Home>Fire>Alarms and Detection>Cause for alarm
Home>Fire>Business Continuity>Cause for alarm

Cause for alarm

26 May 2017

Kevin Mears takes a look at how new technology is helping to win the fight against unwanted alarm signals

UNTIL FAIRLY recently, automated central control of building-wide systems was found only in larger commercial buildings and expensive homes. Typically involving only lighting, heating and cooling systems, building automation rarely provided more than basic control, monitoring and scheduling functions and was accessible only from specific control points within the building itself.

While full integration of these technologies is some way off, automation means access to control systems is increasingly possible from mobile devices anywhere in the world. The term building control may be applied to isolated programmable devices, like thermostats and sprinkler systems, but more accurately it describes the situation in buildings in which nearly everything – lights, appliances, electrical outlets, heating and cooling systems – are hooked up to a remotely controllable network. From a security perspective, this also includes the alarm system and all doors, windows, locks, smoke-detectors, surveillance cameras and any other sensors that are linked to it.

The other main characteristic of cutting-edge building automation is remote monitoring and access. While limited one-way remote monitoring has been possible for some time, it's only since the rise in smartphones and tablets that we've had the ability to truly connect to our business networks while we're away. With the right home-automation system, you can use any Internet-connected device to view and control the system itself and any attached devices.

But how much thought have you given to the vast potential this advanced online connectivity also offers for a more efficient workflow and added value for businesses?

Counting the cost

Fire and rescue-service false-alarm callouts are extremely costly in terms of time, money and disruption to business occupiers. Yet, most of these false alarms could be efficiently minimised by remote diagnostics that fully exploit the power of the Internet and mobile communications, with predictive monitoring and servicing by fire-alarm maintenance and service-providers, allowing potential problems to be resolved before they arise.

Experts estimate that comprehensive management of life-safety systems by remote monitoring and interrogation could eliminate some 35 per cent of all fire-emergency callouts to premises. 

The team leader of a recent five-year project, who pioneered remote troubleshooting techniques for system monitoring and diagnostics that generated savings of more than £2m a year, says: “It's a change in mentality, because we can now pull up all the information and interrogate problems without ever having to leave the building.” 

This innovative remote overview of systems resulted in a 75-per-cent reduction in diagnostic time and considerable savings in service and maintenance costs. The approach to remote interrogation of systems becomes even more critical at a time when there are changes afoot to devolve new powers to local government. Government is moving towards a position where fire and rescue authorities could be handed the power to demand cash for attending false fire alarms.

We've already seen the fire and rescue service announce that fire crews may no longer respond to certain calls originating from automatic fire alarms in shops, offices or factories, following statistics that revealed that 97 per cent of all automatic fire alarms that received a response proved to be false alarms. 

Risks of cost-cutting

There are fears that one of the consequences of a challenging economic climate could be severe cost-cutting that reduces focus on management of life-safety risks. This is not the time for companies to neglect fire risks, because a fire will, at best, be disruptive and, at worst, could lead to death, injury and closure of the business. 

So, all the more reason to recognise the revolutionary new trends emerging in intelligent building control, which can significantly reduce service-callout costs by allowing you initially to investigate 'trouble reports' through remote interrogation of BMS systems. This is a diagnostics overview that lets you identify non-urgent issues, which are often resolvable with a more convenient scheduled service visit at a later time. 

Minimising false alarms

For panel installers in this new digital age, the special combination of monitoring data and remote-control capability is creating new opportunities for time-saving interrogation of systems, especially for service and maintenance functions. 

And the benefits are quickly obvious when this potential is unlocked. Because, although networked devices are developed to monitor and report comprehensively on their own condition and environment, often, only 1 per cent of data captured is analysed beyond a device’s primary function.

Make no mistake, smart interactions with an Internet-enabled installation that provides the clarity of touchscreen entry from any location, pinpointing the precise status of all connected system devices, give you the real-time overview required for remote troubleshooting to locate up-to-the-second faults and malfunctions. This holds true more than ever in the fire and security sectors, especially in light of the current urgent calls to reduce the unacceptable level of false fire alarms 

Latest annual statistics show that, in Great Britain, more than 600,000 call-out incidents were attended by fire and rescue services, with nearly 50 per cent of fire call-outs due to false fire alarms. The cost of this wasted time to both business and the fire and rescue service is estimated to be well in excess of £1 billion per year. 

And a piece of news that should be of special concern to contractors is the fact that false fire alarms from automatic fire detection (AFD) systems due to poor maintenance are on the increase. This raises the thorny question of what is an acceptable rate of false alarms?

Virtual overview 

The potential for fire-safety solutions being integrated with building-systems management and maintenance is immense. Its purpose is to control, monitor and optimise building services that you encounter every working day: lighting; heating; security, CCTV and alarm systems; access control; audio-visual and entertainment systems; ventilation, filtration and climate control; even time and attendance control and reporting (notably staff attendance, movement and availability). 

And it is this potential for integrating fire-safety system design and building management that has driven the latest development in life-safety system management: Kentec's leading-edge Taktis fire-safety technology. Already exciting fire professionals and building-systems and facility managers, this powerful and sophisticated technology is simple to use and understand. Its entirely new management platform combines the very latest hardware and software to produce a control and indication system that's designed to add value to system designer, integrator, service provider and the end user. 

Using today's most advanced technology, the flexibility of this revolutionary platform allows users to reconfigure a system with ease to realise many control and indication applications, with future direct integration into 'intelligent' buildings.

Intergration and interconnectivity 

Taktis Fire is an all-new range of fire-detection control equipment. Taktis Vision provides full display and optional control of the fire-alarm control panel from a small and unobtrusive local control station. Based on a new hardware and software platform, the large, full-colour graphical display, with touch-screen functionality, delivers information on the status of the fire alarm system to single or multiple locations.

There’s more to come, with a virtual resource suite of software tools, which will be able to deliver a whole new dimension in life-safety system management. It will give system designers, integrators and service companies the ability to remotely access and comprehensively manage any system using intelligent analysis of data collected from those systems. End users and facilities managers will also greatly benefit from the powerful application-based toolset available as a virtual resource.

These systems are scalable, with Internet-enhanced high-speed networking. This allows up to 128 panels to be connected as a fully fault-tolerant networked system, with rapid inter-panel communications and up to 1.2km of standard two-core, fire-resistant cabling between nodes. Each panel can be configured to display all or any events from any other panel, allowing master/slave, multiple master/slave, or peer-to-peer configuration. 

Sophisticated network-analysis tools allow you to identify connection problems instantly, and the commissioning mode allows individual panels to be prevented from transmitting events to the network while maintaining communications. 

Kevin Mears is product manager at Kentec. For more information, visit www.kentec.co.uk