Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – this old adage has played a huge part in home safety. These days, almost every home has a smoke detector, and the loud warning it emits has helped countless people escape harm. But standard smoke detectors have their limits, especially for households where one or more occupant has hearing loss. Hearing loss, especially profound hearing loss can make even the loudest detector alarm go unnoticed, especially if the person with hearing loss is asleep.
Fortunately, adaptive alarms have been designed with hearing loss in mind and right now, Portland Fire & Rescue has developed a program called Flash Shake Wake. Started with a federal grant, Flash Shake Wake is distributing 250 fire alert systems for people with hearing impairment.
What if you have hearing loss, but manage it with hearing aids? These special alert systems may still be an important part of your home safety, especially if you take out your hearing devices while you sleep.
A New Sort of Fire Alarm
The alarms in the Flash Shake Wake program combine multiple alert systems to increase the effectiveness of the alert. Special fire alarms emit a sound at a frequency designed to be in an easier hearing range than traditional alarms. The sonic alarm is also paired with a flashing bright light and a vibrating “bed shaker” that can rouse a sleeping person awake when attached to a bed frame. Visual and tactile alert methods act to reinforce the alarm message.
Research has been ongoing into the best methods for emergency safety and communication. In a 2009 study on the effectiveness of a smoke alarm to wake a sleeping participant, bed shakers and low-frequency alarms proved to be the most consistent methods. A low-frequency alarm sound was shown to have a greater effectiveness than a high frequency alarm in a wide swath of test subjects. Low frequency generated a better response in not just people with hearing impairments but also in children, seniors and young adults.
Bed shakers are similar to other alert tools for the hearing impaired, such as vibrating alarm clocks. Like low-frequency alarm noise, the vibration of a bed shaker is also very effective in breaking people away from sleep. The alarms from Flash Shake Wake incorporate such shakers.
The 2009 study found that a strobing or flashing light had very little ability to wake sleeping people. Most subjects studied were able to sleep through a flashing light without noticing the alert. However, flashing lights remain part of alternative alert systems and they can be an excellent visual cue for the waking person who has trouble hearing a sounded alarm.
Flash Shake Wake
Portland Fire & Rescue’s fledgling program was established with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). The program is for citizens of the City of Portland who experience deafness or hearing loss and is covering the cost of the alarms and free installation of the devices in 400 Portland households.
Alarm distribution is happening on a first-come, first-serve basis. Applying for the program is simple, there’s an online application available here and a Certificate of Eligibility that needs to be signed by your medical provider or audiologist. Applications are processed within ten business days of receipt and assistance with the application is available upon request.
Emergency alert systems should be a serious matter in everyone’s home. If you or anyone in your household lives with hearing loss, always remember to consider this when choosing an alert system that can accommodate everyone. Alarms exist on the consumer market comparable to the systems provided by Flash Shake Wake and they can provide easy and effective smoke and CO2 gas detection. Some models are even designed to provide severe weather alerts. No matter what sort of alarm system you have in your home, remember to test it regularly. Once-a-month testing insures that the device has power and can deliver its alert.
If you’re in the Portland area and have questions about your hearing, turn to Hearing Health for the area’s best audiology services. We’re here to connect our patients with the hearing solutions and the resources they need to hear their best. If you have questions about your hearing, we have the answers! Set up an appointment with us today.