Wireless Heat Detection Takes Center Stage

An installing security contractor advises Sony Pictures Studios to implement a wireless solution to replace the hugely inefficient hardwired heat detection in its famed sound stages. Success and first-class customer service fosters a lasting relationship.

Imagine the controlled chaos of a Hollywood blockbuster film shoot depicting fiery explosions in an urban center, vehicles launched high into the air and actors running about frantically in the middle of it all.

Many such scenes are filmed in large indoor sound stages that are strictly regulated by fire code. So off camera, even during the most tranquil scene, another form of controlled chaos has long taken place in Tinseltown studios: hardwired heat detection.

Providing code-compliant fire/life-safety for an indoor film set is often accomplished by messily running wire hither and yon to power a dozen or more heat detectors. It can be a labor-intensive practice fraught with trouble signals, tripping hazards and costly interruptions to unpredictable filming schedules.

Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., found the perfect remedy to the rigors of hardwired heat detection in the form of a wireless system. Guided by their installing security contractor’s recommendation, Sony Pictures has achieved efficiencies and cost-savings unique to the film industry.

Where once it may have taken two days to install heat detection in a set, wireless detectors can be deployed in a matter of a couple hours or less. SSI recently toured Sony Pictures Studios for a behind-the-scenes look at how the wireless solution is implemented throughout the expansive lot.

Dawning of Wireless Deployment

Sony’s acquisition of MGM Studios in 1990 encompassed the hallowed sound stages where such celebrated screen epics as “Ben-Hur” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” to Technicolor musicals including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Gigi” came to life.

A focal point of the 44-acre lot is Stage 15, said to be the second-largest sound stage in the world. Built in 1927, the rectangular structure measures in at 42,000 square feet and four stories high. In recent time, hit movies including “Men in Black” I and II, “Stuart Little,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Air Force One” and “Spider-Man” were filmed there.

In all, there are 18 sound stages of varying size, each with grids and catwalks for ease of rigging and large elephant doors for loading access. Besides feature films, the cavernous studios are used for numerous other entertainment endeavors, including television, commercials, music videos, special events, plus game shows “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.”

Constructed before fire codes regulated the separation distance between structures, the sound stages are situated in close proximity — a fact that only heightens the necessity to maintain the utmost in fire/life-safety awareness and preparedness.

“The potential for fire to wipe out the entire lot is very high. We have to be on top of it at every moment,” says Scot Falkenstien, director of fire prevention and life safety, Sony Pictures.

[IMAGE]12105[/IMAGE]It was in pursuit of this caveat that Falkenstien was agreeable to a consultant’s suggestion eight years ago to consider upgrading to a wireless fire alarm solution for each sound stage.

Given the nature of the filming environment — constant construction, pyrotechnics and fires, and other debris-filled scenes — smoke detection is not practical in the studios. Therefore the emphasis on heat detection. An alternative to traditional wired heat detectors proved an attractive idea; newfound efficiencies and cost savings afforded by using wireless detectors were easy to imagine for Falkenstien.

Korry Cannon, who worked for the studio’s former installing security contractor, was then in the early stages of launching his own business. He helped devise a code-compliant system utilizing wireless heat detection, which was installed and assessed for several weeks in a single sound stage.

The studio’s concerns about range limitations, radio interference and false alarms were quickly put to rest. A decision was made to duplicate the same wireless system across all the other sound stages.

“I basically just followed Korry’s lead. We want to be cutting-edge, we want to embrace new technologies,” Falkenstien says.

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About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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