Industry Perspective

A conversation with John Hakanson

FIRE and life safety are as much a part of security as any one device in the industry. The fact of the matter is the fire and life safety industry is an early-warning activity that protects people, property and business interests. Innovation and technology are changing the way we think about this part of the industry in a positive way. We spoke to John Hakanson, recently named president and CEO of System Sensor, to get a better understanding of this segment of the security industry.

Q. What are the leading drivers that the fire and life safety industry will face over the next few years?

A. Product innovation continues to be one of the growth drivers in the fire and life safety industry. While our industry growth is tightly linked to construction activity, true growth occurs through innovation that better protects life and property.

At System Sensor, we are committed to expanding the life-safety proposition, never accepting the status quo. This way of thinking led to the development of our ExitPointTM directional sound product. By challenging the definition of life safety, we've determined it's not enough to just notify people of a fire -- with our partners, we've done a good job of this for many years -- but we should now guide building occupants to safety.

Q. How will directional sound devices change the way we view this aspect of the fire and life safety industry?

A. By tapping into a sense that is unaffected by smoke -- hearing -- directional sound technology provides clear, easy-to-understand assistance for finding the nearest exit. ExitPoint's ability to provide directional information is based on its non-verbal, multi-frequency tones, enabling people to locate the sounds and follow the sounders to designated exits. Evacuations occur much faster than with other emergency egress aids, even in completely unfamiliar buildings. Directional sounders can decrease exit times in a smoke-filled area by up to 75 percent and up to 35 percent in clear visibility.

Q. Any trends the industry should be paying more attention to?

A. Ten years ago, this industry was not comprised of Fortune 50 companies. Today, with the entry of R&D-focused corporations like Honeywell, the expectations of end users have heightened. Now, building owners, engineers and installers can expect to see an acceleration of new technology development.

The trend is toward wireless and addressable technologies. Both technologies minimize the installation costs and provide more accurate notification. In addition, both will report their alarm or trouble condition to the control panel, making it easier to pinpoint the exact alarm and trouble conditions.

Q. What do you view as your next growth areas, and what should your customers expect from you?

A. With access to a vast library of technological innovation, System Sensor is in a favorable position to address the issues facing the life-safety industry. Our reach will soon extend into monitoring gas, including carbon monoxide. We already have wireless smoke detector systems, high-sensitivity smoke detection and directional sound technology.

Q. The product offering from System Sensor has expanded. Any news about existing lines?

A. Several years ago, System Sensor engineers started with a clean slate to redesign our flagship audible/visible product line. The goal was to develop notification appliances with features that echo the voice of the customer. Industry leaders unanimously requested A/V devices that would be easier to specify, configure and install.

System Sensor's previous generation of A/V devices, SpectrAlert®, is a popular choice among fire professionals because the current draw is lower than most in the industry. But, we were determined to raise the bar higher, using the previous gold standard as the starting block.

The result is our new SpectrAlert® AdvanceTM, available later this year. It is a culmination of our research and design efforts. Among other sophisticated features, SpectrAlert Advance offers a plug-in design for pre-wiring mounting plates; 11 candela settings for selecting the ideal light output for each installation; and shorting springs for checking wiring continuity before installing devices. SpectrAlert Advance indoor and outdoor, wall and ceiling devices incorporate technology that gives our customers the capacity to do more business with the same resources.

While product advances are quite common in any industry, most are incremental changes based on the same platform. What System Sensor did, however, was against the grain -- we reinvested in an already mature, industry-leading product line to make it even better.

Q. How will these introductions affect the industry?

A. Clearly, it's imperative for a system to possess the capability to meet the specific needs of the people who actually use the product. Designing the platform with operating costs in mind, SpectrAlert Advance draws up to 40 percent less energy than competing models and offers the widest range of candela selections in the industry.

The new product line also was designed to allow installers to quickly configure the devices in the field. Installers also will appreciate SpectrAlert Advance's rotary switch for horn tone selection, synchronized sound for chime and horn, three volume settings on horn products, two volume settings on chime products and outdoor products listed from -40 to 151 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the distributor, the benefit is a complete product line that will increase volume and sales. It's a win for everyone down the line.

Q. What is your vision of the security industry for 2007?

A. As businesses and institutions move to strengthen emergency notification capabilities, a demand for more sophisticated devices will emerge in 2007. From a fire and life-safety point of view, we're seeing industry challenges being driven by the ever-increasing intricacy of system electronics. Integration of technologies will continue to permeate the industry and provide more options. For example, more advanced solutions will use a wireless network or a fiber-optic network capable of simultaneously transmitting audio and digital communications over a single fiber-optic strand. Wireless emergency communications systems also can incorporate intruder detection, area isolation, as well as fire and special hazards protection. In addition, notification systems will evolve to do more than just notifying building occupants of an emergency. This is a departure from past philosophical design of fire alarm systems, when louder is better. We want to make sure these innovative solutions have quality enhancement built into the design.

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