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Waking Effectiveness of Household Smoke and Fire Detection Devices. Final Report.

pdf icon Waking Effectiveness of Household Smoke and Fire Detection Devices. Final Report. (59076 K)
Nober, E. H.; Peirce, H.; Well, A. D.

NBS GCR 83-439; 92 p. July 1983.


National Bureau of Standards, Gaithersburg, MD

Available from:

National Technical Information Service
Order number: PB83-256511


adults; alarm responses; auditory perception; decibal levels; developmentally disabled; children; elderly persons; fire departments; human behavior; noise (sound); sleep; smoke detectors; wakefulness


The present work consists of three experiments. Experiment A measured the frequency response and directionality of five typical home smoke alarms. In experiment B, normal-hearing young adults were subjected to alarm signals of 85, 70, and 55 dBA while asleep in their own bedrooms under both low and moderate background noise levels. Times required to awaken, turn off the alarm and phone the fire department ranged from 49-115 seconds at 55 dBA to 24-109 sec at 85 dBA with low background noise. With moderate background noise, times increased to 45-137 sec for the 55 dBA signal and 36-119 sec for the 70 dBA signal. In experiment C, subjects included families with and without children, varying types of housing, elderly, and developmentally disabled populations. Times required to awaken and evacuate all subjects in the household were measured. Mean evacuation times for these groups were 48.5 sec for the families, 65.8 seconds for the elderly, and 57.9 sec. for the developmentally disabled. The report concludes that college-aged subjects can be awakened and alerted with alarm levels as low as 55 dBA (even with moderate background noise) and that evacuation times for families, geriatric and developmentally disabled populations seem to be in a range of one to two minutes.