Focus on functionality clears way for fire system integration

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Tuesday, July 1, 2003

With the focus increasingly turning to maximum system functionality, the integration of fire control and detection with other building activities such as access control and HVAC operations is taking center stage.

The movement over the past two decades has been toward integrating multiple systems from myriad suppliers rather than following the old model of one-system-fits-all.

Helping fuel this integrated approach had been the need to protect high-value assets related to the adoption of high-tech equipment, noted Greg Turner, director of platforms and legacy systems for Honeywell.

“With the proliferation of high-tech,” he said, “people had high-value functions throughout a building.” These, he added, needed to be protected on many levels, including from smoke, water and fire damage.

To achieve this, Turner said, building operators had to look toward integrating the HVAC side, which could handle smoke management and control, with other life safety and security functions such as the magnetic door locks on access control systems.

“It’s not just an option anymore,” he said. “You have to have the integration of fire and security” with building systems.

While the use of such systems is still considered the primary domain of high-asset, high-risk users such as government facilities, airports, big box retailers, high-rise buildings, data centers and museums, the usage is “starting to filter down,” observed Steve Sargent, director of worldwide sales for Keltron Corp.

“The savings are larger with larger customers,” Sargent said, “but it’s filtering down to more cost-conscious users.”

With multiple products coming from various suppliers, the need for communications platforms that allow consistent, reliable user interfaces has emerged. Kate Brew, acting director of product management for GE Interlogix’s access and integration group, said because fire systems “are generally bought when a building is built, a cross vendor approach is important.”

And while suppliers may have been reluctant in the past to share proprietary information to make these interfaces possible, “customers are forcing the issue,” Brew said.

Indeed, Sargent said, while the advent of true open architecture is still a ways off, more companies are open to part-nering. By making protocols available, he said, “they open up the (economic) opportunities to themselves.”

Brew said digital video is one area that has already been integrated successfully into building management systems. Fire systems integration is also a logical addition, Brew said, because not only do end users want to visualize what is going on via a control panel, they will also want to access video to see how, why and where a fire started.

Steve Thompson, director of marketing-fire and security at Johnson Controls, concurred the integration of CCTV with fire systems can allow users to not only inspect after the fact, but as the event happens. This can allow building operators to limit evacuation areas or even spot and control false alarms.

The other main applications for integration of fire detection with building controls, Thompson said, are the use of a single operator control, which provides a “holistic view of all systems in the building…so they can sense more broadly,” as well as the specific ability to manage the flow of smoke and minimize its damage.

Tied in with the building’s HVAC system, the fire system can trap smoke within a particular floor or air can be pressurized in stairwells to aid egress, Thompson explained.

This can be particularly important in situations such as hospitals or nursing homes where evacuation is a costly and even dangerous act.

Honeywell’s Turner noted the integration of fire with access control is another example of the move toward functionality and “actionable integration.”

For example, he said, companies can use muster points, linked to the access control system, so in the event of a fire employees will go to the muster point and check in via badges or cards. Additionally, tie ins with the access control system can let personnel know the location of employees at the time of the event, thus limiting the need to keep managers on the scene looking for potentially missing personnel or sending firefighters into an area unnecessarily.

The ultimate goal, noted GE’s Brew, is to achieve “intelligent building management.” Security technology leaders, she said, are focused on delivering increased functionality and value.

An overriding interest based on return on investment and productivity gains means “even in security, you have to improve on what you’re doing now,” Brew explained.