Protecting Critical Infrastructure From Fire Peril
After years of struggling with its outdated fire alarm system, a 450,000-square-foot facility containing critical infrastructure and telecom equipment required an upgrade. A local integrator helped deploy an advanced, five-node fire protection system with expandable, cost-effective networking capabilities.
To protect the critical infrastructure of telecom equipment and data centers inside a 450,000-square-foot Oakton, Va.-based facility, electrical company Haislip Corp. provided a Silent Knight fire alarm system. The solution included gas detectors, five fire alarm control panels and 40 remote modules to support fast data communications along the network’s extensive serial communications line, or S-Bus.
“When you’re looking down the throat of a four-story atrium with four different wings, you’re seeing strobes from angles you would never imagine,” Haislip explains. “The fire marshal said, ‘It looks like the apocalypse in here.’ To synchronize the building, we had to add some wires to guarantee that the strobes pulsed at the same time.”
There was also a problem with the beam detectors causing false alarms. Often, when sun hit the detectors, an alarm would set off throughout the entire facility. To counter this with the new system, Haislip put tunnel visors on the new beam detectors to block most of the sun’s rays. However, each year, the sun will hit the beam detectors on the same day and time during the spring. The facility now uses that time to conduct its annual fire alarm test to make sure the system is operating properly.
Working Through the Storm
Since the installation, the only subsequent action Haislip Corp. has had to take is replacing system batteries. A thorny issue became apparent due to the facility performing electrical service upgrades on the weekends that constantly shut down the fire alarm system.
“They had the N+2 power grid in the building, which has the emergency generators backing up all this equipment, especially the fire alarm,” Haislip says. “But they were required to shut it all down, and the fire alarm system was literally running on its backup battery for the entire weekend. It was only required to be backed up for 24 hours, so they deep cycled these batteries and caused issues.”
It’s a good thing that the crew replaced those batteries because a year after the installation was completed the Farenhyt system took center stage to prove its reliability. A heavy snowstorm that included thunder and lightning hit the Oakton area, and as a result the facility suffered a 36-hour power outage — only the second extensive power failure the site experienced in 30 years.
Because the IFP-2000VIP has 24 hours of battery backup, the system was able to monitor the power fluctuations. “They had a brownout. The power company thought they were doing them a favor and turned some of the power back on,” according to Haislip. “When the power came back on, the fire alarm was operating on its battery, and because the generator sensed that battery power, it shut off.”
As a result, the power fluctuations burned three electrical motors in the facility’s central plant causing them to smoke. Fortunately, the alarm system caught the smoke before the motors broke out into real flames.
“It was the advanced acclimated smoke detection that we installed that potentially saved the facility from a lot of property damage,” says Haislip. “The detectors went off and set the building into alarm for about 15 minutes before the fire department go there. The bonus is that the alarm was going off all on battery, so we know that the system was thoroughly tested.”
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