A Long-term Relationship
Retirement village updates manual system with future-proof solution
- By Andy Johannsen
- Aug 01, 2009
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
"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
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,"