On December 1, 1958, a fire broke out in the basement of Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. Due to a grandfather clause in building construction, the school did not have to comply with upgrades to the Illinois Fire Code. The school was well-maintained, clean and relatively modern. However, the school’s failure to have important updates in fire prevention led to this tragedy. The building had only one fire escape, no direct alarm wire to the Chicago Fire Department, no heat detectors, no automatic fire sensor, no fire doors and no sprinkler system. There were two unmarked fire alarm switches and only four fire extinguishers, mounted out of the reach of all the children and most of the adult staff, seven feet off the floor.
In the aftermath, 92 children and three nuns perished. A year after this tragedy, 16,500 older school buildings in the US were brought up to modern fire code.
We all remember fire drills from our school years. At surprise intervals, the fire alarm system was tested for its performance and ability to notify all students and teachers of a fire. Student preparedness was also critical to these drills, as knowing how to react without panic or emotional duress is just as important as a warning klaxon or strobe light.
This system is impressive in that, even as adults, we instinctively know what to do when we hear a fire alarm. And it’s so effective that not a single child has died in a school fire since 1958.
Not a single fatality.
In 60 years.
In that same time frame, 458 students have been murdered in by active shooters in schools and colleges. Why are these fire drills and alarms systems so effective? What makes them work?
The answer is layering.
Layer: a fire alarm klaxon, that makes a loud noise that every can hear clearly and easily recognize.
Layer: sprinklers. When they get hot, they activate and suppress the fire with water, slowing its spread.
Layer: backlit exit sign. With an attached battery backup, the sign will light up indefinitely, showing anyone who views it how to escape the building.
Layer: human drilling and practice. This reinforces the process, creates familiarity with all the other layers and allows a calm process to be followed without taxing critical thinking skills that can lead to panic.
The merger of reliable technology and consistent reinforcement of best actions through assessment and drilling have reduced the number of fatalities in school fires to zero. School fires still occur, to be certain. There are even a few injuries every year. But ZERO fatalities.
There is now a ‘fire alarm’ for the active shooter nightmare. With the Guardian Indoor Gunshot Detection System, first responders, and occupants receive real-time location and confirmation of a gunshot inside a building, and act with confidence instead of fear and panic. Law enforcement gains tactical intelligence to stop the threat, and everyone inside can follow their processes for crisis management safely and confidently but most importantly, faster.
In response to the vicious and hateful attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, SOS has committed to bringing this life saving technology to particularly at-risk faith centers and places of worship, along with schools both public and private, and sites around the country. We will not watch as these attacks of senseless hate and violence continue to hurt our communities and our hearts, and take the lives of loved ones & friends.