The ultimate challenge – using the latest fire systems to protect remote sites
Intermittent power, a 12-hour round trip to site – if the ferry’s working that is – and a three-day lead (at best) on spare parts. Any takers for this fire protection job?
Although perhaps off-putting to those more familiar with fast-paced urban settings and same-day spares, this scenario is the norm for many others designing, installing and maintaining fire systems in the remoter parts of the world.
Graeme Bruce of Adam Fire Engineers and Consultants, based on the Isle of Seil in Argyll, Scotland, is one such man for whom the problems of working on remote sites are the norm.
“The fire survey takes on a whole new level of importance when you’re dealing with hard-to-reach locations, and many of our jobs have the added complication of being listed buildings or heritage sites.
“Apart from exploring every nook and cranny and discussing how the building is used day-to-day with staff, we take other factors into account too. These typically include: how long it takes to get to site, access, the logistics of getting spare parts, the chance of problems with the power supply – things that generally wouldn’t become major issues on ‘normal’ installations but are high risk factors when you’re working off the beaten track.”
Graeme adds: “Experience has taught me that the only way to avoid accidentally specifying the wrong product is to be extremely thorough and really understand the site from the outset. This is the only way to ensure you aren’t lining up costly problems for you and your client further down the line.”
The reliability of the power supply is one of the most common and greatest threats to the integrity of fire systems in remote locations.
Power outages don’t just last for hours, but rather days and up to a week or more in some sparsely populated regions. It can be easy to overlook the importance of battery life and the need to have battery backup in the panel as well as spares on site in readiness for blackouts.
Equally common are brownouts (power supply voltage drops). Some panels, such as those from Advanced, feature smart mains supply monitoring to counteract frequent panel faults occurring during voltage drops. Typical brownout periods can be identified during the risk assessment and programmed at configuration stage, thus eliminating this recurrent – and potentially costly – remote site problem.
The logistics of getting to and from remote sites are also major considerations when designing the fire system – for a number of important reasons.
Although tempting to use non-standard parts and bespoke equipment to meet specialist needs, you have to offset their benefits with the drawbacks of trying to source customised parts should they go wrong.
“It’s ultimately easier to install panels and detectors that are high quality, reliable and readily available so that you can carry standard stock in your van when you go on servicing trips”, explained Graeme Bruce at Adam Fire.
In locations where next-day delivery services simply don’t exist, you can be in for unacceptably long fire system downtime waiting for replacement parts to arrive. Better to plan ahead and design the system with the worst case in mind.
Saving money on panels and devices may seem sensible where budgets are tight, but this invariably proves to be a false economy.
Eliminating the need to travel back to site to rectify problems is paramount when installing fire systems in remote locations. Just one unscheduled trip can wipe out any initial savings, so investing in the most reliable system available at the outset will reap its rewards in the long run.
Choosing a system with a service agreement attached can backfire.
Specifiers do not always anticipate the time and cost of getting a service engineer to site and fail to foresee the problems associated with getting parts quickly or overcoming power supply failures.
Clients can end up with hefty unexpected bills for travel and parts delivery. Worse still, the servicing company may simply withdraw support if they realise it’s not in their financial interest to continue with the contract. Customers are left with the problem of finding a company willing to take on a system they didn’t install in a difficult location; it can also leave valuable sites unprotected. Clarifying what is and isn’t included up-front is therefore vital.
Choosing a system that features a service tool can be a great advantage for remote sites.
Advanced panels let you check on the servicing history of any Advanced fire system. This feature lets you see device information and event logs from single or multiple panels along with the history of each device, including last activation, test, enable, disable and date created. The tool also lets you view device status, analogue values and drift information as well as supporting network simulations and tests.
Although relationships with a servicing company are founded on trust, the service tool provides hard proof that a system has been checked and ensures that any vulnerabilities are identified before problems occur.
Bearing in mind the time and cost associated with getting to site, as well as the fact that fire systems in hard-to-reach locations are often unmanned, remote monitoring has many benefits.
If a site has good broadband and/or mobile connectivity, then a system like the ipGateway from Advanced is a valuable addition.
This fully interactive Internet portal provides a secure connection to the Advanced fire system via a standard web browser.
The state of each device on the network is displayed on the user’s PC and from this you can enable/disable zones, enable/disable devices, reset, mute and silence/resound sounders on the network. Where faults are identified, it has the bonus of allowing you to establish the parts you will need when you get to site, thus eliminating the need for additional trips.
ipGateway can also be programmed to send emails/text messages to configured recipients in response to specific events on the network. This helps to ensure the correct level of response based on the nature of the system event and ensures no issues go unattended.
Where data transmission is patchy or non-existent, information can instead be passed via modem and dedicated telephone line.
Alternatively, where a number of remote sites spread over a large distance need to be monitored from a central location and connectivity is not a problem, you can install a third-party interface.
In this way, you can control multiple individual networks and unlimited nodes – depending on the type of interface chosen.
Fire and rescue service collaboration
In remote areas, it’s common for retained firefighters to make up the majority or, in some cases, all of the fire and rescue team. Given that their time is very limited, there’s a lot to be said for having the same type of fire system installed in as many of the sites they cover as possible. This helps to minimise training and ensures that the fire team knows exactly how the systems operate, should a fire occur.
The burden of unwanted alarms
False and unwanted alarms are troublesome in any location. However, in hard-to-reach areas, they can have even greater negative consequences. Long, wasted journeys; the unnecessary removal of retained fire fighters from their usual workplaces; considerable travel and attendance costs, not to mention complacency among a building’s occupants are just some of the common problems.
While installing a system with sophisticated remote monitoring capabilities is one good way of allowing you to check whether an alarm is really cause for concern, picking fire protection that offers comprehensive false alarm management is by far the best option.
AlarmCalm from Advanced is one such system, as it allows you to program verification delays that mean even when a site is unmanned, the system will automatically check if an activated device is genuinely in alarm before a fire condition is displayed on the panel. Offering a broad range of cause and effect options, AlarmCalm ensures that only genuine incidents trigger full alarm mode – minimising cost, inconvenience and complacency.
A best-practice approach
Although many fire system designers and installers may never have to work on systems in isolated areas, the detailed planning remote sites demand to achieve an effective and reliable fire system is a prudent approach on any challenging site.
Maintaining our heritage
Iona Abbey is one of Scotland’s most sacred and inaccessible sites, dating back to around 1200 AD. Its fire system had ceased being maintained due to the high travel costs associated with its upkeep.
Concerned about the system’s reliability, its guardians Historic Environment Scotland appointed Graeme Bruce at Adam Fire to remove the old system and replace it with an open protocol Advanced system.
The change means that a local company can economically maintain the system and this heritage asset is once again fully protected.
System’s star performance
Six hours drive inland from Sydney lies Australia’s premier optical and infrared astronomical observatory – Siding Spring.
Its location, on the edge of Warrumbungle National Park in New South Wales, means it is not only affected by all the problems most commonly associated with remoteness, but it is also at high risk of lightning strikes.
The Australian National University, which runs the observatory, chose an Advanced Fusion fire system to protect the site because of its electrical stability in this harsh environment, its ability to reduce false alarms and the fact that it could be remotely monitored and controlled from Canberra via an ipGateway.
Remote monitoring for peace of mind
Advanced’s ExGo extinguishing control panels were specified to protect a network of remote telecommunications sites in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
The client needed to be able to monitor the full system from one central location and expand it from an initial 24 sites to an eventual 70.
The solution comprised the addition of commander units to the network of ExGo control panels to allow the client to send information to and receive information from the ExGo control equipment via a centralised PC. The client was able to activate, abort, hold, silence and reset as well as enable and disable gas release – manually or automatically. As a high-level BMS interface, the commander also allowed the client to:
- Access graphical maps of each site, complete with control buttons
- Send emails about system events
- Send SMS messages about system events (via GSM module)
It also provided the option to integrate to a full BMS platform using Modbus or BACnet.
For more information, go to www.advancedco.com