Pull For Fire

Information is essential in selecting the appropriate power supplies

In recent years, the wide acceptance of the Internet, cell phones, instant messaging, PDAs, online video and wireless networks has created an expectation that real-time information is available instantaneously, anywhere, on demand. Growing expectations are now being applied to all types of facility-based applications, but many fire alarm systems have lagged severely behind other applications like CCTV and access control.

The end users, installing and servicing dealers, monitoring personnel, first responders and manufacturers want and deserve more real-time information about the fire alarm system installations they count on to protect the people they serve.

New Potential
When an alarm goes off at 3 a.m. in a fully occupied hotel, what happens? Typically, a call is placed to the on-call service technician, who has to jump out of bed to drive to the hotel and try to resolve the problem. This service takes hours to complete.

What if you had a system that allows you to log on from an Internet connection with a common Web browser, look at the system, review its status and make the proper decisions to resolve the problem without even going to the location? Fire alarm system users are demanding more real-time information about installed systems and the threats to facilities. The only way—as an industry—to satisfy them is to exploit the power of a centralized database that will be able to safely store and serve needed information to the appropriate users on demand. A centralized database is a complex unit on which data is stored. Users can connect to this database to create, store and reuse data from the database, which can reside anywhere.

Centralization is the key to unlocking the potential of both convenience and security in a fire alarm system. This technology contains all of the system’s information, programming, service history and signal logs. Rather than locking this information away at the panel location, the information is housed on a secure server that can deliver the comprehensive data over the Web via an Internet connection— any time, any place.

Extra-Sensory Protection
A reliable Web-based suite of software tools with real-time information called eSP has been developed. eSP meets the needs of both the installing dealer and the customer, and is available through an Internet connection. Sometimes referred to as “the future of detection,” in reality it’s not the future, but rather the potential of available technology.

Terry Lawn of Affordable Fire Solutions of Linwood, N.J., said the convenience of the technology impresses customers more than discussing the merits of the centralized database that drives the convenience.

“Our customers love eSP. It contains all the information from the project conception though the entire lifecycle of the system,” Lawn said. “We use the system to build our quotes, program our panels, schedule inspections and manage our monitored accounts.

“What makes it special is we also can allow customers to log onto the system and review their history or look at the last inspection over the Internet. This makes them feel more secure about their system and the service we provide.”

Prior to Internet access and the use of a centralized database application, panel information and data were stored within individual systems at remote locations; common data had to be replicated and could not be shared. With Internet access commonplace, and the development of eSP as a central database, making information available to multiple users in a cost-effective, secure manner is not just a matter of convenience and security; it’s an evolutionary step for the industry.

Consistent Quality
Life safety and engineered fire alarm systems are taking advantage of technology because it is a natural step for the industry. The dealers and end users, such as the hotel industry, are some of the benefactors.

For his part, Nate Grimes, of S.A. Comunale in Barberton, Ohio, said the strength of a centralized database lies in the ability to pre-program, clone and securely store detailed system information.

“My customers like that the panel is programmed via the Internet,” said Grimes, whose business consistently earns installations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Through pre-programming and remote access to the centralized database with an Internet connection, a technician can program any panel system anywhere in the world, at any time of the day. Once the remote programming is complete, using the centralized database, it is stored forever on a secure server so there are no more lost programs. Gone are the days when a technician had to spend hours waiting at a construction site. Now, when a technician arrives at the job site, the program is downloaded to the panel in minutes and the job is finished.

Grimes said that hospitality chains also like the consistency of system programming, as well as the convenience.

“Concord Hospitality, which owns and operates hotels all across the United States, likes the consistency of programming because the job isn’t being held up because someone isn’t on the job site the day of installation,” Grimes said. “Now, there are no excuses for the programming not being done on time with consistent quality.”

In fact, the day the panel goes live, Concord downloads the program, which is stored indefinitely in case of emergency.

“If something happens to the panel, such as a lightning strike, we don’t have to go out and reprogram—which takes hours,” Grimes said. “We just do a new download.”

For end users, the benefit of a centralized database is that they have access to the information they need—and information can be segregated, based upon management need-to-know status. There are the three levels of access: overall access, local manager’s access and access at the property.

With information at managers’ fingertips, they can make an informed decision about the systems; they need only an Internet connection and a login to their personalized reporting page.

Viking Electronic Services uses a centralized database to present system information that allows management to make critical decisions any time, from anywhere. When there is a signal in a hotel, the front desk clerk doesn’t have to make a decision. A special instruction can be set up in the database for that system to contact the hotel manager. That manager can log on to the system from anywhere and see the panel.

That means no more midnight fire drills for hotel guests. The manager can make the decision as to what action to take. With this technology, a manager can be 20 miles away and make an informed decision to dispatch the fire department and activate the hotel fire alarm. The importance to a hotel, of course, is that guests are not disturbed.

“Customers really like the ability to see the panel’s signal history remotely,” Lawn said. “Recently, when one of our customers was having problems, I was able to log on to eSP, look at the signal history and determine the exact nature of the problem. I did this online without moving one truck. When we ran the service call, we had exactly what we needed to fix the problem— no second trip—and a happy customer. From a service standpoint, it looks like we are there 24/7.”

Unprecedented Support
By using the Internet and the centralized database, dealers have the ability to support customers like never before. One dealer in Florida noted that one of his hotels was having a problem because a smoke detector was tripped in the middle of the night. He was able to go online, test the device and instruct the customer to reset the system. They shut off the bells so everyone could go back to sleep at 3 a.m.

An Internet-accessible fire alarm system with centralized database technology also offers programming advantages. Losing a system’s programming is a thing of the past. All of the system’s programming can remain on a secure server with automatic backup. System programming can be viewed and reviewed by multiple authorized users who have Internet access from anywhere in the world. No more loading software onto a laptop that has to be maintained and upgraded—and may run the risk of being stolen.

The Internet and a centralized database would allow users to view signal reports with the click of a mouse. From anywhere, a manager can view the activity of a system and what appliances are active. When an alarm sounds, an end user doesn’t have to run to the basement or a closet to see what is happening. Simply bring up the Web browser and check the display; all of the functionality of the fire alarm system is on the desktop. The system becomes a comprehensive inspection template; with the push of a button, a complete report can be produced with NFPA standardizations. A visiting fire marshal’s test result instantly can be produced.

Given the convergence of technologies that already have made life easier and secure through enhanced communications and productivity, it is only natural that Internet access and use of a comprehensive centralized database enhance the lives of hotel owners, managers, fire alarm system installers and hotel guests.

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