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Guidance to Schools for Unplanned Fire Alarms

Freedom to Exit

  • In general, exits and means of egress may not be locked or obstructed in any manner that would deny the public a continuous and unobstructed means of egress.
  • This is to ensure occupants of a structure are provided with a safe and quick means of escape from dangers that may be present in a building.

Options In the Event of an Unplanned Fire Alarm Activation

  • In 2018, the Indiana Legislature directed the State Fire Marshal to provide written guidance to school administrators, teachers and students regarding options available during an unplanned fire alarm. Recently, we’ve seen fire alarms used to lure students and teachers out into the open during active shooter incidents instead of being used to save lives as they are intended. In 2021, the Indiana Legislature modified how schools should respond to unplanned fire alarms. I am sending this message out to all schools throughout Indiana to provide guidance as to what is an appropriate response during an unplanned fire alarm in a school building.
  • Effective July 1, 2021, schools should no longer barricade or block a door during an unplanned fire alarm activation. Schools are required to develop a plan to address unplanned fire alarm activations which includes evacuation of the building when the alarm is heard and compliance with fire and building safety regulations.
  • If a school is equipped with a positive sequence fire alarm system, the school may develop a plan to investigate an unplanned fire alarm activation before activating the audible and visible alarms requiring evacuation. Such a plan must include a designated school official with proper training to acknowledge an alarm has been activated and initiate an investigation within 15 seconds. These schools can secure-in-place for up to 3 minutes in order for the designated school official to investigate the unplanned fire alarm activation. Following the 3-minute period, the school must evacuate, unless an active shooter is verified to be on the school’s property.

Other Methods to Eliminate Dangers Associated with Threat of Active Shooters

  • Removal of publicly accessible fire alarm pull stations in accordance with applicable building and fire safety codes
  • Monitoring fire alarm pull stations
  • Installation of a fire alarm panel that allows for "positive sequence fire alarm.” By utilizing this method, when a fire alarm is pulled, the alarm delays activation for 3 minutes to allow school officials to investigate the cause of the alarm. However, the use of this method does not permit the barricading or blocking of doors to occur for an additional 3 minutes following this delay.
  • Consider installing a fire sprinkler system if your building does not currently have one. This may eliminate the requirement for fire-rated classroom doors and provides more flexibility for future modifications to school buildings.

What Is Not Allowed

  • Anything that restricts exiting or egress from the building.
  • Magnetic strips or hold-open devices, if used on a fire-rated door.

References