Zoo’s Life Safety System Protects Reptile Handlers

A building full of venomous spiders, snakes, lizards, insects and creepy-crawly things – Eeeooooooh! It’s enough to make anyone’s hair stand on end. Yet this was the very environment where American Detection Specialists Inc. of Springfield, Mo., installed an award-winning wireless security system.

The Diversity of Life building at Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo., houses creatures such as pigmy rattlesnakes, venomous frogs, Gila monsters, copperhead snakes, vipers, poisonous lizards, diamondbacks, scorpions, tarantulas and cobras so that the public can view and learn to appreciate these dangerous yet often misunderstood animals. Keeping everyone safe and healthy, including zoo employees, visitors and animals, is priority No. 1.

Potential for Bites Makes Life Safety System Mandatory

The venomous reptiles, amphibians and insects that inhabit this exhibit aren’t like Bambi. No one in his or her right mind snuggles with Sally the scorpion, nor should anyone pet Anna Conda, the zoo’s 14-foot snake.

Because the potential for venomous bites to reptile handlers is so high at this type of facility, a panic button system is required so that zoo staff can be instantly notified when a bite has occurred. They can then immediately rush the appropriate antivenin to the bite victim, as well as dispatch an ambulance.

The Diversity of Life building originally had another bare-bones panic system.

Expensive Reptiles Are Often Targeted for Theft

In addition to life safety, a burglar/motion detection system is also needed to deter thieves who target zoo reptile facilities. These buildings house creatures that can command a hefty price on the black market.

Other priorities of Dickerson Park include fire and smoke detection. Because reptiles are cold-blooded, the facility has heaters, lamps and special bedding to keep these critters warm. The heating equipment, especially when combined with the bedding, can be a fire hazard.

Satisfied Customer Gives Dealer More Business

Prior to this installation, Dickerson Park Zoo had been a customer of American Detection for six years. The zoo hired the dealer for previous smoke, fire and intrusion installations for the park’s administrative offices and main entrance, as well as other areas.

The deal was sealed on April 16, 2001, and Morris’ crew began work approximately two weeks later.

Wireless System Most Appropriate for Phone-Free Facility

The fact that Dickerson Park’s Diversity of Life building has no phones mandated that its security system be wireless.

The system installed, which is controlled by the Security Pro 5000 control panel, took a total of 16 man-hours to complete. Only two of those hours were truly labor intensive. The remaining 14 were dedicated to technically intensive duties, programming the system and training.

Because life safety is such a critical issue for this facility, a wireless, portable and water-resistant panic button is one of the most important features of the security system. This button, which has a range of 800 feet, is carried by handlers when they are caring for or feeding the reptile house’s inhabitants. It is water resistant because often, while zoo employees are working inside the building, water is sprayed. Another panic button is also on the touchpad.

The security system also includes two four-button wireless key-chain touchpads, enabling handlers to turn off the system without going to the wall-mounted Security Pro 5000 alphanumeric keypad located in a locked janitor’s closet.

Six wireless sensors monitor the four facility entrances, three of which are for public use. These three public doors have an instant alarm, whereas a time delay is set for the sole door designated for staff only. This delay gives employees enough time to activate or deactivate the system via the keypad or keyfobs.

To further detect intrusion, two wireless motion detectors cover the main foyer where the public views the animals. One detector is by the employee entrance.

Two wireless smoke detectors are also installed—one at the back of the building and one at the front—as well as a carbon monoxide sensor to monitor the building’s air quality.

To complete the system, battery back-up is included. It will run the entire system for five or six days in the event of a power outage.

Once the security system installation was completed, it was time to train zoo staff on its operation. From the superintendent to the janitors, all had to be thoroughly familiarized with the equipment and its proper use.

Because the system installed is so easy to operate, it took approximately 20 minutes per person for training. A total of approximately two hours was devoted to training all appropriate staff members.

Innovative System Pleases Customer, Wins Award

Dickerson Park Zoo’s staff is quite happy with American Detection’s work. Although there have been two false alarms attributed to the panic buttons, these were caused by freak incidents. The staff was comforted by the fact that even though both of the panic alarms were false, police were summoned by the central station.

Not only was the client pleased with American Detection’s work, so was the system’s manufacturer, Interlogix Security and Life Safety Group. This installation won the manufacturer’s 2001 Merit Award for most innovative use of wireless technology.

Morris states that, overall, this installation was problem free. There was only one challenge – the animals were not removed from the building while the system was being installed. At one point, some diamondback rattlesnakes were just a few feet away from American Detection’s crew, although the snakes were safely contained in a trash barrel.

Morris plans on continuing his professional relationship with Dickerson Park and indicates that his company and the zoo have plans to install an access control and CCTV system for the park in the near future.

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About the Author


Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration.

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