Fire & Life Safety: Panel Innovations

A look at new technologies and functionality in fire alarm control panels

Advancements in fire alarm control panels have seemed to evolve slowly over time. Historically, in many instances, panel changes have been born out of codes and standards changes; however, things like “the cloud” and intuitive touchscreens that have permeated our everyday lives have been incorporated into new panel designs.

Loud calls for a reliable means of communicating with people in emergencies following tragedies involving terrorists, active shooters, tornadoes and other non-fire related incidents have led to the marriage of fire alarm and mass notification, fitting the capabilities of both into one box. Likewise, the integration of other former sidecar technologies are following suit.


Intuitive Touchscreen Interface

Bank teller machines, airport check-in kiosks, phones, computers and even your car radios now have sleek touchscreens, complete with almost idiot-proof menus to guide users to the next, logical step. Following many end-user interviews and onsite observations, manufacturers like Gamewell-FCI have found most end-users are uncomfortable with the thought of having to “touch” their fire alarm system. The “fear of fire alarm systems” becomes real when horns and strobes are blaring, while facility managers, building owners or security guards are standing at the panel wondering what to do, while fearing the push of one wrong button will summon the fire department, turn-on sprinklers or break the system altogether.

Today, touchscreen interfaces are being incorporated into panels, which feature intuitive menus to help novices navigate their way through the use of a fire alarm system without the fear. While helping them with common operations, such as temporarily disabling devices, silencing an alarm or determining who to notify in an emergency, these intuitive interfaces are making it easier for end-users to understand the cause and location of the alarm, along with other information that can be crucial to emergency response.

Dealer feedback on these end-user-friendly systems has been positive as well. What dealer wants to answer those late-night calls to explain how to acknowledge an alarm or silence a system? Most dealers also want to avoid having to send a technician to the site to reset the alarm.

Once thought of as a fancy add-on for larger, high-end systems, these new user-friendly features are moving downstream to more commonly-used addressable panels. As intuitive touchscreen technology becomes more threaded into the lives of Americans, there will soon be an expectation for all fire alarm control panels to offer this type of interface that is both valuable and popular to customers.


Servicing Fire Using the Cloud

People love the idea of “the cloud” because of the easy access to data it offers — particularly to those in the field, on a job site. Imagine the daunting task of testing a fire alarm system — a dealer responsibility that is required by code to take place at least once a year. How can this task be simplified, streamlined and made more cost-effective?

New software tools developed by companies like Honeywell Fire Systems can enable dealers to improve the speed and outcome of walk tests. Using tablets and smartphones to tie into the main fire alarm control panel, a single technician can conduct an entire walk test, replacing the common scenario of one tech testing field devices while another stands at the panel to verify the response. For larger sites, these new software tools can even allow multiple technicians to conduct tests simultaneously.

With technician and end-user signatures able to be captured onsite, required reports can be created immediately, emailed to the customer and then stored in the cloud for 24/7 access by the dealer, end-user and/or Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

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