Integration of Fire with Security Systems Calls for Careful Planning

The term integration is currently being heard throughout the electronics industry, particularly associated with software-based systems. However, the integration of fire and security systems has been around for years, making a small yet vital mark in the systems integration market.

The concept of integrating fire with security systems brings up many issues because of the life safety factor associated with fire systems.

Unlike security, fire systems are generally mandated for commercial buildings, large or small, and must comply with codes and standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other organizations.

For this reason, one of the most important issues is making sure the integrated system functions properly and that its design is accepted by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

Integration Can Be Done at Various Levels

When combining fire with security systems, integration can mean different things to different people, says Ray Grill, senior vice president of Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc. in Fairfax, Va., a security consulting firm.

Grill presented a seminar on issues concerning the integration of fire with security systems at the NFPA World Fire Safety Congress and Exposition 2000 in Denver, Colo.

There are different levels of combining both fire and security systems. On the lower side of the spectrum, there’s one system monitoring the other through a combination of hardware and software. This type of integration is done on a frequent basis.

Another form of integration is transmitting multiple signals that communicate exactly what function has taken place (one-way communication). Then there’s two-way communication between systems, where one controls the other. Both systems can be managed by a common system interface.

There are other variations on integrating fire and security, depending on how many devices are combined, but some dealers may also call the combination an interfacing of systems, where both systems are controlled through the same control panel.

Regardless of how the systems are integrated, both can be controlled through a combination control panel if it is approved by the AHJ, complies with NFPA codes and is UL Listed.

Usage of Combined Panels Depends on AHJ

With the integration of fire and security systems, obviously the installation’s level of importance will always pertain to the fire portion. According to the NFPA fact sheet on fire in the United States and Canada, public fire departments attended more than 1 million fires in the U.S. in 1999, of which more than 500,000 occurred in structures.

If a burglar system fails, the chances of losing lives or being in a life or death situation may not be as high as if a fire alarm system fails to function properly. That’s why some AHJs mandate separate control panels to avoid any problems.

2 National Fire Codes Are to Soon Be Merged

Again, compliance codes are key with any fire alarm system, whether integrated or not. Although there are many to consider when installing systems, NFPA is revising one of its most basic codes. The association has released an initial draft of the newly unified fire prevention code, NFPA 1 – Uniform Fire Code, for public review and comment.

The new code incorporates current technical provisions from the 2000 Edition of the Uniform Fire Code from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA) and the 2000 Edition of NFPA 1, Fire Prevention Code. The proposal period is open to anyone to submit any proposals until the deadline of June 8.

Underlying Goals, Good Rapport With AHJ is Key

The underlying goals for integrated fire and security systems will forever be present. For instance, dealers and clients must consider the safety of a building’s occupants – as well as firefighters, property and asset protection – if an incident happens.

The methods of achieving these goals may conflict. What if a dealer installs a perimeter system and a fire takes place. Will firefighters be able to pass through the perimeter system if it’s integrated with the fire system? This would be challenging due to having a burglar system connected as well. Integration with fire systems demands high reliability.

Weighing the Future of Fire/Security Integration

Although the percentage of integrated fire and burglary systems installed isn’t as high as with other integrated systems, it’s definitely here to stay. For Grill, the whole issue of successful integration is that the arrangement of systems provides the needed results for the operator and owner.

Also, the cost of equipment and installation needs to be weighed against ongoing operating and maintenance costs. The system technology is also evolving and will play a big role with integrated fire and security systems, says Grill, including the development of new and improved products, such as video smoke detection that serves both a fire and security function.

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