Commercial Burg and Fire Gets a Makeover

Oct. 27, 2008
Technology builds a case for integration

Technology advancements have dramatically changed the face of commercial security and fire applications for both new and legacy installations.
The reasons are clear. Computer technology and the microprocessor, as well as new and more robust communications, continue to impact what security dealers and integrators install. Another weighing factor is the continued deployment and use of the network and the Internet to conduct a host of services.

Integration and automation is tops on the list of must-haves at commercial properties. There’s also a continued infusion of smart sensors and video and access control and systems that provide general accountability and multi-tiered management.

Larger commercial properties will continue to deploy the existing infrastructure and piggyback new services on the network, paired with wireless, to perform intrusion detection and fire and life safety services. It’s rare that you’ll see a standalone system on the enterprise. There may be, for example, a remote location with a single access control point, but in all likelihood it will be hardwired to the network or transmitted via wireless to some central monitoring point. An even safer bet is that video capabilities will be along for the ride.

With the tendency away from installing new hardwired telephone systems has come a perfect “in” for other technologies. Wireless has made a big play in the realm of commercial security and fire applications, with its reliability at an all time high and an ever-growing ability to send fire alarm signals approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Wireless gets in big
Security dealer and integrators who want to upgrade older facilities or add detection at new areas or remote sites increasingly look at wireless communications. It’s become more robust and reliable, and in many areas of the country has been approved by the AHJ as a primary means of communicating an alarm.

“With wireless, we go into legacy sites and know we can do the job as the total solutions provider,” said Larry Halpren, president, Safe Systems Inc., Louisville, Colo. “We’ve stopped selling fire alarms monitored on phone lines,” he said.

At first, Halpren said, it wasn’t a slam-dunk to get the AHJ to approve radio for fire signaling. “We did training with the AHJ to teach them about the radio mesh product,” he said. “I remember initially when the fire inspector wanted me to show him the two telephone lines,” he commented.

According to Rich Sitarski, president of SMG Security Systems Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill., who has been using wireless for fire systems signaling, “most of the AHJs in northeast Illinois do allow this technology as a primary means of transmission,” he said.

“The manufacturer has made interfacing to existing or legacy systems very simple,” Sitarski continued. “The fire radio I use can interface with any existing system as long as the system has a reverse polarity output or an output listed and rated for fire alarms. The radios are two-way supervised and an installation technician cannot put a radio on the network until the central receiver manager certifies that the signal strengths are in compliance with fire alarm transmission requirements,” Sitarski said.

Part of the move to wireless has been dictated by a shift away from traditional communications cabling, according to Tom Kenty, general manager of AES-IntelliNet, Peabody, Mass.

“Integrators we speak to who are upgrading commercial legacy sites are seeking a more secure and reliable means of communicating an alarm or fire signal,” Kenty said. “Copper lines and hardwired lines are just not that reliable. Replacing them requires trenching and additional labor and material costs. Trenching often requires renting some heavy equipment, such as backhoes, and that can be quite expensive,” he said. Kenty said some new and emerging applications for AES two-way wireless mesh networking may soon include a means for overcoming dropped alarm signals caused by the non-facilities-based voice over IP systems. “This is something we are looking to address with our system. A facilities-based provider is a communications company that owns and operates their own infrastructure, such as Comcast, versus those who just lease the bandwidth. The latter is referred to as non-facilities based and it’s something for dealers to be aware of when deploying IP-based systems.”

Video surveillance is also coming on strong in the commercial market. It’s often paired with access control or other intrusion detection sensors to send an alert or instant view of the area under surveillance to a remote computer, PDA or other viewing device, again extending the applicability of systems and services within the protected premises.

Enterprises hoping to upgrade an existing analog camera security system have two basic options: replace their entire infrastructure or strategically modify it, according to Mustafa R. Qutub, director of Investor Relations, Visual Management Systems (VMS), Toms River, N.J.

“Profound changes in technology have redefined the potential of video surveillance systems,” he said. “Unquestionably it is an ideal time for organizations hoping to install an original video surveillance solution. It is a dilemma, however, for enterprises still making use of an existing system. Replacing a camera network can be a daunting, time-consuming and potentially expensive prospect. With over 20 million analog cameras still in use in the U.S. it is far from a small concern for many organizations,” he said. VMS recently introduced a digital video recorder system capable of receiving video from traditional analog camera inputs as well as IP feeds, Web servers, standalone units and even USB cameras. The company refers to it as a “true hybrid” technology and said that prior to this technology the recourse for many of these enterprises was to scrap their entire analog infrastructure.

What are commercial sites looking for in new installations? According to Jason Gonzalez, chief executive officer and founder of VMS, end users are looking for integrators with a proven track record who can provide a well-engineered system that features reliable hardware and software at a low cost.

“As physical security and IT converge, historically disparate security solutions are integrating across the enterprise,” said Gonzalez. “Often, the result can be deployed as a comprehensive life safety network, with video surveillance functioning as a central nervous system. Coupling CCTV with the likes of alarm systems, access control solutions and facial recognition technologies results in a whole greater than the sum of its parts. CCTV solutions can set off automated alarms or permit remote investigation of a site when an alarm is triggered. When a hazardous area is breached by an unauthorized person, video surveillance cameras are usually the first eyes on the scene. Working with facial recognition software, a CCTV system can recognize a dangerous individual on the premises and automatically alert appropriate personnel,” he said.

Installing security and fire at new and existing or legacy sites is the next challenge for dealers and integrators. For those who have a good handle on the technological advancements in communications, wireless and hardware and software, the market is wide open.