American Council for Blind to push for fitment of Directional Sound Evacuation systems as standard in USA

At their annual conference in Houston, USA, the American Council for the Blind passed the following resolution: 

ACB 2002-22 Emergency Evacuation Devices 

Whereas current standards for emergency evacuation signage and alarms serve more to disorient people who are blind and visually impaired than to assist them in safely exiting buildings, aircraft and passenger vessels,  

and whereas research conducted at the school for Biomedical Science at the University of Leeds in England has lead to the development of an audible directional emergency exit system that is language independent, 

and whereas the installation of these emergency exit devices would vastly improve the likelihood of the safe evacuation of people who are blind or visually impaired, 

now therefore be it resolved by the American Council for the Blind at the convention assembled this 5th day of July 2002 at the Adams Mark Hotel in Houston Texas, that this organization direct its board of Directors, Officers, Staff and Environmental Access Committee to work with standards setting bodies including, but not limited to, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to expeditiously promulgate all necessary rules that will require the installation of these emergency evacuation devices in buildings, aircraft and passenger vessels either located in or licensed to do business in the United States of America or its dependencies

Audio on demand available from this web site:

Presentation by Professor Deborah Withington to the ACB convention (this includes the "Fire at Sea" TV program extract):

Real audio streaming file (14 minutes)

Download wav file (3.3mb)

ACB Conference resolution:

Real audio streaming file

Download wav file (392kb)

Fire at Sea - during her presentation at the ACB conference, Professor Deborah Withington played the following extract of a TV program featured on Discovery Channel in which Professor Ed Galea of University of Greenwich, England, describes some trials conducted aboard a ship with volunteers. The volunteers were fully sighted, however the ship was filled with dense theatrical smoke to reduce their vision:

Real audio streaming file

Download wav file (589k)

Information paper at the ACB conference in Braille,, large text and cassette tape versions:

In the context of building safety, Directional Sound Evacuation has the following advantages: 

- Language independent, provides audible routing guidance
- Up to 75% improvement in exit times, time saved = lives saved
- Ideal in poor visibility (dense smoke) or for the blind and visually impaired
- Low cost – easy retrofit
- Works in open areas, corridors, stairs  - integrates with existing systems 

Localizer® directional sound is a broadband, multi-frequency (“white noise”) sound. The sound source is easily and quickly located by our ears, making it ideal for rapid building evacuation.

Conventional fire alarm sounders efficiently warn people in the event of a fire that evacuation is necessary, but give no indication of exit routes. Illuminated exit signs, which are often ignored as part of the everyday visual clutter, will help only if visible and not obscured by smoke. Of course, for anyone visually impaired, this situation can arise even without the presence of smoke.  At present there are precious little aids which enable anyone with a visual disability to identify an emergency exit.  Many organizations are keen to encourage access to buildings for the visually disadvantaged but generally make little or no provision for enabling them to egress quickly and safely. Public announcement/Voice announcement systems can advise where to go, but cannot actually guide people along the route. Localizer-equipped evacuation beacons that use directional sound properties can identify evacuation routes, even in dense smoke, and are complementary to all the above systems.

It seems obvious that efficient emergency evacuation is of paramount importance to both visually impaired and sighted individuals, whether it be from aeroplanes, hotels, department stores, industrial complexes or ferries.  Given that there are approximately three and a half million people in the US who are registered visually impaired, it is surprising to find that the locations of emergency exits and escape routes within buildings are indicated solely by visual means.  Of course, some buildings are better provided for through the implementation of tactile wayfinding aids on handrails, but these methods assume primarily that they are cool enough to touch and accessible to all occupants, irrespective of age, height or disability.  Unless the victim of a fire situation knows where the exits are, he or she will waste precious seconds searching by touch alone and given the rapid rate with which fires can develop, time becomes a critical factor in emergency evacuation.  The purpose of any wayfinding aid, therefore, is to eliminate any errors and reduce hesitation at major decision-making points within a building, such as would be experienced in large open spaces, at corridor intersections, and staircases.  For this purpose, it is imperative that an alternative sensory modality is activated, and the use of sound is the obvious solution.

Directional sound technology, fitted in addition to the normal bells and sounders, offers a way to draw people to evacuation routes even in perfect visibility – however they are without equal in smoke. Triggered by existing Fire Detection systems, Localizer evacuation beacons positioned at carefully chosen locations guide people along escape routes. They can also guide people up or down stairs, whichever is the safe direction. Sophisticated modern analogue addressable fire detection systems can deduce seat of fire and preferred evacuation routing. This can be used to activate the recommended routing automatically – triggering the Localizer evacuation beacons along the selected routes.

Link to British Government's web site detailing the results of recent independent research into Directional Sound Evacuation: 

Links to other sections of this web site:








Please contact us for further information. We have sound solutions for your ears.