What is an EVCS?

An EVCS (Emergency Voice Communication System) is a fixed, monitored and maintained, bidirectional, full duplex voice communication system to assist the orderly evacuation of disabled or mobility impaired people and enhance firefighters communication during emergencies.

Intended uses for an EVCS

In the first stages of evacuation, before the fire and rescue service arrives the EVC system may be used between the control room and say fire wardens/marshalls on various floors or stewards at a sports venue.

Typically, a call can be made from a floor to advise the control centre that the floor has been cleared.

The fire and rescue service would normally take control of the evacuation upon arrival at site, with a fire officer at the control centre communicating with other officers via the EVC system.

During the course of a fire, the fire and rescue service would continue to use the EVCS to assist fire fighting. A disabled person or anyone who is not able to use an escape route would be able to identify their presence and communicate with the control centre.

Disabled Refuge

A Disabled Refuge area is a relatively safe place where people who cannot easily use fire escapes and evacuation lifts may call for assistance and wait while the main building occupancy is evacuated. This allows building management and emergency services to safely assist these people from the building when stairwell crowding has eased.

Simple, effective two way communication (Refuge system) in these areas is essential; firstly to assist rescue teams in determining where assistance is required and secondly to reassure people help is on the way.

Mobility impairment is defined as not being able to walk 200m continuously without aid, and includes arthritis sufferers, people with leg and back injuries and women over 6 months term pregnancy.

When is a Disabled Refuge required?

Disabled refuge systems are required in the UK in all non domestic premises over 1 storey or where an emergency exit is by stairs (for a full description see building regulations approved document B).

More generally as required by the appropriate regulation and/or a fire risk assessment particularly where there are disabled people or people who may have difficulty negotiating the evacuation route.

Purpose-built student living accommodation including that in the form of flats, should be treated as hotel/motel accommodation in relation to space and facilities required.

Where should Disabled Refuges be placed?

A refuge should be provided for each stairway. It need not always be located in the stairway but should have direct across to stairway.

Each refuge should provide an accessible area to a wheelchair of at least 900mm x 1400mm and the wheelchair should not reduce the width of the escape route.

Refuge spaces need not equal number of wheelchair users. If steps are located at final exit then an outstation is required.

A Disabled Refuge system is not just for use during a fire, it must be available at all times and MUST NOT BE DISABLED OUTSIDE OF A FIRE EMERGENCY (for a full description see building regulations approved document B).

Refuges and evacuation lifts should be clearly identified with appropriate fire safety signs and when a refuge is in a lobby or stairway the sign should also have blue mandatory sign worded “Refuge – Keep clear”.

Refuge outstations should be wall mounted between 0.9m and 1.2 m above the ground in an easily accessible, well lit position with low background noise.

Fire Telephone Systems

Fire telephones are hardwired full duplex communications systems with monitoring and battery backup, and are required in buildings over 4 storeys in many countries in the world (in the UK this is governed by BS9999).

These are provided as a backup to traditional fireman’s radio systems, which can fail to operate in many high rise environments due to the large amount of steel in the building, and the “corona” effect of fire on radio broadcasts.

When both disabled refuge and fire telephone systems are installed in a building they should form a single system.

Fire telephones are also required in fire fighting lift lobbies when these lifts are provided within a building.

Fire telephones can also be used for wardens to call the control point during fire drills and primary evacuation phases before the fire and rescue services arrive and assume control.

They should also be installed In buildings when the shape, size or type requires communication between remote locations and the central control point such as in sports venues, to assist stewards in controlling the evacuation.

Where should Fire Telephones be placed?

In tall buildings with phased evacuation an internal speech communication system should be provided for speech between a control point and rescue services on every storey.

Type A outstations should be located at every fire fighting entrance point, fire escape landing and fire fighting lobby. They should be wall mounted 1.3m to 1.4m above ground, easily accessible in well lit and low background noise.

In sports stadiums, they should be no more than 30m from a stewards position or other normally manned area e.g. turnstile, police rooms and senior officials.

Emergency Assist Alarm

An emergency assist alarm is defined in Building Regulations Approved Document M, and must be provided at all disabled toilets within a non domestic premises.

If the toilet is in a non permanently occupied space, remote indication must be provided at a central control or monitoring point.

An emergency assist alarm can only be reset by attending the location of the call, so the reset point is within the cubical. also allowing accidental calls to be cancelled by the toilet occupier.

The emergency assist alarm should be fully monitored in line with the specification described in BS8300.

It has now become very common for the disabled toilet to be specified as part of the refuge system, and by integrating it with the Emergency Voice Communication System all calls relating to disabled communications can be displayed in a single point.