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IFSJ Exclusive: The True Value of Integration


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Mandy Bowden, Comelit-PAC Fire Manager looks at the bigger picture of today’s advances in fire safety and security technology and building management. 

One guaranteed topic of conversation is the best way forward when it comes to the integration of fire and security systems. With new high-profile legislation, it has become a priority to bring a decision management workflow that assigns priorities, determines resources and allows them to quickly assign appropriate actions and resources.

Against a backdrop of today’s challenges, where speed is of the essence, we have to protect vital assets.  This has been of notable high-profile recently, following the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, and subsequent inquiry, leading to the Fire Safety Act 2021 and Building Safety Act 2022.

Both are hugely significant pieces of legislation intended to overhaul the way residential buildings are constructed and maintained in the UK.  As the implications for both become clearer for the industry, there is much to prepare, especially to meet all the expectations for fire safety legislation.

Whilst convenience for the user and reduced cost through the sharing of infrastructure has traditionally been the prime drivers for integration, now there is a sense of urgency to bring these two very different systems together and bring a seamless experience for the user.

Integration of Fire Safety

To achieve this is to create a multi-layered system that provides a more sophisticated level of protection. 

Integration capability now has the benefit of optimum IP technology to enable individual fire and security systems to communicate with one another and be adapted to meet a site’s specific requirements. This must provide for the most fundamental benefit above all else: the ability to protect people, property and premises more effectively.

Full integration between a fire alarm system also comprises of a control panel, detectors, sounders and call points, and security systems that may include a range of products such as motion sensors, access control, or CCTV can present a range of issues both technically and through contrasting requirements.  

In the past these issues have proven challenging. However, with wireless security technology and connectivity advancing so rapidly and becoming more widespread and understood, the time for change is here.

The Differences Between Fire Safety & Security

Even when Comelit-PAC launched into the fire safety market, we were distinctly aware of the opposing requirements for fire safety and security.

Going back to basics, fire detection is primarily about protecting people; ensuring in the event of a fire, the right (compliant) solutions are in place to ensure their safety.  Fire doors for example, should be easy to open and their use not impeded.

Security is arguably about protecting buildings and contents; and as a consequence the people who live or work in the premises.  In this scenario, security requires doors to be shut, locked and impregnable.

When considered in this way, it is clear why two disciplines have to be considered with individual mindsets.  They must be approached right from design and manufacture of products, through specification and installation differently to reach their desired goal.

It would seem at every step that small details between the differences in fire and security are enough to separate them.  However, to keep buildings and their occupants safe, we quickly understood the customer demands and fast-tracked the possibilities of integration for the benefit of compliance and user experience.

The solution for management and maintenance

Integration of fire and security has now been successful at management station level. Building Management Systems (BMS) typically provides PC based graphics packages and integration software to bring fire and security functions together while maintaining the different systems core independence. These allow one user interface for security personnel to monitor fire and security systems with one software package. 

Interactions can be set up between the systems. For example, a fire within an area could activate a CCTV camera in the same location. An operator could then quickly confirm the possible cause of the alarm. Such systems give a realistic view of the possibilities of full integration at field device level.

Integration also raises the prospect of maintenance cost savings with both systems being serviced in a combined visit from one service engineer who can be trained on a single combined system programmed via a common programming tool. 

Integration is Key

By integrating fire and security, we can take a much more holistic approach to command and control, and also reduce false alarms and human error.

If there was a fire or security incident unfolding, it enables operators to work with a system to make more effective and informed decisions based on a single source of real-time information. That enables quicker response times which can be critical in an emergency situation.

In a post-pandemic world, where many of us are staying at home more and experimenting with hybrid models of working, increased monitoring for both fire and security is needed to ensure awareness of access across a building.  This is essential to managing complex processes such as an evacuation, safety testing or even just the usual flow of people.

Just these two examples show the several extended benefits of integration with systems being more straightforward to maintain are complemented and flexible to update.  The additional capability of remote app monitoring, via smart phone or tablet technology opens up integrated systems to be reviewed by more teams as required.

It’s something Comelit-PAC understands and has worked on, to ensure that it has the right tools to enable its IP based solutions to integrate into many systems.  This includes within the Comelit-PAC range, such as video surveillance, intruder alarms and LogiFire fire safety solutions, together with its range of accessories to suit the integration programme.

In many cases, these systems can be installed on a single network to provide ultimate safety and efficient services.  Comelit-PAC will work with an organisation right from initial design to establish the integration capabilities of fire safety and security systems.  It is here, that we can simply work in behind the scene operations.

The Integrated Future

As technology continues to develop we are seeing all aspects of our lives get smarter and connected technology become more commonplace. It is therefore unsurprising that out-dated approaches to the day to-day business security interactions are no longer acceptable. 

Whilst in the past, organisations may have fared well managing disparate systems with different platforms and interfaces, changing legislation induced a need for speed and swept away many perceived obstacles. What was once an interesting but risky concept was – all of a sudden – the only way.

We now see their capability as seamless operations, easily integrated into a smart building, with the use of wireless, cloud-based and app-based systems, such as Comelit-PAC provide.

Syncing up fire and security systems to share data can also make both systems more accurate, and enable teams to respond more quickly to real incidents. Retrofitting plants and buildings with the internet of things (IoT) also means building managers can embrace technology for an integrated fire and security system.

In summary, integration opens a whole host of efficiency improvements for buildings new and old. When it comes to life safety, it is vital that building managers take full advantage of new technology to maximise their response.  And today’s fire safety and security challenges require a robust, integrated program backed by a holistic strategy. 

Arguably, every product, must be developed to integrate systems from other manufacturers, or to be integrated itself in other systems.  Here lies the potential for a fresher seamless industry working experience, working in full compliance with stringent legislation, with the necessary ability to achieve the requirements of today’s increasingly discerning end-users.

This article was originally published in the September edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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