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FIA Technical Briefing

by Brian Sims

The topic of integrating fire safety and security systems is one that has been around for the last 30 years or more. Convenience for the end user and reduced cost through the sharing of infrastructure are usually the prime drivers for the idea of integrating such systems into one solution, but is this integration possible in the real world? Robert Yates delves into the fine detail.

Over the years, various products have been developed in an attempt to bring the very different types of system found in the fire safety and security sectors together and realise a seamless experience for the end user.

However, full integration between a fire alarm system comprising of a control panel, detectors, sounders and Call Points and security systems that may include a range of products such as motion detection sensors, access control systems or CCTV can present a series of problems both in terms of the technical perspective and as a result of contrasting requirements. That being so, there are many aspects to consider before integration can be successful.

In the past, the issues outlined have proven insurmountable. However, with technology advancing so rapidly and concepts such as the Internet of Things and Power over Ethernet becoming more and more understood, the time for genuine change may soon be upon us. For advances to be made, it’s vitally important to understand the underlying issues involved.

It’s clear that the data transfer requirements of a CCTV system are much higher than those demanded by intrusion, access control and fire detection/safety systems, but there are other issues that make technological integration uneconomical from the traditional perspective.

Fire systems must operate robustly over extended periods following activation. For their part, intrusion systems need to be fast in response to ensure that they cannot be tampered with, but the necessity for continued operation beyond detection isn’t so critical.

In addition, fire systems need to provide greater alarm current to power sounders and beacons throughout the building for evacuation. Intruder systems have no such requirements as they only usually have one or two sounders plus communication to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). Ultimately, this has resulted in divergent technological implementation classically highlighted by security systems being predominantly 12 V while fire systems tend to be 24 V.

In the same way, fire systems have developed to provide power for sounders and beacons over two cable cores as well as adding isolators to ensure circuit integrity. If the systems were fully integrated then the cost implications for intrusion products would be uneconomic.

Contradictory requirements

One of the primary issues to address is that fire and security often have opposing requirements, making full integration somewhat difficult.

The classic example of the contradictory requirements of fire and security systems is that of door control. In principle, security requires doors to be shut, locked and impregnable. Fire safety requirements, of course, demand that doors can be opened and their use unimpeded.

For many applications, the requirements for fire safety have resulted in standards that effectively prohibit the control of doors via access control systems in the event of a fire scenario. BS 7273-4 requires that doors are released not only in the event of fire outbreak, but also for power supply faults, cable problems, detector removal and/or isolation.

Another key difference between fire and security revolves around threats to the systems. The fire environment is relatively benign, with little reason for human tampering and a constant inflexible risk. The world of security is somewhat different, though. Malicious targeting of security system could be seen to be inevitable. A dynamic risk demands continual development of countermeasures.

Using today’s available technologies within the current regulatory framework, the imposition of additional and evolving security measures to fire systems would again increase costs prohibitively.

At every step of the way, it seems that small details between the differences in fire and security solutions are enough to separate them. The dream is to have one simple user interface for multiple systems in these smart phone-dominated days. However, the devil – as always – is somewhere in the detail.

It’s typical for marketing and design-focused staff to bemoan the old fashioned – some would even say ugly – design of fire alarm panels. However, the requirements of EN54-2, the European Standard for Control and Indicating Equipment, are quite prescriptive, while compliance with different national requirements further inhibits the potential for more stylish and appealing designs.

When these factors are taken into consideration, the advantages of integration into a single panel lose all attractiveness. Even the positioning of the different panels highlights the issue at hand. Fire panels must be conspicuously placed in the main entrance, while an intrusion panel is expected to be far more discrete.

Regulatory issues

Fire safety solutions differ from security systems in being covered by the Construction Products Regulation (CPR). This document requires that all fire alarm products covered by a harmonised standard are tested and approved by a notified body.

In point of fact, it’s illegal for a manufacturer to place on the European market any product without the related Declaration of Performance associated with this approval. It can already be a challenge for the manufacturers of multi-function fire products (eg combined detectors/sounders/beacons/isolators) to maintain all relevant approvals in the event of any standard amendments. Integration of further product elements makes this task even more of an onerous one.

It also becomes difficult to update products with new features. An improvement to the intruder-centric features of a combined fire and security product might need to have a delayed market introduction due to re-approval of the entire product for the CPR. This delay will typically be between 18 and 24 months.

Emergency connection

Aside from the regulatory issues of creating a fully-integrated product, there’s another issue in play: the common connection to the Emergency Services. The latest (2017) edition of BS 5839-1 accepted the common practice of fire alarms being connected to ARCs using the intruder alarm communicator rather than a designated and separate fire communicator.

The issue here is that the connection between the fire panel and the communicator needs to be monitored and, usually, wired in fireproof cable. In those instances where the communicator is combined into an intrusion panel, the utmost care needs to be taken that any programming change doesn’t adversely affect the fire connection.

Finally, the performance of the Alarm Transmission System itself needs to be carefully selected. Faults on the Alarm Transmission Path (ATP) need to be promptly recognised by the ARC when associated with the fire alarm system. These will be treated as a fault and lead to the service organisation being contacted. Intrusion systems require that faults on the ATP are treated as potential hostile acts, and would lead to the police service being called. The fault detection times are therefore normally set longer to filter out sporadic faults and reduce the possibility of false alarms.

Focus on the positives

Integration of fire and security systems has been successful at the management station level. Building Management Systems typically provide PC-based graphics packages and integration software to bring fire and security functions together, while also maintaining the different systems’ core independence. These allow one user interface for security personnel to monitor fire and security systems with a lone software package.

Interactions can be set up between the systems. For example, a fire within an area could activate a CCTV camera in the same location. An operator could then confirm the possible cause of the alarm. Such systems afford a tantalising view of the possibilities of full integration at the field device level.

Integration also raises the prospect of maintenance cost savings with both systems being serviced in a combined visit from one service engineer who can be trained on a single combined system programmed via a common programming tool. Once again, though, it must be stated that the potential savings to be realised here are not as clear as in practice.

Robert Yates is Technical Manager at the Fire Industry Association

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