The demands on the current fire systems have never been greater and not all panels are created equal which can make choosing the right solution a challenge.

Many fire panels are now powerful computers, working with intelligent detectors to constantly report on changing conditions across the fire system. They are relied upon to alert people to real and potential emergencies by voice, light, and/or sound. They allow one to control evacuation procedures so that people get out of complex buildings safely in any fire situation.

Some panels are fine-tuned to reduce the number of false alarms. They are also required to control the release of suppressants, operate smoke control systems, manage appropriate closure and release of fire doors, link to graphical control systems, and interact with third-party building management systems. The list is long and constantly growing.

The demand for fire panels to do all this and moreover larger and more complicated sites, as part of a fire network, is increasing. And with this requirement come important questions, such as:

  • Are the panels quick and easy to set up as a network?
  • Will the network speed/performance, over a large area, be compromised?
  • Will the network be easy to use and maintain?
  • Will it be easy to expand the system?

Flexible System Planning

A networked fire alarm system communicates data between all panels/network nodes on a site, allowing for greater control over the fire safety of the entire building. Inter-connection of fire alarm control panels over a proprietary network allows panels in different locations to communicate with each other with a two-core cable

The network’s design should allow buildings to be protected by distributing the fire panels throughout the site, instead of having to take all the detection circuits back to a single point. Using a true peer-to-peer system, information from any input or output device can be passed over the network and displayed on any control panel. This allows the system to display details of all fires, alarms, pre-alarms, and faults on any panel or repeater in the building.

The inter-connection of fire alarm control panels over a proprietary network is well established, allowing many panels, often sited in physically different locations, to communicate with each other using a two-core cable (or fire-resistant two-core screened twisted pair cable depending on your local legislation).

Information from anyone panel can be made available to any or all of the other panels in a network, allowing the user to access all the information on the system from any one panel. This provides both the benefits of distributed intelligence and reduced installation costs.

Performance and Speed Of The System

In large, complex sites, it’s vital to ensure that the panels, when networked, will sustain adequate performance levels. As the number of panels and input and output options on a network increase, some systems can slow down dramatically. This can seriously compromise safety and reliability.

Delay on an Advanced panel network to indicate a fire from any zone is less than 1 second Different systems offer various approaches to networking. These can vary from master-slave systems to peer-to-peer standard or fault-tolerant networks, as in Advanced’s case. However, as with all systems, the speed at which a fire signal can be transferred around the network is critical to performance.

Advanced networks can be configured to allow the interconnection of up to 200 panels (nodes) in a fault-tolerant configuration. The maximum cable length between nodes is 1.5 km, with a total loop length of 20 km. The network is capable of withstanding a single fault between nodes without loss of communications to any single panel. This is all achieved using a standard two-core, fire-resistant cable.

Both EN54-13 and UL864 specify maximum times for relaying fire alarm signals around the network. For example, the standard EN 54-13:2005 (E) 4.3.2.1 states that “a fire alarm condition on Control and Indicating Equipment (CIE) shall be indicated on the main CIE within 20sec.” The typical delay on an Advanced Ad-NeT+ 50 panel networks, for each panel to indicate a fire from any zone, is less than one second and 3.5 seconds for a full 200-panel system.

Network, Design, and Composition

Networks can be built using standard fire cable or fiber optics and are often required to cover huge distances. The network design, therefore, needs to be resilient and function reliably in a dynamic fire situation, where increased network traffic, higher voltages, and currents, as well as changing environmental conditions, can be challenging.

EN54-13 approved systems are designed and tested to continuously monitor network activity and ensure they perform in a fire situation, and so are worth seeking for added peace of mind, especially on larger sites.

Fire happens fast, so seconds matter, and fast, efficient networks are vital. The highest-quality networking should be a key specification, especially on larger sites where the network will be handling more information from more devices.

Operation Of The Alarm System

Large fire alarm systems can feature control panels on different floors or in different areas of a building, with each panel controlling and monitoring devices in the area to which it is designated. It’s therefore critical to choose a flexible solution with extensive networking capability that can be configured to report the status of other panels in the system if required. The alarm system can still function and communicate to provide a coordinated response neglecting the fault

A networked fire alarm system enables the user to access information from any panel on a network or from a central location. This overall system view saves those charged with maintaining these systems from having to visit multiple physical locations.

Historically, many different networked systems were based on star, radial, and loop typologies. Today, to ensure greater system security, a looped system is recommended as it uses diverse cable routing techniques. Should a single fault occur, affecting communications, the system can still function and communicate to provide a coordinated response.

Scalability, Cause, and Effect Of The Fire Alarm Network

A truly scalable fire network will allow different typologies suitable for sites of various sizes with vast cause and effect options. Networks designed within buildings generally use standard fire-resistant copper cable. However, as buildings are increasingly networked, fiber optic cable has become the preferred medium. This allows one's fire alarm network to cover significantly greater distances.

The nature or purpose of a building area needs to be considered when networking systems. For example, detectors will be grouped to allow appropriate alarm annunciation, so systems need to provide enough zones. Depending on the size of the site, a fire alarm network may have multiple panels, hundreds of zones, and thousands of devices.

Therefore, the need for sophisticated cause and effect and intuitive, easy programing of rules becomes crucial. This is especially the case when complex systems may potentially be linked to graphical alarm reporting systems.

Quick and Reliable

Simplify system planning that can adapt to the size and purpose of a building In complex buildings, the fire system maybe managing a wide range of inputs and outputs as fire spreads, including smoke control, graphical indication, voice evacuation, door closers, direct connections to monitoring stations, gas suppression, etc.

The fire system needs to work quickly and reliably and process large numbers of changing signals in the event of a real fire situation. On larger sites, seconds count and fast systems are highly valuable in maximizing the time for verification, escape, and firefighting.

When selecting the most appropriate networked fire system, it’s important to ask:

  • Can information be displayed clearly and logically across the whole site?
  • Is the system truly scalable?
  • Is it easy to program, maintain, and can it easily be expanded in the future?
  • Will the system perform correctly and are its cause and effect capabilities adequate?
  • Does the network offer appropriate levels of reliability in the event of a fire or fault?

network cabling solutions

Individually, many fire systems may appear to meet the challenges posed on large-scale sites. However, in complex buildings, these systems are likely to be networked, and attaining adequate performance levels under these circumstances isn’t always achievable with inferior fire panels.

As the number of panels and input and output options on a network increase, so does the need for a high-performance networked system that will deliver reliability and resilience. It must also offer network cabling solutions that are scalable, accommodate sophisticated cause and effect, and facilitate system architecture that can adapt to the size and purpose of a building.

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