Fire protection systems have traditionally been isolated from other building management and security systems. The differences in technology and regulation were seen as too large to overcome, and the potential benefits of integration have largely not been realised by the fire protection industry.
That stance is changing. By integrating CCTV and video into the fire detection and alarm system, operators will be enabled to visually investigate an alert to establish whether it’s a genuine fire or a false alarm. This in turn will save wasted fire brigade response and any associated bills for non-fire attendance.
What’s the problem?
Reducing false alarms isn’t just a convenience – it’s an essential. False alarms from fire detection systems cost the UK taxpayer an average of £1 billion every year, with fire crews expending resources to get out to systems tripped by things as inconsequential as steam, or a smoking toaster. Over time, complacency sets in with potentially tragic consequences. Businesses that experience a number of false alarms create a lack of urgency within their workforce, not reacting to ‘yet another false alarm’. Fire brigade responses to the growing number of false and unwanted alarms has also changed over the years, with many now not responding to an automated alarm signal unless backed up by a 999 call.
In addition, fire brigades now have the option to invoice companies to cover the cost of attending a false alarm call, which typically can be in excess of £400 per appliance. This approach is designed to encourage owners of regularly poorly performing systems to address the causes by changing or upgrading the mode of detection or improving their service and maintenance programmes. Integrating CCTV into the system is one key way to limit the brigade attending a false or unwanted alarms, and with the threat of fines now coming into force, there’s more reason than ever to implement an innovative, integrated fire detection system with CCTV patched in.
Giving monitoring teams an extra layer of visual insight into the building will enable them to quickly make sense of the alerts coming through the system, so they can tell whether it’s an electrical malfunction, a human error or the beginning of a potentially destructive fire. That in turn makes it much less likely that the fire brigade will be called out unnecessarily, and frees up limited resources to only fight real fires.
Why isn’t CCTV integration more common?
Up until now, the fire industry has taken an insular approach to building management, siloed between fire or security. This was down in large part to major differences in regulation and hardware – it’s not easy to integrate your fire detection system with your CCTV loop if the two run off different cabling and voltages, and, more importantly, if the regulator has different requirements for each.
In a security event, there’s a definite end to the incident when the intruder either leaves or is apprehended. With a fire, the situation has the potential to go on for hours and develop into a much more serious disaster. As a result, health and safety regulations have traditionally treated the systems that monitor for such events differently, which made it hard for companies to understand the benefits of merging the two.
However, it’s never been more important to explore those possibilities. Although the number of fire-related deaths in commercial buildings has been going down on average over the past few decades, insurance claims are at almost £1.6m per day and rising. Although fire detection and alarm systems are becoming more efficient at evacuating a building, along with increased focus on fire drills, the austerity measures which came into force following the 2008 financial crisis have made it harder for fire teams to reach buildings in time. This has led to increased levels of property damage and concurrent insurance claims.
Similarly, environmental factors have contributed to a reduced water pressure in some regions which makes it harder to extinguish fires quickly.
These difficulties are made worse by increasing numbers of large open area buildings with no fire compartmentation in some parts, and discouraging arson figures. Some modern buildings are designed with large internal atria, which makes detection and containment of fire more challenging for the fire alarm design engineer. There has also been an upturn in crime related arson, with fire used as a means to destroy evidence which would be discovered through any subsequent forensic investigation. In these cases, the CCTV can also be used to record evidence as well as give a confirmation of the presence of fire.
In all of these situations, the faster the fire brigade can get to a fire, the better the chance that they’ll be able to bring it under control. Integrating CCTV into fire detection can give monitoring teams a crucial head start and help them to confirm that a fire is threatening to get out of control.
What needs to happen?
CCTV integration is currently in its infancy – the industry is only just starting to move away from its insular approach. Nevertheless, the technology does exist – the big players in the market have begun to launch graphical front-end systems capable of handling the extra inputs and making the system user-friendly for optimal speed and efficiency.
This technology is likely to be adopted first by large facilities management companies overseeing high-budget buildings like The Shard and The Gherkin. But as with all innovations, once the concept has become accepted, it will begin to filter down through the industry, from upmarket new-builds and facility re-designs and ultimately to widespread usage.
So how should companies go about integrating CCTV into their fire protection system?
With older fire systems, there will be differences in voltage and cabling to contend with, making it impossible to simply patch cameras into the existing circuitry. To counter this problem, an interfacing system is required. Companies should overlay a separate camera system to mirror the existing fire system, and the two networks can then be connected through controllers in the main control room. In that situation, the central user interface is key. It’s important to have an intuitive platform to work over. The ideal situation after an integration is that the new system acts as a labour-saving device, making it easier for safety staff to carry out their job. It shouldn’t make it harder to decipher multiple sensory inputs.
However, companies involved in new builds and total system overhauls have an opportunity to install contiguous systems from the beginning, bolting CCTV onto the fire system. Designers should move towards putting integration at the heart of any safety and security project. This can be done with analogue equipment, but an increasing number of providers are moving towards high-definition, IP-enabled cameras which provide greater accuracy and smart analytics capabilities. This will enable automated systems to decipher incoming video signal and flag up potential incidents even before a call-point or detector has been activated. The advent of smart internet of things (IoT) devices means that teams can be more confident about providing effective coverage for the whole site, particularly in big facilities, with automated assistance to speed up their response times.
This will be particularly advantageous in high value, high risk sites with remote areas where no workers are present for long periods of time. The remote areas can be continuously monitored from one central point.
Working with the right partner is essential to help this become a reality. Construction companies should work with product-agnostic service providers who can not only supply the necessary cameras and fire detection equipment, but also provide innovative solutions to the new problems that will be encountered in this kind of project. An experienced, forward-looking innovation partner can help companies make the jump to integration in the most efficient way possible.
A connected future
On top of a decreased rate of false alarms and a faster response time for fire brigades, CCTV integration opens up the way for a whole host of efficiencies for the facility manager. This is the way that all industries are going – the advent of connected ‘things’ means that it is only a matter of time before everything from cameras and detectors to doorways and stairwells will contain IP-enabled sensors, feeding back pertinent information to the control room. In the fire safety industry, when the stakes are so high, it’s essential that facility teams take full advantage of the new capabilities on offer in order to maximise the chances of a successful response.
At the end of the day, it’s all about peace of mind – with CCTV integration in place, you can go home without worrying about your facility. With the right partner on board, companies can create an insightful, fast-response fire detection programme with cameras throughout the building. CCTV integration should not remain an idea – it needs to become reality.
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