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Article - July 2000
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Joe Ouellette,
 Product Manager,
Fire Alarm Marketing, 
Simplex


Intelligent Fire Notification: A Breakthrough in the Fire Alarm Industry 
Lower Cost of Installation and Maintenance, Unobtrusive Compliance Testing, Better Diagnostics

Introduction:

TrueAlertWhen it comes to fire alarm systems, building owners, building managers, and electrical contractors are first and foremost concerned with meeting all appropriate codes. Beyond that, their primary interests involve the system's cost of installation and maintenance, the ease of compliance testing, and the ability to quickly diagnose and resolve any problems. Therefore, all three constituencies will be interested to know that recent advances in fire notification system technology address the very issues they consider most important. Developed by Simplex, the new technology for the first time extends the benefits of interactive addressability to notification appliances - the horns, strobes and combination horn/strobes that warn building occupants of a fire.

Addressable technology for smoke detection was introduced a decade ago, but until now its benefits have been confined to the detection component of fire alarm systems. The growth in the use of addressable smoke-detection systems has been steady and consistent. Industrywide, a large percentage of fire-detection systems today are addressable. However, notification appliances have remained conventional and less functional than detection devices. The development of addressable notification technology represents a significant breakthrough that will further revolutionize the industry, bringing new and valuable benefits to those who use, purchase, install and design fire-alarm systems.

What are the advantages of an addressable fire-notification system?

Addressability has certainly proven to be an important industry advancement. This technology gives each fire-detection unit a unique address - such as Smoke Sensor, Room 214, North Building, Second Floor - which the control panel can read and analyze. That kind of interactive two-way communication has been available on the fire-detection side since Simplex introduced its TrueAlarm smoke sensors in the early 1990s. But fire-notification technology has been a different story. In fact, the fire notification appliance designs used in most systems are approximately 40 years old. It's been clear for some time that a significant update in notification technology was needed to meet today's construction and protection needs.

The new notification technology coming on the market provides global addressability and true end-to-end intelligence. And it brings many advantages, including scalability, survivability and a

dramatically lower cost of installation, testing and maintenance. An addressable fire-notification system, because it offers intelligent communications between system devices and the control panel, provides functionality that conventional systems cannot deliver. It can provide a solution that meets the toughest requirements for protecting people and property.

What are the key benefits of addressable fire notification technology?

Once addressable smoke detectors became available, there was a dramatic decrease in the amount of wiring needed for the detection system. The installation of addressable notification appliances can provide similar savings. Addressable technology brings the advantages of T-Tap wiring to a fire alarm system's output notification appliance component. The installer uses fewer wires and can connect more appliances per circuit, which makes for a fast, error-free installation. In many projects, T-Tapping can save the installer 30% or more in labor and materials. For electrical contractors therefore, addressable technology offers an opportunity to increase profitability by lowering costs. Non-addressable notification appliances require a labyrinth of wires, which take a long time to install and leave many opportunities for errors during installation.

Because upgrades are not limited to remote panels, system alterations are also easier and less costly than is the case with systems utilizing centralized intelligence. In an addressable system, conventional hard-wired circuits are replaced with data communication circuits. And point-addressable systems provide a discrete address for each device - even when many devices share a circuit. This advancement has a major impact on the quantity of field circuits necessary to achieve desired zoning and device-description detail.

In addition to lower installation costs, building owners and managers will benefit from the new fire-notification technology's ability to offer unobtrusive daytime testing, even when a facility is fully occupied.

In terms of cost, how does the new intelligent fire-notification system stack up against non-addressable systems?

While an addressable system may initially be slightly more expensive, it will mean lower costs for the building owner over the lifetime of the system. Addressable notification systems streamline compliance testing, simplify system maintenance, and facilitate a forward-thinking strategy to meet future fire system technology requirements. In the final analysis, building owners can protect their investment, improve system functionality, and lower the cost of ownership by selecting a high-quality, high-technology fire alarm system.

How can a contractor convince a building owner that he or she will save money by spending more up-front?

When a project goes out for bid, engineers need to specify the best system for that customer's long-term needs. If it appears that a competitive bid proposes a significantly less costly package, a contractor may find it difficult to include a higher-cost system up front - even though in the long run it may reduce the owner's overall costs.

The building owner needs to understand that a better fire detection and alarm system, in addition to enhancing safety and protection, will more than pay for itself over the life of the system. To draw a parallel, building managers often select aluminum- or vinyl-clad windows instead of wood windows that have to be painted. The wood windows may have a lower initial cost. But the vinyl windows, because they do not require labor-intensive painting, have a significantly reduced cost of maintenance. When viewed in the context of total cost of ownership, they can be a better investment. The same principles can be applied to an addressable fire-notification system.

How will this new fire-notification system save money on compliance testing?

Control Solutions, Inc The new notification appliance technology will help building owners meet the mandated compliance testing requirements of the National Fire Alarm Code. The sophisticated addressable technology makes compliance testing faster, easier and less costly. Each appliance, because it has a separate address, can be tested locally - with a local-area test feature. The testing can only be performed when the system has been placed in a test mode. The testing is then conducted with a hand-held test tool that triggers the notification appliance. The local-area testing can be conducted in one of two modes:

Silent (LED only). In essence, this is installation-mode testing. It's a silent test where the contractor, after installing the system, is able to individually check each notification appliance to determine if it's wired correctly. If the appliance is functioning properly, the LED flashes its address.

Audible/Visible: In this mode, the hand-held test tool momentarily activates both the horn and strobe. The advantage here is that compliance testing can be completed during regular business hours, with a building fully occupied and without disturbing the occupants.

In designing systems, it's extremely important for engineers to consider how the systems they're specifying will be tested and maintained. The right system can eliminate substantial costs down the line.

Does this new notification-appliance technology meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The addressable fire-notification system Simplex has developed (known as TrueAlert) is in strict conformance with ADA requirements. The ADA mandates that audible-alarm notification be supplemented by visible-alarm notification (such as strobe lights) to alert people with hearing disabilities. If multiple strobe lights are visible from one location, the apparent flash rate should not exceed the one- to two- flashes-per-second threshold for photo-sensitive epilepsy. It's also important that a system provide synchronization of the strobes, which assures the perceived flash rate does not extend into a frequency that poses risks to photo-sensitive people.

Can this new fire-notification system be easily expanded should the need arise?

Yes. With an addressable fire notification system, the cost of expanding the system to provide additional devices for new or existing tenants will be considerably less. T-Tap wiring allows addressable sensors and notification appliances to be "dead-ended" on a given circuit. T-Tap connectivity offers an opportunity for relatively low-cost system upgrades. That's because new notification appliances can be added by tapping into the wiring already in place from the original installation.

How can early design decisions affect the cost of a fire detection and alarm system?

Initially, the expansion capabilities of a fire detection and alarm system must be considered as well as the design flexibility. The design of a system must take into account the concept of future operability. An intelligent audible/visible fire notification system meets these challenges head-on.

By specifying a system that meets current and future detection and alarm requirements, a design engineer can offer the building owner investment protection. It's important that a fire-notification system be "forward engineered and backward compatible." That means it works with a provider's existing panels and provides a built-in migration path to the systems of the future. Fire alarm manufacturers offering systems that meet these criteria provide more flexibility and better value to their customers.

Addressable fire-notification systems provide the most design flexibility because they can be programmed centrally via software and significantly reduce the cost of annual maintenance through self-testing capabilities.

According to Section 7-1.2 of the 1999 edition of the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72), "The owner or owner's designated representative shall be responsible for inspection, testing and maintenance of the system and alterations or additions to this system." With the burden of inspection, testing and maintenance so clearly placed on an owner, it's critical that the issue of long-term costs be addressed in a project's early design phase.

How can the issue of system survivability affect my fire-notification system selection?

Reliable Controls Because fire detection and alarm systems are designed to protect life and property, building owners and the public expect these systems to be reliable. There are many facilities - new and old - in which the functioning of the fire system may be compromised due to the environment or daily activities. By specifying high-performance fire-notification systems, a design engineer can strategically offer survivability in addition to reliability.

In an addressable system, the precise location of a problem condition can easily be pinpointed, anywhere on the system. If a device-level ground fault occurs, it's automatically isolated. Consequently, the problem can be identified in two to four minutes, rather than the two to four hours it typically takes when diagnosing conventional appliances. In this way, an addressable system provides added survivability. In the event the system goes down, it can be quickly returned to operation, thereby reducing the risk of occupancy delays.

Conclusion:

In summary, a fire-notification system plays a critical role in protecting a building and the owner's investment in it. The advent of addressable technology promises to advance the functionality, performance, flexibility and cost effectiveness of these systems. Building owners, building managers and contractors - as well as design engineers - would be well served to check out this new development and what it means for the fire alarm industry.

For more information, call 1-800-SIMPLEX or visit our web site at www.simplexnet.com


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