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Tall Buildings: Why Dynamic Signage is no Longer Optional


A review of a recent webinar held with Fire Safety Matters Magazine
Buildings are getting bigger. 2019 was a record year, with 26 structures built at 300 metres or higher. With the height of buildings increasing by the day, emergency evacuation has become less one dimensional and complex. An increase in building size creates an increase in complexity. The larger or taller the building is, the more complex the evacuation routes become making decision making more frequent and more critical increasing the time it takes for occupants to escape increasing risk accordingly. This is why dynamic signage is becoming a necessity, not an option. 

Alan Ward, commercial director and dynamic signage expert at Evaclite explained the importance of dynamic signage and why it matters at a recent hour-long webinar with Fire Safety Matters magazine. 

Let’s start with the basics, what’s the purpose of dynamic signage?
Alan starts the webinar by painting a picture of a typical scenario of where and how dynamic signage comes into play: “We’re in a meeting in the office. The alarm goes off. What do we do? Well, we sit there for a while. We stare at each other. We wait to see what happens. We check that we have our phone and wallet to hand. Then we’ll make a decision as to whether to move and in which direction.” 

Ward is referencing a few separate factors, specifically, the detection time, alarm time, recognition time, response time and the movement time. 

Two types of escape time exist; there’s the required amount of time you have to exit the building in an emergency and the available time you have in reality, given the circumstances. The time you need versus the time you’ve got.

The difference between these two times is the safety factor (or risk interval). The available egress time will reduce if the fire worsens. Alan perfectly sums this up in this statement: “The available time minus the required time must be positive to be safe. In order to make buildings as safe as possible, fire engineers typically add-in a safety factor at the design stage and seek to make this as large as possible in order to reduce the risk for occupants. Dynamic signage increases that safety factor.” 

Tall buildings are only getting taller
In 1985 ISO adopted the ‘running man’ legend that we all know and recognise today.  However, a lot has changed since then. In 1985 the tallest building in the world was The Sears Tower, in Chicago.  The tower stands at 443 metres with 110 storeys. However, now the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, standing at 828 metres with 162 floors or nearly twice as tall as the Sears Tower or three times the Eiffel Tower.   

The EU framework, Project ‘Getaway’ and the stats
During the interview, Alan referenced the EU Framework Project named ‘Getaway’. This experiment confirmed Evaclite’s belief; only 38% of us see emergency exit signs when exiting a building. Even if occupants do see the signs, there is a strong likelihood that they will either ignore them and/or simply go out the same way they came in.

Every second counts in an emergency. Larger buildings are three dimensional, of course, making exit decisions even more complicated. With passive signage, such a decision for example whether to go left or right or up or down typically takes 5.5 seconds every time an occupant sees a sign. Using dynamic signage, it is around 2.6 seconds so less than half the time.

Dynamic exit signs display a green pulsing arrow when a fire alarm is activated if the exit route is safe. If the exit route is obstructed or compromised and therefore unsafe, the sign will switch to a red cross. Dynamic signs enable quicker decision making and help ensure occupants head for the nearest, safest exit every time. The can lessen the average exit time per person by nearly one fifth (18%) and enable everyone to walk an average of 12% less distance to an exit. 

Evaclite’s message hits home
The EU framework project confirmed that twice as many people see a dynamic sign in an emergency than a static one. Dynamic signage also reduces congestion when exiting a building by over a third (36%) by ensuring everyone goes to their nearest, safest exit. Blue-chip brands such as AECOM, Barclays, CBRE, Premier Inn and Rolls-Royce also recognise the benefits of dynamic signage and are a few examples of some of the companies talking to Evaclite about dynamic signage.

On the day of the webinar, one of the most asked questions was ‘what are the key issues to be considered by end-users when deciding on the deployment of dynamic signage?’ Alan’s immediate response to this question was “What’s the cost to the host organisation of not making its building as safe as it could be?” and, “How important is the security and safety of the staff? In reality, there’s nothing more important. If an organisation knows an obvious way in which to improve its existing fire safety solutions, then why wouldn’t it?” 

If the end-user is undecided on whether to implement dynamic signage, there’s a broader conversation to be had. Again, there are questions they must ask themselves. Alan questioned, “Do they realise the ineffective nature of the standard, passive emergency exit signage?” and, “What’s their attitude to risk? Is compliance (a minimum standard) enough, or are they looking for greater safety performance? Do they have a specific evacuation or safety problem?” 

A proactive approach to fire safety
The question that the end-user should ask themselves is this; ”Can I sleep well at night knowing that my building is safe enough, or, is there something more I can do?  Should I adopt a more proactive approach to making and keeping my people safe?”  How would you feel if a fire or similar emergency occurred resulting in injury or even death and you knew that this may have been prevented for as little as a few thousand?

Assuming the end-user has direct responsibility for a building or a business, do they understand the liability they carry with regards to building safety? Are they aware that, if a catastrophic blaze happens and deaths and injuries ensue, they can be held personally accountable with the potential of an unlimited fine and even a prison sentence should they be found wanting? It’s a grounding thought, but also reaffirms the importance of having the correct safety system in place. 

What do the standards say?
There is a clear trend in British Standards towards dynamic signage becoming the norm. In May 2016, BS 5266-1 started to reference developments in emergency lighting applications and technology. In June last year, Clause 14 of BS 7273-6 spoke about lighting, intelligent signage and wayfinding. The clause states: “In addition, if dynamic safety sign systems are used to direct users towards escape routes that are still safe and away from those contaminated by smoke or fire, then the information from the fire detection and fire alarm system is one of the major control inputs.”

There is no doubt that British Standards are pointing towards all emergency exit signs being made dynamic. Based on the points made in this webinar alone, it’s difficult to argue with that end game.

So why wait? Make your people safer by specifying or buying dynamic signage today. If you’d like to find out more, watch the full free webinar in conjunction with FSM, click here to view the webinar on-demand now.