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.

Design and specification of life safety systems is guided via three different means: building codes, standards and listings
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.

Johnson Controls are asking the question why can't an elevator be used in fire safety?
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.

Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Rodger Reiswig Vice President of Industry Relations, Johnson Controls

In case you missed it

Teledyne’s Handheld Laser Detects Explosive Methane From 100 Feet Away
Teledyne’s Handheld Laser Detects Explosive Methane From 100 Feet Away

A new handheld device can detect the presence of explosive methane gas from up to 100 feet away. For firefighters, the tool provides situational awareness, saves time, and ensures safety from a distance. Knowing the presence of methane gas enables a firefighter to deal with an emergency gas leak and to avoid a deadly explosion. Gas laser The Gas Laser from Teledyne Gas and Flame Detection can shoot a laser beam through a window, a gap in a door, or another common venting point to provide an instant reading of the amount of methane in an area up to 100 feet away. The laser is invisible, but a green-spot pointer guides the aim as a user “points and shoots.” The laser bounces off any reflective object and then analyses the parts per million (ppm) of methane gas per meter of distance along the path of the laser. It measures down to a threshold of 1.25 ppm/meter. The handheld device can also capture a video image and a GPS location in addition to the gas reading stored on the device. It can be connected via WiFi and/or Bluetooth to a smartphone or other device and has onboard data logging. The device is automatically calibrated and tested when it is returned to its case. Detects minute quantities of methane Gas laser detects a much smaller amount of methane than would be explosive, thus preventing explosions  “It’s a brand new device, and everybody wants it,” says Alan Skinner, Regional Manager, Portable Gas Detection for Teledyne Gas and Flame Detection. “Once they understand what it does, they want it. Now you don’t have to be inside a hazard to detect the hazard.” The Gas Laser detects a much smaller amount of methane than would be explosive, thus preventing explosions by addressing leaks early.  The lower explosive limit (LEL) for methane is 5 percent, the equivalent of 50,000 ppm, much higher than the measurement threshold of the Gas Laser. Previously, there was no entirely safe method of evaluating the gas concentration without being near an area, typically using a three-foot probe sensor, for example.  “Now they know what they are getting into before they enter,” says Skinner. “It saves a huge amount of time.” Understanding working of gas laser Getting the word out about the device has been a challenge given the continuing coronavirus pandemic and disruptions of the hurricane season. “It’s one of those products you have to show them and let them play with it to understand what it does,” says Skinner. Interest was high at the recent FDIC show, where Teledyne unveiled the new sensor alongside its broader range of gas detection sensors. Teledyne’s range of portable sensors traces its roots back to GM Instruments (GMI), founded in Scotland in 1947. The sensor company was involved in multiple mergers and acquisitions in recent years, including ownership by companies such as Battery Ventures, Tyco, Scott Instruments, Johnson Controls, and 3M. Two years ago, the product line was acquired by Teledyne and represents the portables segment of their Environmental Monitoring Division, which also includes Detcon, Simtronics, and Oldham. Protege ZM and PS200 sensor PS200 sensor measures levels of four gases – methane, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide Another sensor among Teledyne’s range of handheld devices is the Protégé ZM, a carbon monoxide sensor that a fireman can clip to their helmet, pocket, or bag. The “disposable” device has a 24-month lifespan, requires zero maintenance, and provides a calibration and bump test. The PS200 sensor measures levels of four gases – methane, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide. An internal pump extracts a sample before a firefighter enters a confined space. A charge, bump, and calibration station (ABC Station) ensures calibration on a weekly, monthly, or twice-yearly basis. PS500 and GT Fire sensor The PS500 model adds another sensor to the four – typically either a photoionization detector (PID) for volatile organic compounds such as benzene, or a hydrogen cyanide (HCN) sensor to measure the presence of carcinogenic compounds that can be a byproduct of burning vinyl or plastics. The PID sensor can help investigators detect propellants that might indicate arson. The GT Fire sensor detects explosive gases in the PPM/LEL ranges with optional CO, H2S, and O2 sensors. The device can sniff out small gas leaks before any LEL level is reached. Able to find leaks in the PPM range, the device can pinpoint exactly where gas is leaking.

Revising The Rules Of Evacuation
Revising The Rules Of Evacuation

It is the legal duty of the responsible person in any building to make the evacuation of disabled people equal to that for able-bodied people, as Anthony Smith, Managing Director of Vox Ignis, explains. When the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was first introduced in 1995, it gave disabled people long overdue access to goods and services, education, employment, transport and accommodation. This was, subsequently, incorporated into the Equality Act in 2010. Evacuation of mobility impaired people Sadly, despite its many benefits in access to goods and services, one area the act failed to address was the evacuation of mobility impaired people, in the event of an incident, leading to the Government and Disability Rights Commission to publish a guide of supplementary information for the fire risk assessment for Disabled People in 2007. The guide highlighted that the Fire and Rescue Service’s role in fire evacuation is that of ensuring that the means of escape, in case of fire and associated fire safety measures provided for all people, who may be in a building, are both adequate and reasonable, taking into account the circumstances of each particular case. Fire risk assessment of buildings It is the responsibility of the person(s) having the responsibility for the building, to provide a fire safety risk assessment Under current fire safety legislation, it is the responsibility of the person(s) having the responsibility for the building, to provide a fire safety risk assessment that includes an emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises, including disabled people and how that plan will be implemented. As a member of BSI FSH/12/5, which covers Voice Alarm and Emergency Voice Communication Systems, and as Managing Director of Vox Ignis, a manufacturer of disabled refuge and fire telephone systems, Anthony Smith has long lobbied for the amending of BS9991 and Building regulations approved document B1, to make it compulsory for dwellings above one floor to have disabled refuge areas, with an Emergency Voice Communications System (EVCS), as commercial buildings, ensuring residents can communicate with building management, in the event of an incident, such as fire. As a member of BSI FSH/12/5, Anthony Smith has long lobbied for the amending of BS9991 Clear and secure communications vital in emergencies In such emergencies, it is vital that communication is clear, secure, monitored and maintained. These systems can be the difference between life and death. In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, many in the industry, including Anthony Smith, believed it would only be a matter of time until such critical amends were made. However, four years on, it looks as though the industry, fire services and general public may finally be seeing their persistent rallying result in action, transforming this outdated mandate. Importance of refuge areas in buildings Lifts, escalators and platform lifts may have transformed the way that people with mobility issues access buildings While responsible building owners and there are some out there, are already establishing refuge areas in dwelling houses, the revision of BS9991 in the next year, could finally spell the end of such crucial health and safety measures being optional, and make it a requirement for residential buildings, but it will take a change to the Building Regulations Approved Document B1 to change the law. Lifts, escalators and platform lifts may have transformed the way that people with mobility issues access buildings. However, more often than not, they are completely redundant in an emergency, which is why refuge areas hold the key to ensuring the safe and orderly evacuation of people from buildings, in the event of a crisis. Key role in promoting disabled refuge areas Here at Vox Ignis, we’ve witnessed this first hand. Working with property developers across the globe, we’ve helped establish disabled refuge areas, in a wide range of developments, from skyscrapers to hotels and high-rise residential towers, and are starting to be involved in projects in this country with residential towers, notably in Croydon. Although, in both of those instances, the client wasn’t bound by law to include EVCS for the disabled refuge areas in their developments, it goes to show that many forward-thinking and responsible developers are already embracing the latest in evacuation and fire safety technology, however, as an industry and as a nation, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels. Of the 72 people who died in the tragic Grenfell fire disaster, more than half of the casualties were adults with limited mobility or children, according to evidence shared in the latest phase of the inquiry, and we can only hope that, if the proposed revisions to BS9991 are approved, and Approved Document B1 is amended, we can finally put the relevant measures in place, in order to make high-rise residential buildings safer for all, once and for all.

Keeping Fire Personnel Connected And Safe Using Wireless Mesh Networks
Keeping Fire Personnel Connected And Safe Using Wireless Mesh Networks

In their daily lives, fire personnel must be brave, forward-thinking, and strategic when tackling fire emergencies. However, the most crucial part of a successful fire operation is the communication between the crew, the central command center, and the people in need of rescue when in mission-critical, and often life-threatening situations. Whether this location is a large-scale wildfire, a high-rise building or even a house, continuous connectivity can be the mitigating factor on success or failure when it comes to ushering people to safety. It was estimated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that US fire crews respond to a fire situation every 24 seconds across the nation. Still the number of fire-related fatalities has dropped significantly when compared to figures from the 1970s. Of course, this is due to the more robust communications systems and high-quality fire equipment available today, but all of this relies on stable and fail-proof connectivity. Unwavering connectivity can prevent fatalities If fire personnel are to provide an effective and real-time response to any fire safety emergency, they require constant visibility and communication at all times. Any operation interruption, faltering connection, or unreliability can cause panic, uncertainty, and even danger. Furthermore, a robust, mobile connection allows for direct correspondence to control rooms, which can facilitate additional equipment, vehicle, and team members to be deployed. An unreliable connection presents hurdles to fire personnel as it restricts access to vital information and applications, which will inevitably hold firefighter crews back from receiving real-time data that is essential in critical situations. Most importantly, new technology is emerging, aiming to minimize firefighter danger and increase the overall visibility of sites. The more powerful the applications are, the more bandwidth is required to support them. If a network has insufficient bandwidth capacity, real-time access to files, such as on-scene video, critical communications, and aerial imagery, may not be possible. In addition, on-the-move visibility is essential in providing firefighters with the inclusive situational awareness they require when dealing with a range of life-threatening incidents, whether this be sprawling wildfires, vehicle accidents, or domestic fire situations. The wireless mesh that enables critical communication Rajant Corporation has worked with many emergency personnel and equipment providers in helping them communicate reliably with its Kinetic Mesh® wireless network. Comprised of multi-frequency network nodes that solidify the connection, the network allows for complete mobility and range, enabling fire crews to communicate wherever they are without the threat of interrupted connection. It is paramount with any public safety operation that a wireless mesh is fast in transmitting real-time data and completely secure from any cybersecurity threat. In addition to providing complete mobility, the network can support innovative equipment and wearable technology that can significantly increase safety and security in mission-critical situations. An example of this is Rajant’s partnership with communications provider Vorbeck. Equipped with Rajant’s ES1 BreadCrumb® wireless radio, the wearable Vorbeck HD4 communications harness facilitates live streaming of video, voice, and data to personnel in ‘hot zones’, these being hard-to-network areas or places with no network infrastructure. As the network can work peer-to-peer with all other Rajant BreadCrumb nodes, this extends the range of connection tenfold, keeping personnel safe and protected as they undertake their life-saving duties. It is paramount with any public safety operation that a wireless mesh is fast in transmitting real-time data and completely secure from any cybersecurity threat. In life-threatening situations that fire personnel may face, communications need to be received without the risk of interference or latency. Rajant BreadCrumbs can be configured with multiple radio transceivers and radio frequencies, including 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 4.9 GHz, and 5 GHz with low-power consumption. Multi-frequency capabilities help avoid interruption, increase speed, and allow an array of applications to run simultaneously. Ensuring comprehensive connectivity when fighting the California wildfire In October 2019, the heat from the sun combined with winds gusting through the foothills of El Capitán Canyon in California sparked a bush fire in the desert. During the blaze, the climate in the Canyon was considered “critical fire weather” with its dry grass and wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour. Emergency services and crews from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, California Fire, the U.S Forest Service, and other agencies were immediately dispatched to contain the blaze before it spread. Rajant and its technology partner Dejero were enrolled after a planned public safety demonstration locally. Both companies quickly shifted to an urgent, real-life challenge. Following this, Rajant’s BreadCrumbs and camera systems were mounted to bulldozers enabling critical local data transmission, while other situational data and mapping could be revived in the field. From a tactical response truck, Dejero was able to bridge from the field to the command post over cellular and SAT networks, during the actual emergency situation. Significantly, this allowed the firefighters manning the bulldozers to communicate in the valley, which normally is not possible. Data was then sent from the bulldozers, straight to the truck, and transmitted via the Internet connection, whereby the command control center could receive the video feed in real-time. With Rajant and Dejero providing the connectivity needed, the operation was a success. While four hundred and twenty acres of land had burned, no structures were damaged, and, most importantly, no one was injured. By utilizing a Kinetic Mesh network, fire personnel ensure the safety of their teams. Whether they’re fighting a blaze in a house, a high-rise building, or in a vehicle, a fully mobile, rapidly deployable, and redundant wireless connection allows firefighters to fully focus on saving lives.

vfd