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What are the major fire safety solution requirements in smart buildings

What are the major fire safety solution requirements in smart buildings
The term “smart buildings” means different things to different people. Rodger Reiswig, Fellow and VP of Industrial Relations at Johnson Controls, explained that for some, it’s all about the Green Initiative. Is the building able to sustain itself or reduce its carbon footprint? Can they reuse some of their water or generate electricity from onsite solar cells or wind turbines? 

“Another definition of “smart buildings” is based on sensors,” Reiswig continued. “Is the building smart enough to know that, if I’m the first person there in the morning and I swipe my card, it should switch the HVAC system into occupied mode? Can it start to turn the lights on? Can it adjust the window shades to allow the sun to come in? Can it call the elevator down for me because it knows that I’m in the lobby, and I’m going to the tenth floor? It’s all about how the systems integrate with one another, not simply providing information to each other, but also interacting with one another, causing things to happen from one system to another.

Where does the smartness factor into fire safety?

IP-based fire alarm systems are emerging as the way forward. Networked on digital infrastructure, addressable systems of panels and detectors provide fire detection at an early stage, plus exact localization of the fire source. They integrate with other vital systems such as sprinklers, video surveillance, and access control. They can be combined with voice evacuation to direct people out of dangerous areas as quickly and precisely as possible. 

“Most of all, IP-based fire alarm systems are easily scalable and adjustable to changing customer demands, for instance, in mixed-use buildings,” said Andreas Kahl, Head of Software Engineering and Fire Alarm Systems at Bosch Building Technologies. “For maximum reliability, IP-based systems support fully redundant networking via an IP and/or CAN connection between the panels, thus keeping the system operational in the event of an error. As a common operational backbone, IP-based fire alarm systems integrate within building management systems architecture such as the Bosch-developed Building Integration System (BIS) or a third-party solution to provide operators with a single view and real-time intelligence.”

For centralized building management, the fire system in a smart building needs to interface with other systems such as video surveillance, access control, and voice address for evacuation, Kahl added. The combination of fire alarm and voice evacuation systems has emerged as the status quo over the past few years across a wide range of sites, from hotels to shopping centers and airports. 

Legislation, such as 2013’s full enactment of the Construction Products Regulation, has been a significant driver of this trend, placing high demands on both systems with the EN54 product standard. Studies have demonstrated that voice alarm with clear instructions significantly improves fire evacuation time compared to mere noise alarms and presents a significant time gain of up to 30 percent for emergency response teams. 

How popular is smart building fire safety now?

Reiswig said that his company has already been doing integration with things like HVAC and lighting for a few years now. Now they see tighter integration where, for example, they can use the position of the sun to get the best impact of sunlight to start to heat the building in the winter. 

“One of the biggest challenges that we see in the smart building environment is protocols or topologies for how one system talks to another,” Reiswig added. “The fire alarm system uses a certain protocol or language. The HVAC system uses another protocol or language. Creating an environment where systems can talk to one another and not just send, but also receive information – that is the difficult part. Everybody can send information out. It’s easy for me to tell you what is happening in a system. But for you to tell me what is happening in your system and then expect me to do something with that information, that’s when it gets a little bit harder.”

How should building operators prepare for the future?

Before investing in new fire safety systems, building operators are well-advised to consider the future-proofing of their systems. Again, IT-based architectures emerge as the only way forward. 

“Current legislature such as the 2015 edition of the International Fire Code already mandates addressable systems in which connected devices can signal their device type, location, and alert status; which is a built-in feature for IP-based networks,” Kahl said. “And on the subject of future-proofing, IT-based fire security systems can also seamlessly integrate the next generation of video-based fire detection devices that rely on machine learning algorithms to detect fire and smoke in less than 30 seconds.” 

At the same time, operators may want to integrate and customize their solutions into their Building Management Systems, which can be facilitated via software development kits (SDKs) such as the Bosch Fire System Interface (FSI) or open IT standards like OPC. Next to this level of future-proof integration, IP-based solutions scale up easily to accommodate for expansions within the same building or multi-building installations to allow customers to grow their fire safety applications alongside their business.

The bottom line

Smart Building is all about connectivity, to let the building “talk,” according to Thomas Dols, Global Software Product Manager at Siemens Smart Infrastructure. We live in a digital age full of continuous information where performance is constantly improved with the help of data and interactions with smart interfaces enable us to make intelligent decisions. Our Cloud offering allows this interaction to take place and performance to improve. This drive for constant optimization lies at the heart of smart buildings whose very purpose is to enhance the user experience. The requirements when selecting a fire safety equipment is, therefore, to have a connected software product offering within the portfolio.

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