The obvious advantage of separating functionality into modules would be flexibility. For example, additions and changes to the fire system could easily be made without regard to the existing fire panel size and available points. Long wire-pulls bringing everything back to a central point would be eliminated. A single-point failure would be minimized with the distributed intelligent modules used in this approach.
IP Deployment Challenges
One of many questions that might arise in an IP fire system deployment is the need for CAT 5 red fire cable to provide inter-conductivity, because everyone knows fire cabling is red. There are also very real concerns about reliability, maintenance, etc., with the intranet approach used within a given installation. For example, the IT department will argue that their system is virtually always up and operating; however, the problem is that there will always be situations when a router, hub, switch is taken down for maintenance or other reasons. These down times can cause a communication lapse greater than 90 seconds and certainly greater than 10 seconds.
An additional challenge for any IP-based fire alarm system is the ownership of the IT network that exists in many facilities. The IT department in most companies works under the primary tenant that key corporate mission-critical computer programs/functions must operate no matter what. Many IP applications, for example, are considered secondary to mission critical corporate functions. E-mail is an important function, but if it takes five minutes to receive an e-mail because of a router being down for maintenance, it is not a big concern for the IT department.
For this reason, an IP fire system installation will require an IT commitment and thorough understanding of the importance of a fire system to the corporation, because fire systems have not typically been part of their concern in the past. The expanding use of IP fire systems, security and life safety alarm systems will require a stronger link between Security and IT.
Robert Pearson holds a BSEE and is a Registered Professional Engineer. He has been an instructor at George Washington University teaching "Integrated Security Systems" and "Corporate Security Management," has written numerous articles for various technical magazines and has recently published a book entitled "Electronic Security Systems." On a day-to-day basis he oversees design, project management, and maintenance of security systems for multiple sites. Mr. Pearson is a member of A/E National Standing Council for ASIS International.