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Fire Alarm Systems

Leveraging Occupancy Tracking for Fire Code Compliance: A Guide by General Security

Published 11/28/2023 by General Security

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Fire codes aim to prevent fire hazards and ensure the safety of buildings and occupants. Adhering to fire codes is not only a legal obligation, but also a moral responsibility for your business.

However, maintaining compliance with fire codes can be challenging, especially when it comes to monitoring occupancy levels in different areas of your building. That is why General Security offers occupancy tracking systems, a smart solution that uses cutting-edge technologies to monitor occupancy levels in real-time and alert businesses of any overcrowding issues—helping you remain fire-code compliant.

This guide will help you:

  • Understand the core elements of fire codes
  • Consequences for non-adherence
  • The friction businesses frequently encounter when complying with fire codes

You’ll also be introduced to features and benefits of occupancy tracking systems, and how they can help your businesses maximize space utilization, enhance operational efficiency, and curtail fire risks.

 

Decoding Fire Codes & the Imperative of Compliance

Fire codes are the set of rules and regulations that govern the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of commercial buildings and facilities to prevent fire hazards and ensure fire safety.

Based on national standards and best practices, they are enforced by local authorities and fire departments, including the local fire marshall. Fire codes cover various aspects of fire prevention and protection, such as fire alarms, sprinklers, extinguishers, emergency exits, evacuation plans, and occupancy limits.

You can’t operate a business without abiding by them. 

 

The Importance of Fire Code Compliance

Fire code compliance is imperative to your business not only because it protects lives (and your property), but it helps you avoid liability issues and demonstrates your commitment to social responsibility. 

Protect the lives and property of building occupants from fire accidents. Fire codes ensure that your building has adequate fire detection, suppression, and evacuation systems, and that occupants—employees and customers alike—are aware of the fire emergency procedures.

Fire codes also prevent the spread of fire to neighboring buildings and minimize the environmental impact of fire incidents.

Ensure legal compliance and avoid liability issues. Businesses that fail to adhere to fire codes may face severe fines, penalties, lawsuits, and even criminal charges (involuntary manslaughter, for one, depending on where you’re located).

Fire codes also impact your insurance premiums and claims, as insurers may refuse to cover fire damages caused by non-compliance.

Demonstrate social responsibility and reputation management. Businesses that comply with fire codes show that they care about the safety and well-being of their customers, employees, and community. They also reflect the quality and professionalism of your businesses, strengthening trust and credibility.

After all, members of your community will notice if you scrimp on fire safety, taking your lack of fire extinguishers, heat detectors, or sprinklers as signals of your disregard for the lives of others. 

 

The Hazards of Non-Adherence to Fire Codes

Your refusal to adhere to fire codes can have serious and costly consequences for your business (and community), exposing you to increased fire risks, legal repercussions, and liability issues. 

Increased risk of fire accidents. Non-compliance with fire codes creates fire hazards and compromises fire safety. For instance, exceeding occupancy limits can cause overcrowding and obstruct emergency exits, making it difficult for customers and employees to escape in case of a fire.

Similarly, failing to maintain fire alarms, sprinklers, and extinguishers can impair fire detection and suppression, increasing the severity of fire incidents and damage to your assets.

Legal repercussions. Being too relaxed about fire codes can result in legal actions and sanctions from local authorities and fire departments. In fact, businesses that violate fire codes may be subject to inspections, audits, citations, fines, penalties, and even closure. In some cases, non-compliance with fire codes can also lead to criminal charges, especially if negligence or recklessness is involved.

For instance, in 2016, the owner of a warehouse in Oakland, California, where a fire killed 36 people, was charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to comply with fire codes.

Liability issues. Non-adherence to fire codes exposes your business to additional liability claims and lawsuits from victims of fire accidents or their families. Businesses that are found to be responsible for fire accidents due to non-compliance with fire codes may have to pay compensation for medical expenses, property damage, lost income, pain and suffering, or wrongful death.

Moreover, non-compliance with fire codes can also affect your insurance coverage and claims, as insurers may deny or reduce payouts for fire damages caused by your negligence.

Reputation damage. Disregarding fire codes harms the reputation of your business and erodes the trust and confidence you’ve built over time among customers, employees, and stakeholders. Businesses that are involved in fire accidents or legal issues due to non-compliance with fire codes may face negative publicity, media scrutiny, customer complaints, employee dissatisfaction, or investor backlash. 

Non-compliance can also indicate a lack of quality and professionalism, and further affect the competitiveness and profitability of your business.

Still, while fire code compliance is paramount for a business, that doesn’t make adherence any less onerous. 

 

The Friction Experienced With Being Fire Code Compliant

To be frank, fire code compliance can feel burdensome, to the point of inflaming your already exhausted morale as a business owner—especially when it comes to monitoring occupancy levels in different parts of your building.

You’re not alone in the frustrations you may experience.

Fire codes are complex and vary dramatically. Plus, effectively monitoring occupancy levels can be expensive. Here are just a few of the pains business owners may experience when becoming compliant.

Complexity and variability of fire codes. Fire codes are labyrinthine and vary depending on the location, type, size, and commercial use of your building. You have to keep track of those that apply to your specific situation, and ensure that you meet the local requirements and standards. Fire codes are also subject to change and update, and you have to stay informed and adapt to the changes accordingly.

Difficulty and cost of occupancy monitoring. Monitoring occupancy levels is one of the key aspects of fire code compliance, as it ensures that the number of people in a building or area does not exceed the maximum allowed capacity.

However, monitoring occupancy levels can be strenuous and resource heavy, as it requires manual counting, estimation, or verification. Manual occupancy monitoring can also be inaccurate, unreliable, time-consuming, and labor-intensive, and pose privacy and security risks.

Lack of awareness and enforcement. Some business owners are not aware of the fire codes that apply to them, or the importance and benefits of complying with them. Sometimes they lack the knowledge, skills, or resources to effectively comply with fire codes. In other cases, they face resistance or indifference from customers, employees, or managers.

On the other hand, some businesses may not face adequate enforcement or inspection from authorities or fire departments, and may not feel the urgency or incentive to comply with fire codes. While it may seem like a blessing to have more relaxed enforcement—and less stressful—their oversights can increase your liability risk, such as overlooking a safety threat that eventually results in, well, a large and destructive fire. 

 

Occupancy Tracking: A Reliable Aid for Fire Code Compliance

Occupancy tracking systems are smart solutions that use cutting-edge technologies to monitor occupancy levels in real-time and alert you of any overcrowding issues. This automated approach gives you added peace of mind, paring down your stress levels while enhancing the safety of your employees and patrons. 

These automated systems help you comply with fire codes in a few significant ways.

Provide accurate and reliable occupancy data using advanced technologies. These include video analytics and motion detection that count and track the number of people entering and exiting a building or area. They provide accurate and reliable occupancy data by eliminating human error and the uncertainties of manual occupancy monitoring.

Send automated alerts and notifications when the occupancy levels reach or exceed the maximum allowed capacity. Smart occupancy tracking systems can also display the occupancy data on digital signage or mobile devices, and inform the customers, employees, or managers of the occupancy status and availability of space (though some business owners feel that adds an objectionable element to customer experience).

Enable data analytics and reporting that store and analyze your occupancy data. Smart occupancy tracking systems will also help you understand your occupancy patterns and trends, and assist in optimizing space utilization and allocation. And they make becoming fire compliant easier, as well, providing you with ample evidence and documentation. 

Feature automated alerts and notifications to help you take timely and appropriate actions. This includes restricting access, diverting traffic, or evacuating the premises, and avoiding fire hazards and legal issues.

 

Technical Features of Smart Occupancy Tracking Systems

As far as nuts and bolts go, smart occupancy tracking systems consist of four major components: sensors, the network, software, and the user interface.

Sensors

Devices that detect and measure physical phenomena, sensors can perceive heat, light, motion, and sound. Several different types of sensors are used for occupancy tracking, including passive infrared (PIR), infrared time-of-flight (ToF), ultrasonic, acoustic, or camera-based sensors. 

The Network

A system that connects your sensors and other devices, the network is typically built on a central server or cloud platform, enabling unhindered transmission and communication of occupancy data and commands. Networks can use various technologies and protocols, such as wired, wireless, cellular, or the Internet of Things (IoT).

Software

This is the program that actually processes, analyzes, and displays your occupancy data and alerts. Software capabilities feature real-time occupancy monitoring, automated alerts and notifications, data analytics and reporting, space planning and optimization, resource management and scheduling, cleaning and maintenance administration, and security.

User Interface

This is what enables you and your team members to interact with the software and occupancy data. The user interface can integrate different tools and formats, such as digital signage, mobile devices, web browsers, or dashboards. It can also provide various information and options including occupancy status and availability, booking and reservation, alerts and notifications, and reports and insights.

 

Other Benefits of Smart Occupancy Tracking Systems

In addition to making fire code compliance more straightforward (and more effective), smart occupancy tracking systems bring with them several other business benefits.  

Optimize space allocation and layout. Occupancy data can be used to determine the optimal size, shape, and location of your rooms, zones, and sections, adjusting them according to the demand and preference of your customers and employees. For example, a retail store can use the occupancy data to identify the most and least visited areas, and rearrange merchandise, displays, and signage accordingly .

Improve staffing and scheduling. With occupancy data, you can forecast peak and off-peak hours, days, and seasons, and plan your staffing and scheduling accordingly. For instance, restaurants can use occupancy data to allocate staff, tables, and reservations based on the estimated number of customers and their arrival and departure times. 

Enhance inventory and supply chain management. You can monitor the consumption and replenishment of your inventory and supplies, and optimize ordering and delivery processes. For example, hotels can use the occupancy data to track the usage and availability of their rooms, amenities, and services to better manage their inventory and supply chain.

 

Partner With General Security for Occupancy Tracking & More

These are but a few of the advantages that come with integrating a smart occupancy tracking system into your business. There are many more. As a seasoned commercial security, crowd management, and monitoring provider, General Security will help you generate other ways to utilize occupancy tracking to enhance your business.

Alongside Alarm.com’s Business Activity Analytics, we employ cameras, thermostats, security systems and rules to create multiple solutions that will enhance your business:

  • Crowd Gathering –  Receive real-time crowd alerts to inform you of a potential incident or track historical crowd trends to analyze and help prevent overcrowding and customer dissatisfaction.

  • Heat Mapping - Visualize movement in an area during a specified date and time range using a heat map, creating a virtual ground zone to track where people spend the most time within a given area.

  • Occupancy Tracking – Get notifications to help stay within fire code and safety regulations and establish labor schedules knowing which times of the day are busier than others.

  • People Counting - Measure foot traffic through a specific area of your business, optimizing product placement and building layout.

  • Queue Monitoring – Track how long customers are waiting in line, refining the overall customer experience.

  • Business Temperature Monitoring - Smarter Business Temperature Monitoring (SBTM) provides affordable, 24x7 monitoring and real-time equipment alerts to support the temperature control needs of restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other business properties.

    Fully integrated with the Alarm.com’s ecosystem, the advanced temperature monitoring solution saves business owners time and money, enabling you to quickly set schedules and address problems before they create unsafe conditions or require costly repairs.

So, if you’re eager for more mental freedom and assurance, as you become (or remain) fire code compliant, a smart occupancy tracking system should be front of mind. Your business really can’t afford to operate without one. 

General Security provides smart occupancy tracking and other security technology to protect businesses of all sizes across multiple industries. Request a free quote today!


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