Now, many fire alarm panels have an IPDACT module that can send fire alarms via the Internet to an approved UL alarm monitoring central station. To complete the IP communication from the fire panel to the UL-approved alarm monitoring central station, an IP-compatible receiver is required, which enables the central station to monitor fire alarms and dispatch a local fire department just like they would with the dual phone line fire alarm communication approach. The IP-compatible receiver enables different fire panels to send a fire alarm, supervisory alarm and a trouble alarm via the Internet.
The IPDACT communicating fire panels use a standardized protocol defining these alarms as they did in the past over POTS lines, but now they do so over the Internet. These alarms may also be encrypted, which is allowed under UL standard 864 (9th edition). This edition was written several years ago, but became effective on Dec. 31, 2008. The International Fire Code (IFC), Uniform Fire Code (UFC), Uniform Building Codes (UBC), NFPA and various jurisdictions across the country must accept the new UL edition before it applies to a given location. From a practical standpoint, it will take time, even years for this to happen. Therefore, the actual impact and time schedule for acceptance at a specific jurisdiction is difficult to predict. Many municipalities within close proximity often standardize on different versions of the IFC or UFC, which can make installing IP-based fire systems more difficult.
The 9th edition of UL 864 reduces the 90-second alarm/signal-reporting requirement (found in NFPA 72) to 10 seconds. If the IP connection is tested and operational at each 10-second verification increment, the fire panel can reliably send an alarm to the alarm monitoring UL central station within the 10-second code requirement. With a POTS line configuration, the supervision was verified every 24 hours and there was a backup analog phone line. The panel would switch from one phone line to another when there was no dial tone detected. Under the dual dedicated phone line approach, the panel would also report any phone line problem it detected to the alarm monitoring UL central station, by using an operational phone line.
IP Communication Advantages and Issues
There are several advantages of using an IPDACT and the Internet to communicate. One advantage is that dedicated phone lines and the their cost are no longer required. A second is that existing systems can remain in place and an IPDACT can be added on, reducing the cost of replacing an existing fire panel to use the IP communication approach. Thirdly, the IPDACT accept dynamic and static IP addressing reduces some installation issues for the IT department. Another advantage is that the IPDACT can communicate to two or more receivers, which provides a level of backup. Finally, the receiver is checking the fire panel frequently.
Despite the advantages, there are three issues that must be considered:
1. The local AHJ must approve the IP fire installation.
2. The network components supporting the Internet may or may not have battery backup, which historically was not a problem with the dual phone line method. In the 2010 edition of NFPA 72, all equipment necessary for transition of alarms to the central station must have the same secondary power capacity as the fire alarm panel.
3. It is unlikely that the hubs, routers and switches encountered between the fire panel and the alarm monitoring UL central station are approved for fire alarm processing.
IP Technology for Fire Systems
In addition to the IPDACT fire modules, there is newer IP fire alarm equipment now available that breaks down the standard fire panel into modules that are interconnected via an IP structure. For example, there would be a module or modules that the initiating devices and/or annunciating appliances connect to using traditional fire monitoring/supervisory schemes. One module provides display information, meaning that a system might be composed of display modules, analog loop signaling device modules, notification appliance modules and power modules all connected via CAT 5 cable. The approach uses the various functions that are often part of a single circuit board within the fire alarm panel and breaks them apart to make the installation effort easier by reducing long wire runs by using an existing IP network. These separated modules combine electronically via IP and can be referred to as a virtual fire alarm panel.