Fire industry takes the slow road to integration

Interfacing with access control and surveillance systems is the path of least resistance vs. a single network approach
 - 
Friday, April 1, 2005

Heavily regulated and thus slower to change than other parts of the security equation, the fire and life safety industry has been making a cautious journey into the world of systems integration.

In fact, many industry participants liken what is happening with fire systems as more of an interface with building systems and security, such as access control and CCTV, rather than a true integration of all systems onto a single network.

“Change is a very painful, long, drawn-out process,” noted Bob Barker, southwest regional sales representative for Gamewell. And fire, because it is a regulated industry, is even slower to react, he said.

“Based on that, in the world of integration, fire is an anchor. We’re the ones that slow the process down.”

Yet, said Barker, “We have integrated systems. But I believe how it will work efficiently for systems integrators is that fire is a spoke on a hub.”

Barker noted that other components in a building, such as access control and CCTV, are changing much more rapidly than the code-driven, UL-listed fire piece. What makes sense, he said, is to enable fire to interface to the other building systems through graphics display packages, “but to allow other industries to change while we still stay regulated.”

Customers are asking for a single interface, noted Dave Tamulevich, network product manager for Notifier. He said the company’s latest product, OnyxWorks, will integrate with Honeywell access control products such as Winpak and NexWatch. “What we’re trying to do is integrate fire, security, access control and CCTV all into a single interface,” he said.

Interface, rather than integrate, is more of what is happening, said Tamulevich. “It’s easier to connect what is out there,” he explained.

Still, he noted, there is the capability of interoperability, which means a door left open can set off horns and strobes if the system is set up in such a manner.

The BacNet gateway also provides one-way communication with building management systems, he noted. “We see it (interface with building management) as a big potential,” he said. Adding there has been a “significant spike in this protocol.”

“There are lots of scenarios where there is synergy of truly combining systems,” said Steve Hein, vice president-marketing at Edwards Systems Technology.

CCTV cameras may be used to look at the source of a fire, he said, or fire alarm speakers and voice evacuation systems can be used to alert building occupants that certain doors or sections will be armed for the night.

Codes and regulations are a key reason why fire isn’t integrated with more systems. But Hein said EST has begun raising the bar on access control and security sensors so they meet UL standards.

“Right now there are no standards for access control and security,” he said.” So by lifting them to the fire standard they get compliance with the fire standard. And the end customer will benefit from that,” he said.

For integrators, the steady move toward bringing more systems together with fire seems to be the trend.

“I think integration is the way the industry is headed, with intelligent fire alarms and building controls,” said Steve Wolk, vice president for Florida State Fire & Security.

Still, he said, “fire is the last part of the puzzle” and its integration or interface with other systems needs to be viewed carefully.

“When you start getting signals that come back to the fire panel that aren’t fire-related, they may get overlooked,” he said. “That’s one of the problems.”

So far, Wolk said, his company hasn’t done many “big-type networked systems” involving fire and other building security or controls, though it is a focus for the future, both in terms of installation and monitoring. For now, he said, the company, which does both fire and security systems, typically installs them separately, but does bring information together via systems such as Notifier’s UniNet.

Military clients have taken the lead in monitoring fire over the network, said Forrest Garrigus, technical systems engineer for Evergreen Fire and Security.

It has only been the past few years that networkable fire systems have been UL approved, Garrigus added, which has made it easier to add fire to the military’s more robust network backbone.

Garrigus said fire is the priority system that can raise flags with operators of typical networks. As a result, he said, while some clients look to integration, most view fire as a separate network and are interfacing information only.
Heavily regulated and thus slower to change than other parts of the security equation, the fire and life safety industry has been making a cautious journey into the world of systems integration.

In fact, many industry participants liken what is happening with fire systems as more of an interface with building systems and security, such as access control and CCTV, rather than a true integration of all systems onto a single network.

“Change is a very painful, long, drawn-out process,” noted Bob Barker, southwest regional sales representative for Gamewell. And fire, because it is a regulated industry, is even slower to react, he said.

“Based on that, in the world of integration, fire is an anchor. We’re the ones that slow the process down.”

Yet, said Barker, “We have integrated systems. But I believe how it will work efficiently for systems integrators is that fire is a spoke on a hub.”

Barker noted that other components in a building, such as access control and CCTV, are changing much more rapidly than the code-driven, UL-listed fire piece. What makes sense, he said, is to enable fire to interface to the other building systems through graphics display packages, “but to allow other industries to change while we still stay regulated.”

Customers are asking for a single interface, noted Dave Tamulevich, network product manager for Notifier. He said the company’s latest product, OnyxWorks, will integrate with Honeywell access control products such as Winpak and NexWatch. “What we’re trying to do is integrate fire, security, access control and CCTV all into a single interface,” he said.

Interface, rather than integrate, is more of what is happening, said Tamulevich. “It’s easier to connect what is out there,” he explained.

Still, he noted, there is the capability of interoperability, which means a door left open can set off horns and strobes if the system is set up in such a manner.

The BacNet gateway also provides one-way communication with building management systems, he noted. “We see it (interface with building management) as a big potential,” he said. Adding there has been a “significant spike in this protocol.”

“There are lots of scenarios where there is synergy of truly combining systems,” said Steve Hein, vice president-marketing at Edwards Systems Technology.

CCTV cameras may be used to look at the source of a fire, he said, or fire alarm speakers and voice evacuation systems can be used to alert building occupants that certain doors or sections will be armed for the night.

Codes and regulations are a key reason why fire isn’t integrated with more systems. But Hein said EST has begun raising the bar on access control and security sensors so they meet UL standards.

“Right now there are no standards for access control and security,” he said.” So by lifting them to the fire standard they get compliance with the fire standard. And the end customer will benefit from that,” he said.

For integrators, the steady move toward bringing more systems together with fire seems to be the trend.

“I think integration is the way the industry is headed, with intelligent fire alarms and building controls,” said Steve Wolk, vice president for Florida State Fire & Security.

Still, he said, “fire is the last part of the puzzle” and its integration or interface with other systems needs to be viewed carefully.

“When you start getting signals that come back to the fire panel that aren’t fire-related, they may get overlooked,” he said. “That’s one of the problems.”

So far, Wolk said, his company hasn’t done many “big-type networked systems” involving fire and other building security or controls, though it is a focus for the future, both in terms of installation and monitoring. For now, he said, the company, which does both fire and security systems, typically installs them separately, but does bring information together via systems such as Notifier’s UniNet.

Military clients have taken the lead in monitoring fire over the network, said Forrest Garrigus, technical systems engineer for Evergreen Fire and Security.

It has only been the past few years that networkable fire systems have been UL approved, Garrigus added, which has made it easier to add fire to the military’s more robust network backbone.

Garrigus said fire is the priority system that can raise flags with operators of typical networks. As a result, he said, while some clients look to integration, most view fire as a separate network and are interfacing information only.

“There is a shift from standalone systems in a building,” said Troy Paddock, co-owner of Evergreen, “to having these monitored at the same time from the same computer.”
“There is a shift from standalone systems in a building,” said Troy Paddock, co-owner of Evergreen, “to having these monitored at the same time from the same computer.”