St. Louis Airport: A Hot Property

Business at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is climbing high thanks to an intelligent fire protection system

RANKED in the top 25 busiest airports in North America for aircraft operations and passengers by Airport Council International (ACI) in 2003, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport has a significant $5.1 billion annual economic impact on the St. Louis region.

The airport houses 10 major airlines, 15 commuter airlines, five onsite air cargo airlines and two major charter companies that use the 83 gates within the facility's four concourses. In 2004, Lambert saw 14 million passengers, with approximately 756 daily arrivals and departures.

The Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is a property that is rapidly expanding. While the airport currently sits on approximately 2,162 acres of land, an additional 1,544 acres will be annexed through an expansion program that will be completed this year. It will, in fact, be the largest capital improvement project in St. Louis history.

Business at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is thriving. Consequently, the airport is in the midst of a major upgrade to its fire alarm systems.

The systems are being provided by NOTIFIER. About five years ago, the then new East Terminal -- constructed specifically for Southwest Airlines -- was upgraded with two intelligent fire alarm control systems and five audio command centers installed and networked over fiber-optic cable. Technologically, these systems were a quantum leap over the hard-wired systems that were previously in place and provided a level of control that airport management had never seen before in its fire protection equipment.

Now, with this most recent improvement, both the East Terminal and the Main Terminal -- in essence the entire airport -- will be protected with an intelligent fire alarm network system.

Actually, the East Terminal project was inspired by the NOTIFIER systems that were already in place, said Leroy Ginther, project manager for Tech Electronics, the company that has been handling the upgrade.

"There were several NOTIFIER systems in place -- at two other concourse locations and at the tower," he said. "Those systems, which had been installed about five years ago, had performed quite well, so there was no hesitation to use the same products for the East Terminal project.

Gither said the main reason for the upgrades was the need for increased control.

"With the airport expansion in the offing, there would be more territory to protect and a need to respond to emergencies more quickly and effectively," he said. "Management felt that the technology of its older systems would be insufficient to meet those needs. They felt, correctly, that they would need intelligent systems with PC graphical workstations to visually identify the source of a fire. This was something that actually began running through their heads about 10 years ago."

Now, with this most recent improvement, both the East Terminal and the Main Terminal -- in essence the entire airport -- will be protected with an intelligent fire alarm network system. It will be a networked fire alarm system consisting of 43 nodes.

Tech Electronics also installed all cabling, conduit and wiring, working closely with the electrical contractors on the project. Some areas will not be over fiber; thus they are being converted back from fiber to wire. There also will be intelligent fire alarm equipment installed in a new fire station being built, which also will report back to the network control station (NCS). Because equipment is completely backwards-compatible, the existing systems in the East Terminal is easily integrated into the new network.

The emergency voice evacuation system will communicate over the fire alarm system's speakers and will eventually be integrated into the airport's general paging system. The control that this new system will afford airport management cannot be overstated. The concourses are divided into zones. Consequently, if something happens in D concourse, only that concourse will receive a page and only the specific part of the concourse area that is affected will be evacuated.

The fire alarm network links multiple intelligent fire alarm control panels together as one, providing network-wide cooperative control and monitoring throughout the entire airport. Each fire alarm panel on the network maintains individual programming and continues to operate both independently and cohesively as part of a unified network. This prevents the loss of a single node from compromising other panels.

The result is improved system survivability. The system grows and expands as the needs of the facility increase, making it ideal for upgrades, retrofits and multi-phase installation projects, such as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

The graphics on the systems are a welcomed feature, Ginther said.

"We are putting CAD drawings of the building on the NCS so that airport employees can graphically see the outlines of the building," he said. "With these graphics, personnel will be able to see the exact component that is producing the alarm."

The ability of the system to detect false alarms also is critical, and that's where NOTIFIER's ONYX Intelligent Sensing comes into play. A restaurant may accidentally set off an alarm in a cooking mishap, but by using the intelligent sensing software -- algorithms found in fire alarm control panels -- the system can quickly determine whether it is a real emergency or simply a burnt meal.

The programming and operation are being done on an as-needed basis, and Tech Electronics has been able to respond to immediate needs. For instance, just before the NCAA men's basketball tournament in March 2005, the airport wanted specific areas to be available, since a large number of teams would be arriving. Tech Electronics was able to accommodate this requirement. In addition, the existing system would have to stay operational until all of the areas are ready to turn over next year.

Ginther attributes the success of projects like this to his company's willingness to work with architects and contractors from the very beginning.

"On a project like the East Terminal, we worked with architects and engineers right up front," he said. "We had input into the wiring, specifications and layout well back in the planning stages of the terminal itself. This goes a long way toward ensuring that the fire protection systems are going to be installed properly and will provide maximum performance."

He also addressed the issue of adequate fire protection in a unique facility like an airport.

"Think about the overwhelming number of people who are being processed at any one time in an airport," he said. "Think about all of the security stations, all of the concourses, the long lines, people waiting for flights, people in restrooms. And then there are the employees to consider, as well."

Ginther said evacuation procedures must be coordinated and executed with maximum precision to ensure safety.

"That's why the emergency systems at Lambert are so important," he said. "It's not only critical to be able to quickly identify the source of a fire, but also to be able to distinguish a false alarm from the real thing. In a real emergency, it also is essential to have control over the situation, so that only the people who are potentially affected by the fire are alerted."

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Security Products, pgs. 42-43.


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