September 11 transformed fire industry

'Survivability' of systems now key
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BROOKLYN, N.Y. and BRONX, N.Y.—The Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center killed nearly 3,000 people at that site, including 343 firefighters and 60 police officers.

This September marks the 10th anniversary of the attack, and the vice presidents of two New York City fire companies recently spoke to Security Systems News about how they believe the tragic event in their city changed the industry, leading to increased safety standards.

“The key word since 9/11, in my opinion, is ‘survivability,’” said Brendan Doorly, who is co-owner of Cross Fire & Security, based in Brooklyn. “They want their systems to survive in the event of another major disaster and a lot of this is done through redundancy.”

Owen Grant, a partner in Falcon Engineered Systems, located in the Bronx, said 9/11 led to stricter safety requirements and stricter inspections, particularly with high rise buildings.

“It’s a ‘must’ type of deal,” Grant said. “You have to have walls, and you have to have fire alarm systems in there.”

Grant’s company, Falcon Engineered Systems, began operating in December 2001, just three months after the WTC attack. The seven-employee company, a Gamewell-FCI by Honeywell distributor, serves industrial and commercial clients throughout New York and New Jersey.

Its clients include the New York City parks, education, and police departments.

Currently, Falcon is doing a major upgrade on NYPD precincts, using E3 voice fire alarms.

Grant said that from one location, the precincts will be able to view via computer what’s going on at other precincts, and receive an alert if there’s an emergency at any of them.

Grant believes 9/11 influenced police in their decision to make the precincts better able to handle emergencies. “They probably realized: ‘We need to change things around here so we’re also protected, because everyone is looking to us to respond [in an emergency],’” he said.

Doorly’s 80-employee company, Cross Fire, a Notifier by Honeywell dealer, was established in 1993 and does the majority of its work in New York City’s five boroughs. Most of its customers are in the commercial, institutional and educational verticals, and its client list ranges from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Citi Field stadium, home of The New York Mets, to the city’s major financial firms. But recently it has begun to do residential high rises, Doorly said.

“The codes have changed in New York City recently, and residential buildings do require systems more so now than they used to … it’s probably stemming from 9/11. Now the fire department, building department are saying, ‘O.K., listen, we have a high rise building with 50, 60 floors and people are not protected,’” Doorly said.

Another change, Doorly said, is redundant risers. A riser is the communication path between the fire command station and data-gathering equipment, he said.

“Before 9/11,” he said, “You could put one riser up the building, and all your fire alarm [equipment] would connect to one riser. But now—it’s not really a code requirement; it’s more of a building owners/engineers requirement—you run a redundant riser. In other words, if you lose your main riser ... the system will continue to operate.”

He said, “Every job that we’re doing right now, that’s the way it is.”

Other changes include ensuring fire systems have battery backup power in case the regular power source is knocked out; having more than one command station for firefighters in a building so that, if the main station becomes compromised, the fire can be fought from a remote location; and requiring one-way voice communication in residential buildings over 125 feet.

One job that Cross Fire did about five years ago was the 50-story Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. “That’s a perfect example of survivability because they actually had a [data gathering] panel put on every floor,” Doorly said. “We went up one side of the building and came across and came down the other side.”

He said the hotel probably could have just had about 20 panels installed but wanted more just as a precaution.

And when a terrorist attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, the hotel’s system did what it was designed to do, Doorly said. “They used our system to evacuate the hotel,” he said.

 

Comments

There are many factors to be addressed on this topic of "Survivability", and they may or may not be related to any particular sized building. If you look at a low level building that might be a target of interest to the attacker, we may be looking at a VIED, and that would be most likely to go off near the front entrance, the very spot at which the first sponders would normally go. So, do you put the fire command panel at the reception area (usually near the entrance), or at a location further inside. Near the door and it is demolished in the blast; further back and it may be impaired, and definitiely hard to get to because of the debris.
In a mid to high rise structure, if you put it in the lobby, you have the same problem as you have in the low rise structure. As we know, the new WTC1 tower has a very different set of principles upon which it is constructed. The stairwells as located for separation and survivability - inside re-inforced concrete shafts which should afford a degree of survivability for the risers in which the fire, security and communications 'network wires' are installed. BUT, if the building is tall enough for another hit by a 390,000 pound guided missle flying at over 450 MPH, one should surely expect for some part of the netwoerk to be disabled. If one plans for a redundant wireless network (or only a wireless system), the cost would increase dramatically, and may be subject to a ROI battle by the senior management. And that does not begin to address how to perform the commissioning tests to simulated the various types of interference that would exist. Just look at what it takes to perform that type of testing for the commisioning of the Inter-operability systems for first responders in some of hte new buildings in lower Manhattan.
There are significant problems, but they are solvable. Time, the right brains, and a good amount of $$$$$$$$$$.
Thanks for the opportunity to vent a little, byt having been on the inside the towers as a first, first responder (and survivor obviously), I just had to get it off my chest.