A Long-term Relationship

Retirement village updates manual system with future-proof solution

When a Pennsylvania retirement village and nursing home asked Sentinel Service to take over servicing of its various fire alarm systems, John Menter saw an opportunity to offer a better long-term solution.

The existing layout was comprised of seven individual systems in seven buildings of various ages and manufacturers. Each of the systems reported back to a front desk via outputs tied to inputs on the existing nurse call system. In an alarm event, a guard would be dispatched to investigate. Each system also individually dialed out to a central station, and the property was paying for seven monitoring accounts and 14 phone lines. The most frustrating aspect of this layout was the requirement for security personnel to run to the building in alarm, locate the initiating device and direct the firefighters, if needed, or cancel the alarm. Six other buildings needed new installations due to a change in their use to assisted living from apartment living. The owners had to decide whether to keep installing individual systems with limited reporting capabilities and separate dialers or to make a wholesale change to a campus- wide model. The 13 separate systems meant 13 accounts and 26 phone lines, and the recurring expenses just for monitoring would cost $1,500 a month.

A Networked Solution

To Sentinel Service and VES Fire Detection Systems, the obvious answer was to network the campus fire alarm systems and provide a better solution at a much lower recurring cost. By networking the campus and upgrading all of the existing installations to one platform, a much simpler service agreement would be possible, and a new service, test and inspection plan would be simpler and more cost-effective to implement.

"In the end, the customer would have one integrated system to manage and many added features and benefits," Menter said.

Over a 12-month period, all of the existing systems were retrofitted to VES eLAN systems, while a campus-wide fiber-optic backbone was put in place. Fiber was chosen because outdoor copper wire runs would have been susceptible to lightning strikes and some of the distances were too long. Additionally, the fiber installation would support future campus Internet access and digital media, because several spare fiber strands were installed to each building.

Once all of the existing systems were replaced with new equipment, they were networked together via a Class A fiber network and the panel in the administration building was promoted to the media gateway panel. This would allow every panel in the network to report events down to the subpoint level to the media gateway. The immediate benefit was the capability of reporting to the central station through one dialer. This also allowed interfacing to the campus LAN via Ethernet for virtual panel viewing of the fire network from anywhere on site via Internet Explorer.

As new systems on campus are installed, they are given nodes and seamlessly integrated into the larger network. Then a new PC graphical guide system is connected to another panel on the network, allowing both graphical representations of alarm locations and complete reporting and control from the 24-hour manned front security desk. Networking also offers programming advantages. Losing a system's programming is now 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 revised by multiple authorized users who have Internet access from anywhere, anytime," Menter said.

Fast, Appropriate Response

With the new system in place, the security personnel are able to instantly see exactly what caused the alarm to trigger. Every apartment and patient room's smoke detector could now be individually identified and treated as a supervisory alarm with staff response for verification. Common area alarms could be dispatched with greater speed and specificity than before, pointing firefighters to an exact location.

Another benefit of the new system is that every point in the system—more than 1,500—can be tagged at the central station with hazardous substances, so firefighters know if an area in alarm contains chlorine, propane, oxygen, paint solvents or other listed chemical hazards.

With this simultaneous action of the on-site security personnel and the central station dispatching the fire department with detailed location information, the fastest and most appropriate response can be provided for residents and staff.

Saving Time and Money

Sentinel Service also is now able to perform required inspections and testing of the networked system with the help of an integrated, Web-based software package from VES called eSP. The entire process is automated, from placing the account in test mode to receiving all of the correct test signals and having a readily available record for downloading or printing as needed.

"You are on the job site for the day of inspection, and a fire marshal or inspector shows up to test the system." Menter said. "They test devices, and the system passes. The inspector then offers you a temporary certificate of occupancy until you can give him the printed test results reports.

"With eSP, the technician working with the inspector can call up the reports and hand the inspector the printed report on the spot. If the fire marshal asks for changes, the technician can make the requested changes to the system from any Internet-enabled PC, and the fire marshal or inspector can be handed an updated report while still on the job site. That keeps the inspector to just one visit."

Remote programming saves money. Usually a company needs the most senior programmer at the site on the day of start up, which is expensive. End users often configure the system when parts are ordered and loaded into the system ahead of time. eSP allows end users to signal reports by event in near real time.

"The system installation for this retirement village will be completed this fall, and the customer is very happy with the whole fire system," Menter said.

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