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Getting to know some hot new signals.

FIRE ALARM SIGNALING SYSTEMS have experienced many technological advances over the last several years. Product performance and system reliability have improved greatly with these advances. Installation and maintenance costs have consequently lowered, offering even more benefits to security professionals.

Yet, the decision-making process of selecting the right fire alarm system for an office building or facility has become more frustrating and difficult. Why? Information overload.

What product is best suited for a particular situation? What's the most cost-efficient? When does an older system need to be upgraded, and what's the upgrading process?

Whether you're an installer, a building owner or operator, or a security or safety manager, you as a decision maker should be aware of new developments and industry issues. The following is a sample:

Addressable device technology. This technology is an exciting and much talked about topic in today's industry. Addressable devices communicate the exact location of alarm and trouble conditions to the system panel, improving condition recognition and the range of available responses.

Addressable devices include smoke detectors, manual pull stations, water-flow monitors, and even system controls. Because many addressable devices may be connected to one pair of wires-in some cases up to 128 devices-addressable systems save on wiring, offer faster installation and checkout, and make adding devices to the system easier.

By pinpointing a single troubled device, addressable technology responds to one of the most costly problems in the industry today-the time used to locate a faulty device. Addressable devices reduce detection time considerably.

Analog detectors. Sometimes referred to as smart detectors, analog detectors are smoke detectors with the same features as addressable smoke detectors. Unlike a regular smoke detector, however, an analog detector is able to transmit a value relating to the percentage of smoke obscuration it finds in its sensing chamber.

On receiving the value, the control panel determines whether the detector is in a normal, trouble, or alarm state. Analog devices also may include other notification options unavailable with conventional or addressable smoke detectors. For example, one such option is an indicator that notifies the user that the detector itself is dirty.

Analog detectors are beneficial in other ways, too. Current fire codes require smoke detectors to be tested for sensitivity within one year after installation and every two years thereafter. Conventional and addressable detectors require special testing units to verify whether they have drifted from their effective sensing levels. Because analog detectors can display their sensitivity values through the fire control panel, calibration testing and maintenance costs are significantly reduced.

Alarm verification. Alarm verification is a timing feature that requires a smoke detector to activate twice within a certain time window. This technology reduces the frequency of nuisance alarms from smoke detector circuits, thus producing a more reliable system.

Analog detectors reduce the nuisance alarms found with conventional or addressable detectors by using alarm verification. Like analog detectors, some alarm systems can also notify maintenance personnel that a detector needs cleaning by counting how many times the device attempted to verify but failed.

Alphanumeric displays. With alphanumeric displays, system operators can easily view information. Some screens can display instructions directing the operator on how to proceed. Pictorial information is available through color graphic terminals, some of which have touch screens.

Speakers. Electronic modules are used to reproduce the sound of bells, horns, or chimes, thus allowing system expansion without replacing existing signaling devices. New speaker circuits simply match the existing sounds. More importantly, speakers allow voice instructions to be announced, eliminating the need to train building occupants to react to certain tones.

Digitized voice messages. These messages can alert occupants of an alarm condition in a building or facility. Instructions are sent through speakers in more than one language to ensure all occupants understand instructions. Prerecorded instructions minimize training and emergency operating procedure steps.

Voice-coded messages. Voice-coded messages inform security personnel where to go when a fire condition is reported. Security personnel can be notified automatically through the system panel without having to notify the public. The system identifies the alarmed location, selects the proper coded message, and makes the announcement.

Programming. Quickly becoming a high-tech issue in today's fire alarm industry, programming can also be quite complex and overwhelming. In response to this problem, alarm systems using personal computers with software programs are available for technicians.

These programs are designed to walk technicians through program changes step-by-step on a menu format. Technicians simply answer questions on the screen, and the computer programs the system using the user's data input. This feature minimizes programming errors and reduces programming labor and checkout time. The shorter amount of time needed to program changes allows for faster occupancy approval.

Fire alarm and security systems integration. This issue has created some controversy in the fire alarm and security industries. Fire codes emphasize that locked doors must unlock when a fire alarm activates, while security personnel want fire information at the security center. Both security and fire personnel want to control the doors. Systems listed for fire and security are designed to emphasize fire over security. Although codes require that priority, a variance in operation may be possible. This will probably continue to be a controversial issue throughout the 1990S.

Security professionals will continue to be more user-friendly with fire alarm systems over the next decade. For the fire alarm and security industries to move forward and address building operator needs, the partnership must continue to grow. Cooperative efforts and future technology will increasingly save buildings and protect occupants.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:fire alarm signaling systems
Author:Woodford, James
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1990
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