Fire Side Chat: Factors That Figure Big in Fire’s 5-Year Future

It used to be technological change came to the fire alarm industry at a tortoise’s crawl, which made sense given life-safety issues. However, faster and more reliable technology is pushing the business to adopt more of a hare’s pace. See what the next five years has in store.

Smarter Buildings Enable Integration

A second theme presented was on ‘smart buildings.’ G. Sandy Diehl from the American Architectural Foundation had the following observations on key changes taking place.

Specific to the fire detection process, the following ‘smart’ six-step scenario was offered:

1. Fire initiated

2. Alarm activated

3. Text message and automated phone messages sent to emergency response team

4. CCTV cameras automatically pan to the fire location

5. On confirmation of the fire, emergency services are contacted, HVAC system is activated to vent smoke, power in fire location is disconnected and access to the building is provided to the responders

6. Automated audit report is generated

Diehl stated that while this level of integration is not that common yet within the United States, it is starting to be seen in India and China. This goes along with research that indicates there is a strong demand for integration in emerging markets. I have been a bit conservative in my view of how much of a building will be controlled by a single integrated system. To be certain, within a high-rise or large building, integration with a building automation system (BAS) provides a level of control and savings that would not be possible with a number of systems working independently of each other. When this moves down to 5,000-square-foot commercial spaces is anybody’s guess.

Diehl identified challenges for smart buildings that include:

  • Silos within the building industry
  • Customer ROI expectations
  • Customer bandwidth
  • Retrofits that are difficult
  • Codes and standards
  • Data overload

Integration, however, goes further than just interconnecting through a BAS. Future fire protection systems may have a level of intelligence. A number of U.S. universities are working on Smart Network Infrastructure for Fire Resilience (SNIFFR). While just a model at this time, SNIFFR proposes to integrate sensors with human behavior in real-time to provide faster response and decision-making during a fire event.

Systems used today include multi-sensor detectors that look at a number of different factors before activating. These detectors can provide faster detection while at the same time reduce unwanted alarms.

Work is also being conducted at Lund University in Sweden on having the fire detection system integrate with crowd management and evacuation. This includes looking at where people are within a building and where the fire may be, then basing evacuation of the building on this real-time information.

Fire detection and protection will be different in five years. How much different only the next several years will tell. The items I covered may be a little on the leading edge, but so was commercial air travel when my parents were born and just a few short years ago no one had heard of a smartphone.

Shane Clary, Ph.D., has more than 39 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is Vice President of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pacheco, Calif.-headquartered Bay Alarm Co.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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