Fire Side Chat: Video Can Prove Valuable in Fire Applications

The benefits of video technology are being extended from surveillance and intrusion detection to assisting in fire detection and verification. Find out what considerations, practices and codes figure prominently for successful deployment.

Fire, security, video and building automation technologies are slowly but surely converging. The result is rendering a wide assortment of services that security dealers and fire alarm contractors can sell, thus furthering their need for additional recurring monthly revenue (RMR).

One example of this involves the mixing and matching of sensor technologies, thus putting the best of both worlds together to create a slew of hybrid product offerings capable of providing more features and benefits than any one of them could possibly provide on its own. Another example involves the use of video surveillance technology as a means of verifying not only burglar alarms but also fire alarm signals.

This month, we’ll take a look at some of the ways video technology is being used to offer assistance in detection and verification. We’ll also look at a few code considerations based on recent changes in NFPA 72, 2010 Edition.

Dual Role of Video Surveillance

A mere decade ago cameras were only expected to do what cameras do best — show people doing things they’re not supposed to. Cameras also made it possible for those in authority to watch such events in real-time from afar. And where it’s not possible to be positioned at the head-end to watch a perpetrator’s every move as it happens, cameras enable those in authority to view relevant video clips at a later time for a variety of purposes.

Probably the most obvious use of video cameras is to verify alarm signals. The value becomes apparent when the central station operator decides not to dispatch police or firefighters to the location because there’s nothing happening. In this case an operator, who has established a connection with one or more cameras in the vicinity of the alarming device, has made a conscious decision not to dispatch based on real-time and recorded video.

Where central stations have the most experience with video verification, of course, is in the area of electronic intrusion detection.

“Video verification allows our central station operators to get a clear picture of what is happening on the protected premise,” says Ray Jones, executive assistant, Buckeye Protective Service Inc., Canton, Ohio. “This reduces false alarms, and in most cases provides a faster response from authorities.”

In this respect having an eyewitness to a crime is a benefit. “The responding party knows that you have video verification of an intruder, [so] they know that the chances of it being an actual alarm are very high,” Jones adds.

Where it comes to dispatching firefighters to the scene of a purported fire, having access to a full complement of cameras inside the facility proves to be a definite advantage.

Fire Detection Using Video Imaging

Another application for video surveillance cameras involves the actual detection of smoke or the flame of a fire in seconds. This relatively new development is ideal for huge warehouses and other types of structures where conventional detection methods are difficult or impossible to implement.

As you can well imagine, this technology has the potential of turning an entire array of cameras into a fire detection system. Not only do the cameras act as fire detection devices, but the central station operators are able to glean additional information through viewing relevant video.

“Video verification in a fire alarm system allows operators to provide much more detailed information to the responding party,” says Jones.

This information can be channeled to security guards, building owners and responding firefighters at a moment’s notice.

At the heart of a video-based fire detection system lays a DVR. Unlike a conventional recorder, however, this one carries the necessary listing that says it’s fire-related.

Video Fire Detection Basics

Because of the use of DVR-based technology, you have the ability to create a variety of effects. Each camera represents a zone, just as in a conventional fire alarm system. Each zone can be configured to detect a specific type of event or situation. Examples include fire, smoke and motion. Windows can be defined enabling the system to alert personnel when one of the above conditions is met.

Through scheduling, the fire alarm installer also can assign days and times during which the system will or will not operate as programmed. This is an ideal way to handle construction zones as well as high activity areas.

The actual introduction of camera-based fire detection occurred around 2002-2003. The technology has since been expanded to include IP-based cameras.

An example of this includes Fike’s SigniFire system. This system provides high-resolution images along with the detection of the flames and smoke of a fire in progress. And like most other video surveillance systems, you can program it to detect motion.

Manufacturers, however, continue to support the use of analog hardware simply because of the vast number of analog cameras in the field.

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing [email protected], call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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