Modern Security Tames Old West Town

For decades, British Columbia, Canada-based Fort Steele Heritage Town’s outdated security system relied on faulty equipment, sporadic alarm communications and costly on-foot guards. With the help of integrator JSL Forum, the popular tourist destination is now protected by wireless network technology.

Over the course of more than a century, Fort Steele Heritage Town has gone from established Victorian settlement to abandoned ghost town to modern-day tourist attraction. Much like the progression of this site, the town’s security measures have seen their share of transformations.

Nestled in British Columbia’s Kootenay Rocky Mountains, Fort Steele is currently one of the most widely visited historical sites of its kind in Canada. Once a booming gold-rush town in the late 1800s, more than 60 percent of the original Fort Steele settlement buildings have been resurrected and restored within the past few decades.

While Fort Steele’s outdated qualities provide a charming environment, the existing security solution’s aging characteristics were anything but endearing. From the time the area was revived as a tourist site, the legacy security system had relied on faulty equipment, sporadic alarm communications and costly on-foot guards to monitor and protect against outdoor/indoor intrusion and theft.

Enter Cranbrook, B.C.-based JSL Forum Ltd., an installing company specializing in communication technology, including telephone systems, voice over IP (VoIP) and data networks.

Founded in 1994, when company owner and President Wolfgang Brunnbauer relocated from Germany, JSL Forum provides access control, CCTV solutions and intrusion alarm systems for a mix of roughly 60-percent commercial and 40-percent residential accounts. The company relies on several UL-Listed central stations throughout the Cranbrook area to provide monitoring to its customers.

“When we got to it, the system had so much of its equipment being added, taken away and repaired,” says Brunnbauer. “Occasionally, it even dropped off of the network grid because it wouldn’t work anymore. The technology within the existing system just didn’t function effectively together.”

The company had its work cut out for it. It had to provide the most extensive security makeover the 80-building site had ever seen while implementing technology that would offer effective security well into the future. Working alongside Fort Steele personnel, JSL Forum created a solution based on the latest in wireless sensor technology, dependable alarm communications and streamlined remote system management.

Freezing Temps Cause Problems

With more than 80,000 annual visitors, the present-day Fort Steele is host to old-time historical displays and activities such as ice-cream making, horse-drawn wagon tours and gold panning. A recent federal government grant program — the Friends of Fort Steele Society — led the way for a complete security system overhaul. The society is under long-term contract to manage and maintain the operation.

One of the greatest obstacles JSL Forum had to overcome was the location of the heritage town, explains Brunnbauer. Because Fort Steele is in an isolated, rocky, mountainous area of the site, the network received sporadic signals, which were unreliable for alarm communications. Adding to the problem, antiquated outdoor sensing equipment wouldn’t function in unheated buildings in subzero temperatures, which is critical to motion sensing and monitoring.

In fact, during the harsh winter season, the Fort Steele staff went through more than 60 batteries each week. As a result, overnight security guards and caretakers were added during the heavy-trafficked summer months and the off-season winter period. The added expense, along with the approximate 100-person summer staff, was too much for the nonprofit to take on.

“At a minimum, we had to have a caretaker who would stay onsite nightly to monitor for any alarm triggers or event notifications after-hours,” says Fort Steele CEO Laura Williams. “Low transmission strength and cold temperatures drained battery life, so we didn’t have much notification of activities taking place during nonbusiness hours, even with someone present onsite.”

While freezing temperatures proved to be a challenge, it was also important to get a system that didn’t require any cabling. Fort Steele officials didn’t want cables or wires running through the heritage town’s historic buildings, explains Brunnbauer.

“We had to check with a few manufacturers to see where we could get the best advanced IP panels,” he says. “We wanted to do everything over an IP network that would give Fort Steele the most direct system control over their site without disturbing historic infrastructure.”

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