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Leveraging Security to Meet the Life-Safety Mission

Learn code requisites for access control, elevator control, plus how to leverage surveillance cameras, among other life-safety enhancements.



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Security and fire/life-safety systems are designed, installed, maintained, refreshed and upgraded to help organizations maintain the safety and security of personnel, assets and facilities in a constantly changing world of new threats and potential risks. Rapid changes in technology and the increased functionality of security products have produced new and important issues that must be considered when designing and installing these systems.

A security management plan documents the strategy and approach to address those risks and threats that the organization has deemed a priority to either prevent, mitigate or redirect, based on their assessed severity and probability. The business case and justification for the security system are then created, and a budget to purchase the security system and provide for the required service is finalized.

To stay abreast of the ever-evolving marketplace, let’s address two important aspects of the new world of security system design and integration: 1) how security systems can assist during a fire/life-safety event, and 2) code requirements that affect the interface between security and life-safety systems.

Statistical snapshots also shed light on the percentage of systems integrators that are augmenting their product and services portfolio with fire/life-safety offerings.

Surveillance Cameras Can Play Critical Life-Safety Role

Smoke and heat detectors are mounted on the ceiling of almost every room found in a public or private commercial building. New video technology has produced cameras and software that can detect smoke and flames in large spaces at great distances while providing video surveillance capabilities as a bonus. Compared to ceiling-mounted detectors, specialized video cameras can detect a fire sooner in spaces such as warehouses and manufacturing plants. Moreover, cameras provide critical situational awareness to first responders as well as video forensic evidence for future fire investigation. They can also be used as motion sensors to detect intruders when a given space should be unoccupied.

While standard video surveillance cameras cannot initiate a fire alarm, local guards or remote operators can use them to assess the situation and provide live video to first responders to help them evaluate subsequent response options. Since an addressable fire alarm system provides the location of the initiating heat or smoke detector, the video management system (VMS) can be programmed to automatically either project video from the closest fixed camera onto the operator’s screen or reposition a pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) camera for optimal viewing of the fire alarm incident.

A critical piece of information during a fire is knowing who is still in the facility and where they are located. Many firefighters have died attempting to rescue people who had already evacuated the building or who were not in the facility at the time of the fire alarm. Security systems can assist with this issue in two ways. First, the access control system can be designed to indicate if people have entered a specific room or wing of the facility. This capability requires multiple zones and access control that extends beyond protecting the building’s perimeter to also securing the interior space. The facility’s interior space must also be divided into numerous zones in order to determine who is in specific rooms or areas of the facility.

However, there is a tradeoff between the need for open and convenient access and the desire to know who is in every room. This is particularly true in public buildings. Many organizations also require their occupants to “badge out” when exiting the building or facility. This practice requires more process discipline but does result in a more accurate understanding of who is where in the event of a fire.

Secondly, video of people exiting a building or a facility can also be used to determine if they are at risk in the event of a fire alarm. A video verification approach works better in facilities with a limited number of controlled access points and fewer occupants. It also requires that video system operators have access to pictures of the building’s occupants, such as are found on their employee ID or access card. This approach does not work well in facilities with a high number of unregistered visitors, such as a hospital or college campus.

When a fire alarm is initiated by a pull station, a smoke/heat detector, or a video smoke and flame detector, the fire alarm control panel can activate an associated building controls system through an electrically operated switch called a relay. Typically, life-safety systems can interface with HVAC systems to prevent the dissemination of smoke. These systems can also close doors in building zones to keep smoke from entering, unlock doors for egress, and control and capture elevators.

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Article Topics
Fire/Life Safety · All Topics


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