Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
October 6, 2014

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IP Integration in Fire Safety: FIA Q&A

httpThe influence of Internet Protocol (IP) technology on fire safety is a growing – albeit slowly – phenomena.

IFSEC Global spoke to Graham Simons, who provides technical support on fire protection and training to FIA members, about why the life-safety industry is so conservative about technological change and what the next evolution in IP-based integration will mean for fire detection.

IFSEC Global: Hi Graham. Please tell us a little about your role at the FIA?

I’m one of three technical managers who split our roles between fire extinguishing risk assessment and fire detection. Also we take part in quite a lot of standards committee work – British, European and international standards for the fire industry.

And I also do FIA training on fire alarm installation.

IG: What do you know about the evolution and adoption of IP technologies in fire detection?

GS: I probably can’t claim to be that well informed on the market itself but the fire industry tends to be very conservative insofar as it’s a life safety industry. So there’s always a reluctance for change.

Typically it will be managers of larger systems who want to integrate services and do remote maintenance. Much of the discussion is around what is safe, what we should be able to do and what is commercially useful.

IG: Do you think sometimes the fire world is too conservative or is it entirely warranted?

GS: Yeah, it’s tricky one really. Sometimes it’s a little bit slow to pick up what has already become established technology. Getting through the management process is difficult, and that’s another reason for slow pace of change.

Disseminating knowledge to help use these processes and manage them safely is quite a challenge across the country, across the industry. It tends to be another reason for the reluctance to change.

IG: Is the slow pace of change because products are slow coming onto the market? Because they have to be tested to destruction?

GS: Our products are covered by construction products regulations and that differs to directives like European directives. For example, the Low Voltage Safety Directive allows companies to self-declare compliance, so they do the amount of testing by agencies of their choice, that they consider appropriate for the risk involved, and it’s up to the companies to judge what is due diligence.

With the Construction Product Regulations we are required by law to get independent third party approval before we can go to market and that automatically builds in a delay for product approval. For a large CIE it probably takes about 18 months and will cost anything from £40,000 to £100,000.

So I think you can see why there’s some reluctance. We’re not the mobile phone market, that’s for sure.

We don’t get new products coming onto the market frequently, not every year. A product tends to come on the market and will remain on the market for five or ten years because of the expenses and time involved.

IG: Presumably end users aren’t very impatient for change – the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it kind of mentality…

GS: There’s more impatience I think from people who want to do system integration and building management systems. They’re pressuring to improve business efficiencies: can’t we make this life safety stuff cheaper and quicker?

IG: Presumably small businesses – your B&Bs, your restaurants – won’t have any incentive to upgrade to IP-based systems any time soon…

Graham
I think there’s little benefit to small businesses. Unless there’s multiple sites or a very large complex site there wouldn’t be an awful lot of benefit from integration.

But even a medium business can benefit from remote monitoring via a maintenance Company. So where we can provide IP access to collect data from a medium-sized analogue system, that system may be able to provide useful data.

For example, maintenance alerts on some detectors can help prepare the engineer when he comes in for routine visits. They will know certain devices that need attention.

They can be prepared for the visit or even call in to decide if there’s an indication that needs investigation. So doing that kind of thing remotely can improve even a medium-sized business.

IG: Where do you see the next big evolution in fire safety technology?

Graham
I think there are probably two areas. One would be whether we can use reliable IP connection services to give us more information about a fire event.

So alarm receiving centres might use this information to get more information from the system about what’s going on, the building’s status and whether there’s a true fire signal – it could be a false alarm.

There are many problems now with false alarms and fire services needing a confirmation of fire signals before they’ll respond. If an alarm receiving centre can be alerted by a security panel that the building is unoccupied then it’s less likely to be a false alarm.

And other information from devices and detectors could start to add up to a stronger indication. “If you’ve got several devices –  in alarm, or the alarm device is a manual call point or a heat detector – they’re more likely to be serious alarm signals than perhaps a single smoke, which may need further investigation before calling the fire brigade.”

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