European law and regulations
Fire alarm system
In larger buildings, fire alarm and evacuation systems are required by law. The law sets out in which buildings these systems are obligatory. Fire alarm systems are required to meet very stringent regulations that cover design, components and maintenance. The standards to which a fire alarm system must comply are described in the European Normative EN 54. These systems must undergo annual testing.
In buildings where a fire alarm system is mandatory, the law also requires an evacuation system. The evacuation system usually consists of two main components such as the previously-mentioned slow whoop (audible alarm) and escape route marking. In some situations, there are also components such as self-closing doors, smoke vents etc. The standards with which these components must comply are described in EN 54. The escape route marking is described in ISO7010 which includes the familiar green EXIT signs.
The mandatory systems in larger buildings also require emergency lighting to provide visibility along the escape route. Although it is a weak light, it is sufficient for people to find their way during a power failure. However, in the event of smoke, emergency lighting is not sufficient because it is usually fitted to the ceiling, which is precisely the part of the building that is obscured first. The requirements for emergency lighting systems are set out in the European Normative EN 1838.
For smaller buildings such as offices and workshops with fewer than 50 occupants, and residential homes, the law states that a smoke alarm must be fitted along the evacuation routes (corridors, stairways and halls). One condition is that the smoke alarm must be connected to the 230V mains power supply and have a back-up battery in case of power failure. In addition, the smoke alarms within a building must be connected to one another. This means that if smoke is detected by one device, all of the smoke alarms in the system will sound. This rule currently only applies to new-build property. There is no obligation to install smoke alarms in existing buildings yet. The requirements for smoke alarms are set out in the European Normative EN 14604.
In the USA, smoke alarms are currently designed to produce a signal set at 3100 Hz. Studies have shown that elderly people in particular are not easily awoken by this frequency of sound and that the ideal frequency would be around 550 Hz. Research is being done as to whether it would be possible to propose this frequency in Europe. EN 14604 does not prescribe any sound frequency, merely stating that the sound must be clearly distinguishable from background noise.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing people
Unlike in America, Europe does not have any special laws requiring light signals as part of an evacuation alarm for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.