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Towards a better smoke alarm signal - an evidence based approach

Bruck, D. and Thomas, I.R., 2008. Towards a better smoke alarm signal - an evidence based approach. Fire Safety Science 9: 403-414. doi:10.3801/IAFSS.FSS.9-403


This paper focuses on experimental findings on the waking effectiveness of different auditory signals in children, deep sleeping young adults, older adults, the hard of hearing and the alcohol impaired. Wherever possible, data is graphically presented in terms of the percentage sleeping through different sounds at 75 dBA. It includes previously unpublished data comparing the waking effectiveness of various signals in young adults who were either sober or moderately impaired with alcohol. A summary of the evidence concerning the best and worst signal shows that the 520 Hz square wave signal is at least 4 to 12 times more effective than the current high pitched signal in the populations tested. Research supporting lower frequency signals and mixed frequency signals as being the best alarms for people when awake is also discussed. It is argued that the 520 Hz square wave signal, which has been tested now in six different experimental studies, has a sufficient evidence base to warrant the recommendation for its widespread introduction as a new smoke alarm signal for the whole population. Not improving the alarm signal is likely to result in fatalities and injuries that may have been avoidable.

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