Saving a Life

Make a campus safer with integrated systems and software technology

Campuses can present a unique challenge when designing and installing a life-safety system. Buildings and structures on corporate, university, government and metropolitan campuses are typically large and complex. Most continue to develop throughout time, with additional buildings added and others leveled. Campuses are not always contiguous, and sometimes spread throughout cities, states and even entire countries.

Even more, communication protocols and infrastructure between buildings and systems may not be current, as it may have been acceptable when a campus was first constructed to have general local annunciation of off-normal events in each building. That means on-site attendants and central stations needed to relay information in order to initiate a response.

Integrated systems and software technology combined with the fastest, modern highbandwidth and high-speed communications available, allow us to make campuses safer by responding to off-normal activity in milliseconds. This along with our advanced communication infrastructures and graphical displays make first responder actions not only fast, but pinpoint accurate and efficient. In turn, this saves lives and mitigates property damage.

Integrated Systems

Systems integration is a continuing goal for many life-safety system manufacturers and facility managers. Integrated life-safety systems create many operational and economic advantages. Critical incidents are not often singly focused, meaning safety staff involved in large-scale events are typically receiving input from several systems simultaneously. During these demanding emergency situations, large amounts of seemingly conflicting information must be processed in order to respond appropriately and effectively.

Developing a response plan for any single event is challenging. Processing several different life-safety events at once can be even more confusing, and the chosen response plan potentially critical to the lives of those involved. Having multiple life-safety systems integrated into graphical systems will make the situation clearer and the response planning quicker and more accurate.

The more advanced commercial monitoring systems today will provide integrated onpremises and distributed reporting. This gives local and remote staff the equipment and reporting infrastructure to address conflicting messages. For instance, the fire alarm system is telling occupants to evacuate the building while the shooter detection system is issuing a shelter-in-place advisory. This is a conflicting message that requires more intricate planning, but many commercial monitoring systems do not have the capabilities to provide staff with further information required to ensure a proper decision is made.

Integrated systems will give both textual information and a graphical depiction of the entire situation. If there are cameras in the facility, these will automatically stream live video of the area with the greatest danger and highest priority. These features allow for more nuanced and effective staff decision making.

The introduction of advanced sensing technologies has certainly provided better situational awareness, but at the same time has made decision making more complex. Using graphical integrated systems that provide intuitive interfaces helps clarify the machine-to-man translation and in turn creates better responses to life safety threats.

Integrated System High-Speed Communication

After it is decided that life-safety integration will be implemented on a campus, the issue of finding a way to make the disparate systems communicate intelligently becomes the challenge. System integration requires communication standards and careful adherence to these standards. In many cases, the solution consists of combining several communication methods into a cohesive communication strategy.

The dry contact input as a method of interfacing to legacy technologies continues to be a common approach, having the advantage that it is simple. However, its simplicity is also a disadvantage. The dry contact input tells you that there is an off-normal condition in the system but fails to pinpoint the root cause of this event. For some system integrations this is the only feasible option and may have to suffice.

A more sophisticated integration would require a more advanced design and installation, but also provide a more precise analysis of the emergency event. There are many viable communication standards in the industry, and the choices continue to grow. One protocol that has been in active development since 1987 and continues to mature with current building technology is BACnet. BACnet is a communication protocol designed for integrating Building Automation and Control (BAC) networks.

Although BACnet started as a protocol primarily for the monitoring and control of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, it has matured into a more robust communication standard that includes interoperability with most building systems – including life safety. Many of the major fire, security, access and building management system providers support BACnet as one of their preferred protocols. In September, many life-safety companies participated in the 20th anniversary of the PlugFest Interoperability event held at the University of New Hampshire. Engineers from companies such as Automated Logic, Johnson Controls and Potter Electric Signal spent several days testing their products with each other to validate the interoperability and proper operation in large system environments. The real advantages with the BACnet protocol is that it has a large industry support base, is an ISO standard (ISO 16484-5), and is in wide use in new and legacy building/ campus environments.

Graphical Systems

Graphical presentation of life-safety system data and high-speed networking are the binding elements that will make campuses safer. These essential tools expedite the reporting of incidents and make system information more intuitive, enabling first responders to have controlled, fast and accurate responses. Campuses are becoming safer by implementing the most advanced detection systems in the world.

These systems can detect minute traces of smoke, nefarious intruders, images of activity and even the exact location of active shooters. Campuses often experience simultaneous alarm conditions from several systems, and this information can help identify the root cause of the situation. However, if this information is not processed and presented correctly, the result is an ineffective, slow and sometimes inappropriate response.

This display is descriptive in that it clearly presents the signal status, time, date, location and even the device type. But is this descriptive enough for security staff on a large campus? Would a first responder from the local fire department know exactly where this specific IT closet is located given the information?

If, instead, the panel signal was augmented with a graphical presentation of this data, the origin of the fire alarm signal and the location of the IT closet would be more readily communicated. Additional information regarding events in the surrounding area would also be available. All these factors will impact the response plan.

Other examples of graphically-displayed data can help a first responder more completely evaluate the situation. If there is a fire alarm, as in the example above, the first responder can also look at all the other sensors in the area to determine how advanced this fire may be. If there are cameras in the area, a live-streaming video preview of the area is given to first responders prior to sending in staff. It may even identify building occupants that need assistance or are located at areas of refuge awaiting support.

For single events, like a fire alarm, it may be easy to identify and create an action plan. Perhaps the location is well known and therefore graphics are not needed. But what if there were a gunshot detected on campus? Systems such as Shooter Detection Systems Guardian can integrate with Potter Electric Signal’s PotterNet integrated systems fire alarm graphics. This additional data would most likely create a different response to the initial fire alarm signal.

Prior to an emergency response, it is important to understand the entire situation. This can be accomplished with systems that integrate technologies and paint a clear picture that will elicit a more intelligent response.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

Digital Edition