Commercial control panels bring systems together

Advancements allow the control panel to interface
Saturday, June 1, 2002

with fire and access control while still handling
its historical intrusion system functions.

These days, the commercial control panel-mission central, if you will, for the security system-can do as much or as little as a user would wish it to do.

Advancements in systems integration have allowed the control panel to interface with fire and access control while still handling its historical intrusion system functions. Also being added on are some building controls, which in a security setting could turn on lights where needed or on a day-to-day basis handle heating and air conditioning.

Kevin Patterson, product manager-control group for Fairport, N.Y.-based Detection Systems, said the evolution of integration has been a key factor for commercial control panels. "What used to be just a security panel is now part of a bigger system," he said, citing fire and access control.

An integration evolution

This integration evolution-begun in the late '80s-has also involved a progression, he said, from focusing on large, multifaceted systems to those of a smaller scale.

Mark Hillenburg, marketing manager for Digital Monitoring Products, Springfield, Mo., said an advantage to having an integrated system is fewer false alarms. With separate access control and burglary systems, he noted, a person may be allowed to enter an area under the access component, but trigger the alarm. An integrated system, he explained, would know to disarm the door and avoid the false alarm.

The same technology can be applied with fire, he said, disarming doors when the fire alarm sounds, or in special event circumstance, such as when weather or natural disaster prevent people from getting to work. Doors usually programmed to be unlocked at a certain time wouldn't automatically open if a snowstorm kept workers away, he said, but rather would require an authorized person to arrive and then trigger the event.

Mark Clement, manager of intrusion products for Digital Security Controls, Toronto, said today's integrated panel doesn't stop at combining burglar, fire and access control, but offers X10 and combined wired and wireless capabilities, as well.

Such units, he said, "make it easier for the installer. They only have to learn one thing."

And the buyer, he added, "has only one thing to talk to."

Limited window of opportunity

Of course, pointed out Jerry Frederick, director-commercial sales at GE Interlogix, Minneapolis, the technology behind integrated systems is changing rapidly, so manufacturers need to be aware of the sometimes limited window for developing and marketing these products.

"The technology," he said, "may or may not be obsolete by the time your product comes out."

And, Frederick said, there are still commercial control panel customers who want separate systems, especially fire, or simpler ones.

Labor savings and user simplicity "are two things that people have grasped," about control panel advancements, he said. Using macros to assign functions has simplified things, Frederick said, although many panels offer hundreds of programming options.

Internet movement grows

How information is communicated from the panel is also evolving as Internet accessibility grows.

Glenn Nichols, senior business manager-commercial fire/burglary systems at Ademco, Syosset, N.Y., said using the Internet to send signals is becoming a trend.

Greater acceptance of the Internet as a secure communications medium has lead the way for this type of development, said Gordon Hope, vice president of marketing for Ademco, along with its ease of installation.
DSC's Clement agreed Internet delivery of information from the panel "will be the next big innovation, even for small panels," although he said it is not yet in wide use.

As Internet connections rise among businesses, Hillenburg said, "you'll see that communica-tion begins to blossom and bloom."
How panels will integrate with building systems such as HVAC and lighting is still under some debate.

Mike Davis, general manager at Electronics Line, Boulder, Colo., said he believes building management is part of the integration movement. That includes on or off site control, manually or via macros, for lights and energy-related systems.

The system, detecting when everyone is out of the building, can then raise or lower the heat or turn on and off water heaters as needed, he said.

Most other interviewees see more limited, security-oriented applications, such as lighting the parking lot after an alarm sounds or helping determine when a room is occupied so a separate HVAC control system can be put into use.

"The two may speak the same language," DSC's Clement said of the security and HVAC systems, "but (the security control panel) is not necessarily going to control it."

As with most technology, those interviewed by Security Systems News said the cost seems to be falling even as commercial control panel technology becomes more advanced.

"We're seeing new technology enabling us to do more for less," explained Detection Systems' Patterson. "It's a general trend we'll see continuing."