The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist

Upgrade Planned for Aging Dorm Fire Safety Systems

By Karen E. Robinson

New fire alarm systems will be installed in all dormitories over the course of the next six years. Permanent alarm replacements will begin this spring or early summer.

Upgrades start with East Campus

Most of the systems on campus will need to be upgraded, according to Facilities Utility Systems Group Senior Engineer William P. Wohlfarth. Like anything electronic, “fire alarm systems get out of date pretty quickly,” he said.

Dormitories “are the number one priority,” since there is a greater need for fire safety there than in non-residential buildings. Dormitories will receive a “total upgrade on fire safety systems,” Wohlfarth said, including new audible alarms, detection systems, sprinkler systems, and fire doors.

According to Christopher Nolan, housing manager of renovations and construction, the first two buildings to have their systems replaced will be the east and west parallels of East Campus, followed by Random Hall. The order for upgrade priority was determined by criteria from the National Fire Protection Association, Nolan said.

The criteria consider construction type and the number of floors in a building as well as what systems are already in place and how complete these systems are.

East Campus repairs temporary

Temporary changes are already being made to fire systems in East Campus, Wohlfarth said. The main focus of these changes is to improve the audible alarms, increasing both the sound level and duration of alarm, to address reports of students not hearing alarms in the past. The older systems have a built-in limitation on the sound level and length of sound, Wohlfarth said.

The temporary measures at EC will be completed by the first of December, Wohlfarth said, and they may be finished as early as Thanksgiving vacation.

Although the whole system will be replaced in the spring, the Facilities Utility Systems Group “felt it was best to take some prudent measures,” Wohlfarth said.

“We will continue to do that in dorms where it makes sense” he said. Wohlfarth said that the architecture of fire alarm systems in EC lends itself to simple temporary measures.

Bexley Hall has a similar system, so similar temporary measures will be put in place there soon after the winter break. These changes are “timely, and not a big investment,” he said. Bexley is not slated for a complete system overhaul for another year or so, Wohlfarth said.

Temporary measures will not be taken in Random Hall, which will receive the next overhaul after EC, because it is a more difficult system to temporarily upgrade. “The Random system isn’t in that bad a shape,” Wohlfarth added.

Temporary measures include conversion of some wiring inside the fire systems to direct current, replacement of actual alarm devices with louder, longer alarms, and installation of a computerized panel to interface the existing system.