THE MAGAZINE

Fast Track to Fire Safety

By Laura Spadanuta

Racetracks and casinos have something in common: They both serve patrons who enjoy playing the odds and putting their money on the line. But no one wants to gamble when it comes to fire safety. That’s why Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has revamped its fire system to ensure that it is doing all it can to protect guests, staff, and property in case of a fire or emergency.
 
Oaklawn is more than a hundred years old, and it has a longtime reputation for excellence in racing. It has hosted such prestigious races as the Arkansas Derby, and well-known horses like Smarty Jones and Zenyatta have taken their chances on the Oaklawn track.
 
About ten years ago, Oaklawn joined the ranks of racetracks installing gaming machines, creating a combination entertainment venue called a “racino.” The machines were such a success that a few years ago, the track embarked on a multimillion dollar expansion to update the current gaming area and add another 53,000-square-foot building to the facility. The addition includes various gaming machines, poker tables, and a restaurant.
 
Management saw the project as an opportunity to upgrade the racetrack’s old fire system and to modernize protocols both in the new building and renovated areas. At the same time, alarms in the nonrenovated areas could be connected to the new fire monitoring equipment.
 
The previous system, which was decades old, consisted of pull stations and smoke and duct detectors (which detect smoke in the air ducts), monitored by a third-party. When an alarm went off, there was no way for in-house personnel to immediately assess the validity of the alert—cameras weren’t tied in—nor were ventilation systems automatically set to cut off oxygen and contain any smoke.
 
This wasn’t the most effective way to manage alarms, says Jim Slade, Oaklawn’s director of surveillance.
Additionally, the old system did not meet the fire and building codes for the new building, says Slade. Some of the additions necessary for compliance included the integration of the fire system with the air-handling and access control systems.

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