The Internet, with its inherent capabilities and advantages, has impacted all aspects of electronic communications, including many applications in the security arena. Everyone is aware of the huge impact IP communications has had on the security video market, for example, but the impact can also be felt in the fire and life safety sector.
About 10 years ago, there was a feeling that IP technology would not make any real headway into the Fire/Life Safety market. Among the reasons were concerns of being able to comply with strict fire codes, which did not address/allow the use of the Internet to monitor Fire Systems. The code also required that the fire and supervisory alarm must reach the central station after initiation within 90 seconds. (In NFPA 72, fire alarms are referred to as "fire signals" and the central station is referred to as a "supervisory station." In this article, I will use the terms "fire alarms" and "central station.")
The code forced users to install a dedicated phone line, a backup phone line and a phone line detection/automated switch to be incorporated into each panel to ensure fast and reliable communications. The phone lines were analog, powered by the phone company (POTS lines). NFPA 72 also required the Digital Alarm Communicator Transmitter (DACT) is to send its signal over the Public Switched Telephone network. In the recent past, the phone companies across the nation have been trying to get rid of POTS lines. In many fire alarm applications today, the "phone line" is actually part of a digital network.
How the PC Changed Alarm Monitoring
Manufacturers of large-scale fire systems started adding IP-based communication capabilities to intelligent fire panels to improve market value. Initially, the Internet was used as a way to view many different alarm panels at one location on a PC. Several fire system manufacturers sold a software package that enabled viewing status/trouble alarms, as well as fire and supervisory alarms at a PC and a UL alarm-monitoring center. This capability was added, while allowing the field fire system to continue to exist as it always had with standalone functionality and dual phone monitoring.
In this configuration, the fire alarm panel connected to an alarm monitoring UL central station via analog phone lines for approved alarm monitoring and dispatch of a local fire department. The initiating devices and annunciating appliances were connected directly to the fire panel in the traditional field wiring methods. There was an automatic fire panel evacuation capability and the fire panel operated just like it had for years - as a complete standalone system. The only difference was an IP connection that allowed the intelligent fire panel's status and any alarms to be viewed on a PC, which was not for the purpose of primary response.
The PC did, however, provide many benefits. For example, if a smoke detector was getting dirty and needed to be cleaned, the person viewing the fire panel via a PC would have an early warning that the specific detector needed cleaning. Also, the person viewing the PC could look at several fire panels across many different locations and provide maintenance insight and overview via trouble alarms. Lastly, the PC capabilities provided a central location to download software into a remote fire panel to speed up the installation process and help standardize the software residing in the different fire panels.
One negative to this approach was that the software used in the PC to communicate with the fire panel was proprietary, which required the installed fire panels to be from the same manufacturer. This approach worked well, but was primarily used on large-scale intelligent fire systems.
Adding IP Communications