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General Mills installs NOTIFIER intelligent fire alarm network with voice evacuation

Whether it's for a new children's cereal or a comprehensive fire and life safety system, Lauren Hoen, a building operations manger for General Mills Inc., understands that the recipe for success calls for only the finest ingredients.

Hoen is the building operations manager at the James Ford Bell Technical Center, General Mills' research and development facility located in Minneapolis. Recently, Hoen was tasked with finding a fire safety system that could address the extensive challenges posed by the large and complex JFB campus.

The JFB Technical Center's 690,000-square-foot facility is home to numerous research and development labs and offices, sensory labs and four pilot plants. The center also houses a cereal science classroom and a comprehensive research library that contains more than 800 journals, 20,000 books, 500 online databases and 1,400 food industry Internet resources.

Learning From Experience

The existing fire alarm system at JFB was nearly 20 years old and no longer in production, making system upgrades impossible. Hoen had seen first-hand in his former job at Pillsbury that a NOTIFIER system could provide a powerful, effective and flexible fire safety solution for a large company.

"I installed my first NOTIFIER system at the Pillsbury R&D center in the early 1980s," Hoen said. "Upgrades and building expansions over the years have kept the system current to this day. I've installed fire alarm systems at four different facilities over the years. From my experience, I knew that a NOTIFIER system would provide a seamless and consistent interface for the JFB campus."

In Control

To get the precise NOTIFER system he needed, Hoen worked with Low Voltage Contractors, a NOTIFIER distributor that's been serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for 22 years. Dan Westberg, operations manager at Low Voltage Contractors, said NOTIFIER was a natural fit to address the projects' complexities.

"The JFB campus, with its size, unique needs and unusual serpentine configuration, posed many challenges to maintaining fire safety," Westberg said. "The building itself is designed with a primary 'spine' with branches shooting off of it at many different points, some leading to entirely new and sizable building sections. The NOTIFIER product had the horsepower, ease of use and zone control that the application demanded."

Westberg recommended that a NOTIFIER ONYX series NFS2-3030 intelligent fire alarm-voice evacuation control panel be located in the facility's incident command center, and an ONYXWorks® graphical workstation and 18 NFS2-640 intelligent fire alarm control panels be strategically located throughout the building.

"I find the zoned voice evacuation components to be highly valuable," Hoen said. "The NOTIFIER system gives us complete vision of and control over fire safety, yet it is extremely intuitive to use. I particularly like the ONYXWorks graphical user interface—because ease of use is critical."

The primary NFS2-3030 control panel, which can support up to 10 signaling line circuits and 3,180 intelligent devices, is paired with the ONYXWorks graphical workstation and a 40-inch monitor in the JFB Incident Command Center. The ONYXWorks workstation integrates all the fire safety components into a single point of control. In conjunction with the monitor, it provides a graphical overview of conditions throughout the facility and allows all key personnel at the Incident Command Center to supervise and control fire safety throughout JFB. In addition, the system features an integrated speaker control panel for communication capabilities with fire fighting personnel, and all building engineers and maintenance engineers have voice pagers to receive updates on alarm status.

The 18 NFS2-640s are linked to the NFS2-3030, ONYXWorks and to one another via NOTI-FIRE-NET, NOTIFIER's intelligent fire alarm network. On the network, each panel operates independently, yet cohesively, as part of the unified fire and life safety system. NOTI-FIRE-NET's flexibility and expandability aligned perfectly with the needs of both Hoen and JFB.

"We did not want another proprietary system that could only be maintained and upgraded by a single vendor," Hoen said. "We were fairly certain the system we wanted would be a NOTIFIER, because of its system architecture and design, as well as the variety of vendors available to provide any needed service."

Exceeding Expectations

JFB's fire safety system not only had to address all of Hoen's concerns, but it had to meet a huge array of regulatory as well as internal standards.

"As a food research facility, we fall under just about every regulatory agency one can imagine," Hoen said. "Our designs and installations had to meet USDA, FDA and Department of Agriculture requirements, among many others, in addition to IBC, FM Global, UL and a very tough staff of fire and building professionals in our city."

Hoen said the company has very stringent internal standards, including safety design, CAD standards, component wash-down requirements, personal protective equipment, installation staff requirements, HAZMAT and recycling requirements of removed equipment, and procedures on how project purpose, construction impact and testing are communicated to GM employees.

"The NOTIFIER system and Low Voltage Contractors have exceeded my expectations while helping us to meet all these tough standards," he said.

The installation process took about two years, and the system has been operational for just under a year.

"We now have a sophisticated and user-friendly fire safety system at JFB, one with a seamless interface and without the complexities and problems inherent to our previous system," Hoen said. "The NOTIFIER system has also saved us substantial dollars, as training costs on this system are significantly lower."

The work is not yet done for Hoen and Low Voltage Contractors.

"JFB is always updating and there is constant construction," Westberg said. "NOTIFIER is playing a role in these developments, with system expansions, a new voice system being added in select locations, and a plan for exterior notifications on the building exteriors and grounds in 2009."

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Security Today.

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