Fire Safety Unit

Fire warning system

Fire warning system - design, isolation and unwanted fire alarm signals

Fire warning system design

The vast majority of University premises will have a means for detecting fire and for giving warning in the event of a fire. An automatic fire alarm (AFA) system will typically consist of a series of sensors that are capable of monitoring the atmosphere for carbon monoxide (CO), heat or smoke, as well as a main control panel, sounders and call points.

Such systems allow the building to be used in a safe environment in the knowledge that should a fire occur it will be detected swiftly and the alarm raised.

In any event, where a fire warning system fails, the Fire Safety Unit requires to be informed. This will allow a review of the fire risk assessment to be undertaken and appropriate steps taken to minimise the risk. 

In some instances a pre-warning alarm procedure can be used to give an interim warning before full evacuation. It is imperative that all building users are familiar with the system where this is adopted and the persons who have responsibilities for investigating the initial alarm are trained in all aspects of the duties they are expected to undertake.

In the majority of cases the activation of a fire warning system will require evacuation to be undertaken in one of the following ways;

  • simultaneous, where all occupants evacuate the building at the same time
  • phased, where some occupants evacuate parts of the building before others or
  • progressive, horizontal evacuation, where occupants leave the compartment of fire origin to adjacent compartments leading to a storey exit

Additionally, modern fire warning systems can allow for a number of options in regard to investigation periods that can eradicate false alarms and the inconvenience they cause and further advice is available from the Fire Safety Unit.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service update – ‘Time for Change’

How the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service responds to fire alarm activations is changing.

On 1 July 2023 the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will adopt their new national procedure called ‘Time for Change’.

They will no longer automatically respond to any public and private business buildings with an automatic fire alarm (AFA) activation. The only exemption for this procedure covers buildings that provide sleeping accommodation.

You can read more about the SFRS strategy which covers the whole of Scotland at: Scottish Fire and Rescue Service | Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals (UFAS)

University procedure

In consultation with the SFRS, the University has therefore established a procedure whereby all of the University’s AFAs will be investigated by trained Security Services (Estates) staff, to ascertain if the SFRS is required to attend.

This is a rapid response available on all of our campuses. In a limited number of buildings, local staff have been trained for specific reasons to be part of the response plan.

The new procedure does not affect our existing building fire evacuation plans for students, staff and visitors. 

All School Safety Advisers have been briefed and Security staff have been trained.

Start date

The University will commence this new procedure on Monday 1 May 2023. This date allows us to properly introduce this significant change in a controlled manner and ensure it is fully embedded before the SFRS withdraw their immediate response to fire alerts in July 2023.


You can direct any questions to either your local School Safety Adviser  or alternatively please contact the Fire Safety Unit at

Isolation of a fire warning system

Occasionally the isolation of specific areas of a fire warning system may be required. Careful consideration requires to be given in such circumstances, as isolating areas unnecessarily can have a negative impact on the safety of occupiers and compromise the integrity of a building.

Where it is necessary to isolate a system the following table should be used as guide to assist the decision making process and where any doubt exists guidance or advice should be sought from the Fire Safety Unit.

Isolation of fire warning system
Event Area Action
Small remedial works Single room or small area with < 5 sensors

The covering of a single sensor is acceptable following a risk assessment due to small remedial works in an area. This must be managed and authorised through the relevant School and Department building manager/relevant member of staff. All bags must be removed after the completion of works and conducted during office hours.

Planned contractual works >5 sensors within a single apartment/floor Sensors may be isolated where suitable arrangements are made with the incumbent contractual alarm engineers to effect this. Where excessive dust is likely to be produced as a result of any works consideration should be given to shielding the devices to reduce contamination. The system will require to be reinstated as soon as is practicable and where works are likely to be prolonged the requirement for suitable review of the Fire Risk Assessment will be required.*
Larger contractual works More than a single floor area or fire compartment A temporary system of CO or heat sensors requires to be provided and interfaced to the premises existing Fire Warning System (subject to a review of the Fire Risk Assessment*)

*Any reference to a Fire Risk Assessment for modification requires to be undertaken by the Fire Safety Unit.

Failure of fire warning system

In the event of a fire alarm warning system failure the Fire Safety Unit (FSU) requires to be advised as soon as is practicable. The FSU will determine what action, if any, is required. In most circumstances a practical temporary solution can be implemented combining a form of manual warning and management processes. However, it may be necessary to restrict use and access in some circumstances due to the impact early fire warning failure may have. In the event of a protracted incident or emergency that will impact on the continued occupation of the building , then guidance given by the FSU must be followed.

Unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS)

Unwanted fire alarm signals are activations of the fire warning system that are caused by any effect other than fire. These signals ultimately erode user confidence, have a negative effect on the University’s core business and also impact unnecessarily on our community. It is the intention of the University to strive towards zero tolerance of UFAS whilst recognising the importance of fire detection systems in protecting staff, students, visitors and the build environment from the effects of fire.

UFAS will be monitored by the Fire Safety Unit and where incorrect equipment or poor practices are identified, recommendations for improvement will be made.