Energy Distribution

Energy Distribution

Devices meet challenging ECS requirements for an energy company’s sprawling campus

Energy Distribution Devices meet challenging ECS requirements for an energy company’s sprawling campusWhen officials at the United Illuminating Co., a regional energy distribution company in New Haven, Conn., planned the recent completion of their 56-acre corporate headquarters, their “must-have” list included a campus-wide Emergency Communications System (ECS).

FIRETECH Engineered Systems, West Haven, Conn., served as the project fire and life safety engineered system provider for this campus development. The $120 million project consisted of 376,419 square feet of LEED Silver-certified office, warehouse and operations space, including a 159,000-square-foot Operations Center and a 131,000-square-foot Office Complex, as well as a two-story parking structure.

“When you have a campus project of this size, it’s a matter of coordination,” said Adam Querker, vice president of engineering for FIRETECH. “The timing of which building is brought up first and so on directly relates to what parts of our network or command control needs to be running in order to make that happen.”

Special Request Poses a Challenge

The fire and life safety system involved a complex, multi-building fire system with an integrated voice and data network in between buildings with cooperative control between all buildings. In addition, United Illuminating had a special request: to have multiple voice command control centers throughout the campus for notifying certain spaces of the campus at any given time. Specifically, company officials wanted paging capability within any building or across all buildings for live, ECS messaging, which would be necessary in case of an evacuation.

However, this posed a challenge of how to allow an operator to have priority at one of those four command control areas, while giving the command center in the guard shack equal or higher-paging priority. Keeping it all networked together, FIRETECH designed the network to allow for priority-level paging.

“In turn, the audio input on the digital device at each location has an inherent priority assigned to it,” Querker said. “That provides priority input, telling the system which one goes first, second and so on.

“The system is incredibly stable. That is, if any one node leaves the network, that node will assume a local level of control and will react to any alarm within its normally covered area. An extra benefit of the command and control of this system’s design is that it can easily be upgraded later to handle mass notification.”

Integrating ECS

When multiple systems are integrated, it is not always clear who’s in charge; there can be multiple authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ), as well as other facility, fire and security staff, or even the building owner. In United Illuminating’s case, there is a clear separation between the fire and audio systems, and both authorities will have to work in unison to grant system compliance. In other instances, one system will defer to the other.

The same can be said of which system is in charge. This entails having a systems command structure that can tie into the fire alarm control panel and act as the main control point of the integrated systems.

ECS systems are designed to integrate fire, security and communications systems for immediate, responsive and effective notification to the appropriate audiences. They also need to centralize data from other building systems. Next to security systems, ECSs are most often integrated with fire alarm systems, followed by CO systems. The key to successful integration is capturing the unique nuances of each application. Rising to the challenge, FIRETECH integrated all aspects for a balanced system.

Codes for Integrated Systems

With integrated systems, the code requires fire alarm signals to be distinctive, clearly recognizable and able to indicate in descending order of priority. Signals associated with life safety take priority, followed by signals for property protection, then all trouble signals for life and/or property protection, and, finally, all other signals.

Signal priorities may vary, depending on the emergency response plan and requirements of the AHJ. Even the NFPA code now allows ECS and mass notification messages to take priority over the fire alarm audible notification message or signal under prescribed conditions designated in the risk analysis and emergency response plan. This allows the ECS to prioritize emergency signals based on the risk to building occupants.

The code also requires the desired operation to be specified, in particular, as to what should occur immediately after the ECS message has completed.

A Job Well Done

In all, FIRETECH installed multiple NOTIFIER control panels. Each building has its own control panel with a priority control point in the guard shack, and more than 600 System Sensor SpectrAlert Advance speaker strobes were installed throughout the campus.

Intelligibility is a problem that goes hand-in-hand with messaging. Many voice communications systems are still designed around the principles of audibility rather than intelligibility. In short, louder does not equal more easily understood.

“With as many speakers as there were, we were able to keep the wattage of the speakers low instead of just blasting the sound,” Querker said. “It worked out rather well considering the environmental variables, the carpets used, type of ceilings and high bay garages with vehicles. Everything was crystal clear.” Having minimal issues with the devices was an added bonus.

“We’ve been experiencing a lot less problems in the field with the newer System Sensor devices,” said Querker, “because of their physical design along with the ease of wiring the backplate, allowing a clean and stable installation of the device and its associated wiring. This product has been a tremendous improvement from previous designs.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Security Today.

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