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Copyright International Fire Protection 2016
Efficiently monitor every event, activation and operator act remotely.

Getting smarter about fire safety

Smart devices are starting to revolutionise our daily lives. In fact, we are so used to talking and hearing about them that we almost take the rapid rate of technological change for granted. Smartphones, tablets and iPads are ubiquitous of course. But these days our TVs, central heating systems and even our cars are all interconnected and increasingly intelligent. Take a new car for a service and the mechanic can often diagnose the problem simply by plugging a fob into a laptop and not even looking under the bonnet. Take your tablet or mobile with you to work and you can control your home heating remotely in the office during your lunch hour.

These are all examples of how the Internet of Things is shaping the world today. It’s a technology that is rapidly becoming all pervasive. In fact by some estimates, there could be 50 billion interconnected devices by 2020. But we live in a consumer-led society. It’s surprising how often business applications are behind the curve.

Learning the Lessons

Fortunately, the world of fire safety is starting to grasp the key learning points of this increasingly interconnected world and is actively leveraging technology to help prevent the false alarms that can cost the industry dear. The UK’s fire and rescue services attended almost a quarter of a million false alarm incidents throughout the last two years, with most caused by faulty fire system apparatus.

Anyone working in fire alarm service and maintenance will typically already have software to schedule maintenance, track the whereabouts of engineers as well as produce reports and invoices. But frustratingly, this never seems to cover the most crucial element; information on which devices have been tested, whether or not they have been tested, or any proof of testing.

The process as it is today often ends up being complex and unwieldy. Generally, it relies on the honesty of the operative or, at best, a bar-code label which is scanned to prove that they visited the device, but not that they triggered it. With some control panels it’s possible to download the event log onto a laptop, providing some proof, but this needs manipulation before it can be sent to the customer. To make matters worse, the information presented differs from one manufacturer’s equipment to another, making it hard for the unskilled end-user to understand.

This has to be a serious concern. We might be living in the age of connectivity, but we’re also living through a time when compliance and transparency underpin all of our activities. Leaving a system unchecked can render a service and maintenance company open to all kinds of risks to their business, including, most importantly, the risk to their clients’ lives.

Reduce the incidence of false alarms and demonstrate compliance with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005.

Reduce the incidence of false alarms and demonstrate compliance with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005.

A Joined-up Approach

Fortunately, smarter tools are now coming on stream to provide the missing piece of the puzzle. These can be used by service and maintenance businesses, facilities and estates managers and end-user organisations to prove which devices have been checked during the weekly testing process and during quarterly maintenance visits.

But perhaps the real value of these tools lies in the extensive data produced in a consistent format to make it highly usable to help improve productivity and scheduling, reduce costs, ensure compliance with the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (RR FSO) and improve the environmental credentials of all the organisations involved.

If fire alarm systems are permanently connected, large volumes of data can be collected in real-time. This is of value to everyone involved; the end-user, their facilities management company and the service and maintenance firm to ensure faults are addressed straightaway. It also helps the engineer to know the parts and equipment to take on site to ensure problems are always fixed first time.

Automatically-generated notifications sent by email can reduce the time to respond still further. Reports based on weekly testing, service visits and live activity can also be produced. These can then be exported or customised and saved in different formats to show to customers the status of the system or to measure engineer and system performance.

The web portal is controlled by the individual or business managing the system. So when monitoring and maintenance are provided by a third party it will effectively be their call as to how much information the end user receives as part of the service or how much access they have to the dashboard and associated data. Providing access to this information could, if appropriate, be used to generate incremental revenues for the service and maintenance company itself.

Even if fire alarm systems are not connected to the internet, hand held devices carried by the engineer can be temporarily connected to the fire alarm control panel, recording his activities whilst he carries out his maintenance visit, and downloaded when he has a suitable internet connection later in the day. This reduces costs while actually improving the overall service provided to the customer.

Most fire alarm service and maintenance companies rely on their service contracts to survive: its their ‘bread and butter’ business. As a result, they can’t afford to risk an error leading to a false alarm, non-compliance or worse still, a real life incident. Many businesses these days are relying on cloud technology, remote working and smart devices. There’s no reason why the fire industry should be any different.

For more information, go to www.draxtechnology.com

Keith Minster is Product Manager of Drax Technology.

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