeptical about it. Tests included sending a blindfolded firefighter down a staircase to a main-level exit and having test subjects find their way around numerous room partitions to an outside exit.

Denver's chief fire protection engineer had voiced concerns that the system might interfere with the evacuation signal for the museum's fire alarm system. Hughes Associates and the City of Denver agreed to a compromise: ExitPoint would go on an independent circuit. That way, said Boswell, "if the fire department wanted to, it could silence ExitPoint without silencing the fire alarm signal."

Larry Cleveland, president of Fire Detection Systems LLC, the engineered systems distributor that installed ExitPoint, said that although having ExitPoint on a separate circuit is not necessary, it could have its advantages. For example, when people hear a fire alarm, they're often complacent at first. Cleveland said horns and strobes do a good job of alerting people that they need to evacuate the building, which can be an especially difficult task with children who have trouble disengaging from their activities. Although the museum has chosen to have ExitPoint and the fire alarm go off simultaneously, having the former on an independent circuit does enable the option of programming the initial attention-getting alarm to go off first and then have ExitPoint start seconds later.

Serving people with special needs emerged as a plus for ExitPoint. "One of the major criteria for recommending ExitPoint is that it would clearly enhance egress for people that were visually impaired," said Boswell.

Cleveland concurs. "This is a bigger deal for the blind than strobes are for the hearing impaired, mainly because the hearing impaired can see the excitement and people fleeing. A blind person can't. The nominal extra cost to install ExitPoint along with a typical fire alarm system is money worth spent in any application."ES