Fire Alarm Strobe Synchronization: Why Is This NFPA Requirement So Important?

Strobe-Courtesy of System Sensor/HoneywellIf you have ever witnessed a commercial fire alarm inspection and wondered why fire alarm strobe synchronization is so important, then you should take a minute to read this article I wrote specifically for you.

What Do We Mean — Synchronization?

By synchronization, we’re talking about how the strobes flash in unison with each other.

If you are a building engineer or commercial property manager, you should already know that your fire alarm strobe lights must be synchronized, but do you know the reason why?

Americans with Disabilities Act

In the 1996 edition of NFPA 72, a new fire alarm code was added concerning strobe synchronization to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

As of today’s date, strobe synchronization is also a requirement set forth by ANSI 117.1 (National Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities and UL Standard 1971 (Signaling Devices for the Hearing Impaired).

The reason behind this national code requirement is to help prevent what is called photosensitive epilepsy.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation’s website*, three percent of epileptics that are exposed to flashing lights (at certain intensities or to certain visual patterns) are susceptible to life-threatening seizures.

Three percent may not sound like a lot, but there over 3 million people who suffer from epilepsy in America alone. This three percent equates to around 90,000 people who are affected.

Without getting too technical, let me quickly explain this in simple, layman’s terms.

Normally, the fire alarm strobes rate is 1 HZ (Hertz) which translates to one flash per second, but if a room or hallway has, let’s say, two or three strobe lights within line of sight, they now have the potential of appearing to flash two to three times per second.

As you can see, without strobes having the proper synchronization, there is a very high chance that these flashes would be sporadic and not in any particular flash sequence. These sporadic flashes could cause dangerous seizures in those diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy.

If you have any construction projects, such as upgrades or build-outs being performed in your building, check with your fire alarm company or your local fire marshal to insure your upgraded fire alarm strobes meet these minimum requirements.

For more detailed information concerning epileptic photosensitivity, please visit: http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/about/photosensitivity/

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