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Hot contract tips for fire, security systems.

FINDING THE RIGHT FIRE ALARM and security system is no easy task. Generally, a fire alarm system must comply with local fire codes. The system's operation should augment local fire fighting personnel and an organization's maintenance and security departments.

A security system, on the other hand, is a combination of devices and systems assembled to protect personnel and assets. A security system may include access control, CCTV, or communication systems; intrusion detection devices; and panic, trouble, maintenance, or other high-value alarms. The list continues, depending on the particular building's use and environment and the environment of the building's location, and a host of corporate safety and security policies.

Security systems are not regulated by law, but potential security liabilities always exist. It is imperative that security managers carefully plan the purchase and installation of fire alarm and security systems.

Inventory stage. This stage includes the time-consuming process of gathering details and is the most important phase of a project. Security managers must use a variety of information sources for their research and inventory. From data gathered during this stage, both the fire alarm and security systems are developed.

With both fire and security systems the design problems are relatively simple to solve. Here are just a few of the considerations: Security must work with local fire and safety personnel; security must understand and comply with fire codes; security should question building maintenance personnel as to their needs; the security system must comply with corporate insurance requirements; and the security department must integrate its own operational requirements into the system.

Security managers must constantly think about how to operate their buildings in the most economical manner with the least possible risk. They must consider how much operating costs will rise in five years, what the security liabilities will be, and how these problems can be addressed. Security managers also need to project how many people it will take to operate the system, what their responsibilities will be, and how they will be deployed.

Security managers must carefully develop all the system requirements. These requirements should address the needs of all concerned people and departments on every operational detail of the systems.

Security managers must objectively consider alternative plans. They must know what equipment is available, how it operates, and how much it costs. It is easy to come up with a system, but managers must also ensure that the system is economically feasible.

Mechanical and electrical engineers are unlikely to spend time developing the inventory stage. The same can be said for manufacturers or distributors. They may not ask the questions needed to thoroughly understand the owner's objectives, which may need definition and refining. In addition, if the manufacturer or distributor designs the fire and security system, it will naturally specify its own equipment or the equipment it carries. However, such equipment does not always best fit the job requirements.

Specifications. There are two general approaches to writing specifications for fire and security systems. One is a detailed specification that spells out what equipment must be furnished and how it must be installed. The second approach includes a complete description of how the system must work.

Using the first approach, security managers pick out exactly what equipment they want and illustrate in detail how to wire it. If vendors wish to substitute equipment they can, but they must ensure that the equipment will perform according to the system layout at no additional cost.

The second approach requires a more lengthy specification with complete descriptions of all the functions the system must perform. The specification author writes down everything the system must accomplish. How the vendor achieves the specifications is up to the vendor.

Both approaches have advantages. With the detailed equipment specification a vendor usually is carefully picked. A competitive vendor must come in and match the equipment. The favored vendor knows exactly what equipment he or she must furnish, where it has to go, and how it must be wired to function.

On the other hand, every vendor knows what he or she has to do with the descriptive specification. It is a competitive procurement; theoretically, everyone can bid. Vendors can furnish equipment at the lowest possible cost to accomplish the job and pick out the equipment.

The descriptive approach leaves room for varied interpretations, no matter how detailed the specification. Vendors get concerned and hedge their price.

No best way exists for writing a specification. A security manager must look at the total job and what needs to be accomplished.

Certain provisions should be included in any specification. Security managers should add provisions that deal with equipment obsolescence. The surge of new technologies and products into the fire and security industries has resulted in serious obsolescence problems. Some manufacturers do not support or supply parts for equipment that has been in service for less than five years.

Companies have spent a lot of money installing systems only to find out later that they could not get parts or that the manufacturer was not supporting the software after three or four years of operation. Owners naturally become angry when they are told they must pay to expand or to keep their system running.

This has happened with large manufacturers as well as small ones. It makes for an unhappy system user when the company has spent dearly for a system for which it cannot get parts after a few years. A few well-placed paragraphs in the specification requiring that the vendor supply equipment for at least 10 years are helpful.

Companies should also have the vendor provide a thorough history of its activities, citing other users of the specified system and equipment. This step should provide some protection.

The specification must also address the guarantee and service provisions. It is difficult to get manufacturers and distributors to guarantee equipment for more than one year. A two-year guarantee is desirable, particularly for larger systems.

Most new systems are accompanied by a debugging period, and it simply takes time to get all the little problems worked out. If problems involve software or equipment, it is better to have the manufacturer, rather than the company, pay for service charges.

Service requirements on both the fire and security systems should also be included in the specification. Although having service costs covered for the various systems for the first five years is essential, many manufacturers and distributors do not want to include long-term service and testing price commitments on their equipment after the first year.

Security managers may choose to specify that the costs for service be provided for both regular-time service--8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday--and full-time service--24 hours a day, seven days a week. A system must be serviced and tested throughout its life. Failure to do this will eventually lead to extra expenses and shorten the system's life.

Another important part of the specification is the acceptance test. The specification must clearly indicate how this test will be performed and who will administer it. A written report with signatures should be required after the test to ensure that each device was tested and that it performed according to the specification. Sometimes a third party can test the systems. Acceptance tests are essential; once the system is accepted, the warranty usually starts.

Even with detailed specifications and extra paragraphs of information, buyers of fire and security systems must still scrutinize their bid documents. The low bid is not necessarily the best deal.

Too often the proposal is full of "vaporware." Vaporware may take the form of promises by the local salesperson that the equipment can be made to work in accordance with the company's specifications, even though the manufacturer's specifications are different. In these cases, product capability may be stretched too far.

For example, a card access control system specification may call for one person to pass through a controlled door per minute. But the central control processor may not be able to process access control data that fast when there are multiple doors. The buyer must know about CCTV equipment and how it can be integrated into the system. The vendor price may be low because the CCTV display and camera equipment does not meet the specifications. Equipment specification sheets are often ambiguous and it is difficult to determine what works with what.

Now is an excellent time to buy fire and security alarm equipment. Manufacturers and distributors are competing for business in a tough economic environment. Companies should look at the total picture, however, noting whether the drop in prices on the equipment is being made up in the price of service contracts and extras.

Security managers should beware of bargains, and they should watch out for vaporware. Only through careful research during the inventory stage and detailed and complete specifications will security managers find the fire alarm and security systems that match their needs.

William L. Bliss, CPP, is president of W. L. Bliss Associates Inc. in Dedham, MA. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bliss, William L.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:1499
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