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The continuity of power in the event of a real fire has never been more important as modern buildings become more complex and the need for the highest quality of products comes under the spotlight. With power for lighting and fire alarms, the fire and rescue services can use the intelligence gathered to evacuate people quickly, confident that they have found all the people in the building. Without power, they are literally scrambling in the dark without good information upon which to make their rescue. The continuity of power will also ensure that sprinkler or water mist systems can continue to operate where they exist. In commercial buildings, there may also be smoke evacuation fans which help to enable safe evacuation. Fire alarms may be digital, with loop systems which will provide information for fire and rescue services Appropriate Cabling At the start of a project, the most appropriate cabling should be specified as part of the electrical system rather than at the end of a project. Fire alarms may be digital, with loop systems which will provide information for fire and rescue services across individual areas and floors. At the same time, there are new designs, materials and products continually coming on to the market for major projects, and with it an increasing need for the various parties involved to work closely together to make sure they get it right. There has been an increasing incidence of non-approved cables on the market and unfortunately it is not until cables have been installed, tested or used that issues become clear. For installers, or those procuring cables, there is a need to check the cable when it arrives to make sure it is exactly what was specified. Should there be a problem, have it checked and seek good advice. Keep records of purchase, including reel flanges with batch markings and a sample of the cable markings. Send lengths for testing and then decide on the most appropriate course of action. Choice of cabling is crucial at the start of major projects as issues may occur later Meeting Rigorous Third-Party Tests For some buildings, it is crucial to select the highest quality products to meet the most rigorous third-party tests and real-life fire scenarios. These include environments such as hospitals, schools and care homes where older people and children move about. Specifiers looking at new large public sector projects such as hospitals should refer to BS 8519 for the electrical supply, and the most relevant cabling system. It is crucial to select the highest quality products to meet the most rigorous third-party tests This Code of Practice specifies that the type of system selected during the design phase ‘should be derived from a detailed process of consultation with the relevant authorities’ and that ‘the design should be agreed at an early stage.’ The decision-making process for cable selection relevant for life safety and firefighting systems is clearly defined here. This covers three categories ranging from 30 minutes to 120 minutes fire survival time. Categories 1 and 2 cover means of escape for 30 minutes and then 60 minutes respectively, and these cables are tested in accordance with the relevant codes. Category 3 for firefighting to 120 minutes refers to power and control cables meeting the 120-minute test according to the relevant standards. It should be emphasised that only Mineral Insulated Cable (MIC) or a cable meeting the requirements of BS7846 F120 will meet this criteria. For clarity, BS 8519 does not take precedence over BS 5839 for alarm systems and BS 5266 for emergency lighting. In essence, choosing the most relevant cabling and electrical accessories which will continue to operate under fire conditions has become critical. Application Of Medium Voltage Cables As the incidence of non-approved cables continues then so the application of Medium Voltage (MV) cables into high-risk environments including hospitals, schools, care homes, industrial sites and sub-stations serving infrastructure sites also becomes critical. In the context off fire engineering, it is important to select the relevant MV Cables in these areas. Adhering to the latest regulations is no longer enough - there needs to be a risk assessment. In order to do this effectively, it is important to ask – are the fire safety procedures up to date? All AEI MV cables are third party tested and approved by BASEC. Educational establishments including schools, colleges and laboratories are some of the most prone structures to fire hazards The whole supply chain needs to take consideration of these areas where vulnerable people often move about such as children or elderly people in hospitals or care homes. The fire and rescue services may need a little more time than a conventional building including reading complex fire alarm information to ensure a safe rescue in the event of a real fire. Educational establishments including schools, colleges and laboratories are some of the most prone structures to fire hazards. This is due to ageing structures, high volume of combustible materials, and changing use in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths programmes where more combustible and flammable liquids are being used. Concerns have been raised by architects and and designers about fire protection regimes Sufficient Fire Risk Assessment Recent research by the Fire Brigades Union, for example, showed that a key focus for all educational institutions must be ensuring that there is an effective fire risk management process in place, delivered by suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment carried out by an expert in the field. The best practice under Business Information Modelling (BIM) and all best practice of fire safety engineering methods should be observed in conjunction with project partners. There have been concerns over a number of years around the fire protection regime for new buildings expressed by the architects and designers themselves. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) points to the delays to Approved Document B with regard to the relationship of Building Regulations to changing design and construction. AEI Cables provides a full range of cabling products through its Total Fire Solutions service RIBA says the virtual disappearance of the role of the clerk of works or site architect and the loss of independent oversight of construction and workmanship on behalf of the client is a further issue for concern. In essence, RIBA believes that future proposals for the fire safety regulatory regime should be informed by the specialist fire safety expertise of relevant professional organisations and groups, and also take full account of this wider set of construction industry AEI Cables provides a full range of cabling products through its Total Fire Solutions service with the support of its parent company Ducab based in Dubai, with the design, manufacture and supply of MIC, Firetec Enhanced or Firetec Power depending on specific needs. The choice of cabling and accessories should not be underestimated at the earliest opportunity to ensure the fire and rescue services are given every chance of success in rescuing people and saving property.
While whole room protection – sprinklers or gas systems – is a common choice, there is an argument for thinking smaller; taking fire detection and suppression down to the equipment, enclosures and even the components where a fire is most likely to start. Traditional Fire Suppression Methods A traditional water-based sprinkler system is the most common form of fire protection found in commercial and industrial buildings. They offer reasonable cost, large area protection for entire facilities, safeguarding the structure and personnel by limiting the spread and impact of a fire. Every square foot of the protected area is covered equally regardless of the contents of the space, whether it’s an empty floor or an object with an increased risk of fire. Sprinklers aren’t always the most appropriate choice. Not all fires are extinguished by water of course, and in some cases, water damage can be just as harmful or even more so than the fire. They are an impractical choice for instance for facilities housing anything electrical, such as data centres and server rooms. There is also the risk of accidental activation, with an estimated cost of up to $1,000 for every minute they are left running. Water damage can be just as harmful or even more so than any fire, so sprinklers may not be appropriate Targeted Supplementary Fire Suppression An alternative method to protect whole server rooms and data centres is gas fire suppression, which either suppresses the fire by displacing oxygen (inert) or by using a form of cooling mechanism (chemical/synthetic). These aren’t without risk; in the case of inert gas, oxygen is reduced to less than 15% to suffocate the fire, but must be kept above 12% to avoid endangering the lives of personnel. Similarly, clean agent gas can be toxic in high doses. There are smaller, focused systems that give the option of highly targeted supplementary fire suppression within fire risk areas. Installing a system directly into the areas most at risk, means that fires can be put out before they take hold and cause serious damage. Both sprinkler and gas systems can contain a fire, but micro-environment or closed space systems are completely automatic, detecting and suppressing the fire so rapidly that activating a sprinkler or gas total flooding system often isn’t necessary. The most popular enclosure fire suppression systems achieve this though the use of a flexible and durable polymer tubing that is routed easily through the tightest spaces. The tubing is extremely sensitive to heat and, because it can be placed so close to potential failure points, detects it and releases the fire suppression agent up to ten times faster than traditional systems. An airline was forced to cancel over 2,000 flights after a “small fire” in one of its data centers Cost-Effective Fire Protection Highly customizable, small enclosure fire suppression is specifically designed to protect business critical spaces and equipment. It is typically used inside machinery like CNC machines, mobile equipment like forklifts and inside server rooms and electrical cabinetry but is suitable for any hazard that’s considered to have an elevated fire risk. Some may question the need or cost-effectiveness of protecting micro-environments. However, examples abound of where fires that have started at component level have gone on to cause damage of the highest magnitude, and the cost of downtime can be crippling to many time-sensitive facilities and processes. An airline was forced to cancel over 2,000 flights in August 2016 when what was described as a “small fire” in one of its data centers ultimately led to a computer outage. The cost of that small fire, and the domino effect that quickly escalated from it, has since been announced as $150m. Admittedly that number is unusually high - the average cost of a data centre outage today is estimated at a more conservative $730,000 – but this is still an expense businesses can ill afford. Preventing Major Losses Staying with the transport industry, newer metros systems have redundant systems in place to prevent interruptions. However, older metro lines, such as the one in New York City, have experienced electrical fires that started small, but grew to such a magnitude that service was affected for months.Older metro lines, such as New York City's, have experience electrical fires that start small but grew exponentially A wind energy customer experienced a fire in a turbine converter cabinet. The loss of the cabinet was valued at over $200,000 and disabled the turbine for six weeks. Following investment in fire suppression systems inside the electrical cabinet, a subsequent fire was detected and suppressed before major damage could be caused. The cost on this occasion was therefore limited to a $25,000 component and downtime was less than two days.Equally - happily - there are also many instances where the installation of small enclosure fire suppression has prevented disaster. In the manufacturing world, CNC machines are valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars and need to be constantly operational to justify the investment. Oil coolant used in the machines can create a flash fire in an instant due to failed components or programming errors. The fact that many of these facilities are run ‘lights out’ with no personnel present further exacerbates the risk. If a fire is not dealt with immediately, the machine will be destroyed; sprinklers don’t react quickly enough for this scenario and would be ineffective. Ensuring Business Continuity One such flash fire occurred inside a protected CNC machine at a machine shop in Iowa. The polymer tubing ruptured within a fraction of a second, releasing the suppression agent and extinguishing the flames. The machine was undamaged and was operational again with a few hours. Contrast this to a previous fire at the same facility in an unprotected machine; it was out of operation for 4 days, costing the business thousands of dollars in downtime In short, fire protection is an essential element of our industrial and commercial environments to ensure both safety and business continuity. However, the nature of that protection is changing, as capacity increases to cost-effectively protect specific areas where fires are most likely to start. Risk mitigation analysis needs to look beyond what has been accepted in the past and find ways to further limit the impact of a small fire using this next level of protection. The benefits can really have a positive effect on the bottom line in the event of fire.
The era of “smart buildings” is here, bringing new opportunities for significant gains in efficiency, safety and environmental protection. In an interview, Rodger Reiswig, director of industry relations at Johnson Controls Global Fire Protection Products, offers his insights into the impact of smart buildings on fire detection and what it means for organisations planning new facilities. Q: How do you define smart buildings? The term “smart buildings” means different things to different people. For some, it’s all about the Green Initiative. Is the building able to sustain itself or reduce its carbon footprint? Can they reuse some of their water or generate electricity from onsite solar cells or wind turbines? Another definition of “smart buildings” is based on sensors. Is the building smart enough to know that, if I’m the first person there in the morning and I swipe my card, it should switch the HVAC system into occupied mode? Can it start to turn the lights on? Can it adjust the window shades to allow the sun to come in? Can it call the elevator down for me because it knows that I’m in the lobby and I’m going to the tenth floor? It’s all about how the systems integrate with one another, not just providing information to each other, but also interacting with one another, causing things to happen from one system to another. Q: How close are we to the vision of an integrated intelligent building where all the systems work together? We’ve already been doing some integration for a few years now with things like HVAC and lighting. Now we’re seeing tighter integration where, for example, we can use the position of the sun to get the best impact of sunlight to start to heat the building in the winter. One of the biggest challenges that we see in the smart building environment is protocols or topologies for how one system talks to another. The fire alarm system uses a certain protocol or language. The HVAC system uses another protocol or language, and so on. Creating an environment where systems can talk to one another and not just send, but also receive information – that’s the difficult part. Everybody can send information out. It’s easy for me to tell you what is happening in a system. But for you to tell me what’s happening in your system and then expect me to do something with that information, that’s when it gets a little bit harder. Q: What makes system-to-system communication challenging? Because of the critical role they play in protecting lives and property, life safety systems require a level of reliability and resilience far beyond that of other building systems or networks. Therefore, we have to be extremely careful about how we allow information from other systems to come into the life safety system, in case that information should affect the performance of the system. In addition, the design and specification of life safety systems is guided via three different means: building codes, standards and listings. Each of those means is controlled by different organisations. Any proposed changes to life safety networks have to pass muster with those entities, and that takes time, effort and consensus-building. When we’re talking specifically about system-to-system communication, the listing entities, organisations like UL and FM Global, regulate how much information can come into any life safety system. The listing documents require that there be some type of a barrier or gateway to prevent unauthorised or corrupted information from coming into a fire alarm system, causing harm or causing it to lock up. Life safety systems require a level of reliability and resilience far beyond that of other building systems or networks We will see all building technologies become more integrated over time as we work through the different entities and people begin to realise the benefits of improved safety, lower environmental impact, and reduced costs. Q: How will fire detection systems benefit from other sensor information available in a building? One of the things being explored is occupancy sensors that tell where people are located in a building. Some type of telemetry could be used to understand where people are concentrated in a facility and, based on that, make the fire alarm system more or less sensitive to smoke. If a lot of people are congregating in one area, there might be more activity and more dust being stirred up. You could use that information to set different alarm parameters compared to, for example, an empty building with no significant air movement. We see that type of operation happening. Knowing how many people are in a building and where they are located is also a critically valuable piece of information for first responders. Here’s another example: let’s say we have a big parking garage next to a mall. Cars come in, and perhaps some people leave their cars running, or the cars aren’t operating as efficiently as they should be. You could have carbon monoxide detectors and occupancy sensors in the garage, and when the garage becomes crowded and carbon monoxide levels start to rise a bit, you could tell the fire alarm system not to go into alarm, but instead to turn fans on to get some fresh air moving throughout the building. It’s performing a life safety function, but at a non-emergency level. Q: Are you involved in any cross-industry standard-setting organisations to enable better communication among building systems? On an industry level, Johnson Controls is very active in the development of codes and standards. We have people who sit on committees for things like healthcare occupancy standards. We have engineers that contribute to product listing documents. We have people who participate in committees that determine how products should be installed and maintained.Fire alarm systems could be used to detect and solve non-emergencies before they become threats We’re even involved with groups, like the National Disabilities Rights Network, that advocate for laws that promote equal access and notification of life safety events. The list goes on. It’s a common protocol that allows all types of systems to get on the same communication platform and be able to send and possibly receive information, depending on the product and the type of system it is.Just to give you an example, there’s a standard called BACnet, Building Automation Control Network, which was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. BACnet is based on entities, so within their system, they need to define what each entity is. What is a thermostat? What is a variable air box? What is a lighting controller? What is a fire alarm smoke detector? We work closely with this organisation to create entities that can reside on their infrastructure so that, for example, the lightning system recognises what a smoke detector is when they send that entity out to the network. It’s one of the most important methods we are using to communicate among dissimilar systems. Integrated systems mean elevators could be used to evacuate people in an emergency We’re working on two fronts: internally and industry-wide. We’re developing third-party interfaces that enable an outside entity to sign a non-disclosure form and get the keys to the kingdom, if you will, on our protocols for how our systems operate – the data stream that we can send out and receive back – allowing that third-party developer to create some of these interfaces themselves. That has been one of our challenges, because we have always said that this is a fire alarm system, and if you want that type of an interface, we need to write it and get it listed. We had to step back and say, what if we developed a barrier gateway and allowed somebody else to develop the protocol and, done properly, became able to receive and send information to the fire alarm system? It’s like what Apple does with apps. We are going down that road with this third-party interface gateway. Q: Have these developments changed how you’re planning for the future development of fire detection systems? Yes, they have. We are looking at how we can use these systems strategically to make life safety systems better. And life safety is becoming more nuanced, proactive and comprehensive. Can I communicate and use this information to unlock the door so people have a clear egress? Can I start to use the elevators to evacuate people during an emergency? We’ve been told traditionally to use the stairwell and not the elevator in the event of a fire. But it takes a person about a minute a floor to get out. That’s a problem if you’re in an 80-story building. You have elevators sitting there. Is there something we could do to allow these elevators to be used to evacuate people? The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has been working hard on developing the language and requirements to do that. It’s just one example of how having systems integrated and talking to each other allows us to create smarter solutions that can help make facilities safer. Q: What advice would you give to building owners, architects, designers or contractors to help them start planning today for the future of smart buildings? The most important thing is to build awareness. The average building owner doesn’t know that a lot of this technology even exists. We need to inform them that there are options they can ask about. One of my recommendations would be to ask your design engineer. As you discuss the kind of windows you want, the kind of flooring and lighting and so on, ask how these systems could integrate together and what the benefits of integration would be. The bigger your facility, the greater the benefits of integrating these systems. Another resource that people don’t use often enough is the AHJs, the authorities having jurisdiction. That’s the local fire marshal, the fire chief, the local first responders. Don’t be afraid to sit down with a fire marshal, tell them what kind of building you’re putting in, and ask them what would help them respond in the event of an emergency in that building. They’ll be glad you asked, because these people see a lot of different buildings and respond to emergencies every day.