Code Trends Minimize Alarm Response Time

Oct. 27, 2008
Alarms-over-Ethernet technology is fastest mode to the central station.

Coming to maturation at a time when the sun has set on AMPS equipment, Internet protocol (IP) alarm communication is the technology dealers must now consider to best serve their commercial and residential customers’ long-term interests.

By sending alarm signals over the Internet instead of POTS lines, integrators can ensure their installations are compatible with emerging hardware for years to come. Further than compatibility, the efficiency of alarm transmission will be in line with the latest standards, such as the ninth edition of UL 864 Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, slated to go into effect on December 31, 2008.

System efficiency
Most alarm hardware vendors now offer systems that facilitate IP communication with the central station.

“The industry appears to be considering movement in that direction. Many hardware vendors have packages that allow remote reporting and remote interaction where the system checks in or has a signal automatically sent to the central station. Supplemental annunciation of some fire-alarm systems are already transmitting supervisory and alarm conditions over the Internet,” said Ken Gentile, a senior consulting fire-protection engineer for Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc., with offices nationwide.

The reason fire signals are “supplemental” is that NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, has not made clear provisions for IP alarm communication. “NFPA 72 does not specifically prohibit sending alarms over the Internet,” Gentile continued. “I think the biggest issues are that you need certain back up provisions, replications and supervision. Off-site reporting of fire-alarms must have reliability and survivability.”

Code compliance
To transmit fire-alarm signals in compliance with NFPA 72 requires meeting the standards set forth by UL 827 Standards for Central Station Alarm Services, which also means being in line with UL 864.
The significance of UL 864 is that the ninth edition, updated from a standard written in 1986, dramatically cuts allowable time to transmit signals from the initiating device to the panel. Previously, there was a 90-second signal processing time for annunciation of an alarm from the time an initiating device tripped. The new standard narrows the window for alarm transmission to 10 seconds. And because UL 864 is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard, it is the law of the land.

This is a direct reflection of the capabilities that the digital age brings to life-safety systems. It also foreshadows where the industry performance-requirements are headed.
“If the codes and listing agencies accept the technology, IP alarm communication could begin to come into use soon,” Gentile said.

New strategies required
With an estimated 26 million legacy alarm systems across the U.S., alarm dealers must look to direct IP alarm communication using broadband connections as the bridge to the next generation of hardware devices.

Taking into account that the new UL 864 requirements call for faster communication between initiating devices and alarm annunciation, the next logical step is to streamline alarm transmission from the panel to the central station. That’s because traditional alarm communication from the panel to the central station usually takes between 30 to 60 seconds. With IP transmission, communication is almost instantaneous.

“The codes will require a back-up like wireless or cellular and the software would have to be designed such so that it would automatically kick in if there was a failure,” said Gentile of IP communication. “But the cost differential is minimal between the two technologies. Once the codes accept it, IP communication will be the better way.”

Kevin Lehan, EMERgency24, Chicago, is the manager of Public Relations and maintains a security-industry blog at