Dynalectric says ‘play ball’ at Omni San Diego Hotel

WHEN JOHN MOORE’S planned development of the Omni San Diego Hotel, it was fairly personal. After all, he is chairman of the San Diego Padres, owner and president of JMI Realty, a major force in the city’s waterfront redevelopment, and owner of the towering new hotel and upscale condominium center, which connects by footpath to Petco Park where his baseball team plays.

The Omni is part of the Ballpark District redevelopment project meant to revitalize the city’s East Village section, which sits across from the recently expanded convention center. The area is also known as the Gaslamp Quarter.

The Omni Hotel was years in planning and for good reason. Located a block from the harbor and in the heart of San Diego’s business district, it was expected to be a large, state-of-the-art center for visitors and residents. Views from the hotel would include the Pacific Ocean and the hills to the east.

To build this tower, which serves the separate needs of a large hotel and condominium complex, they needed an electrical contractor with more than just typical wiring skills, one who could also install an integrated security, fire alarm and access control system. Dynalectric Co., San Diego, a subsidiary of EMCOR Group Inc., prides itself on offering “one-stop shopping” for developers. Even when they don’t offer the lowest bid, they provide the most complete one, including electrical services, voice-data-video (VDV), fiber optics, fire alarm and security systems. In the case of the Omni, Dynalectric provided an integrated fire protection, access control and security system package.

“Security can be the bread and butter (of a project),” Dynalectric Vice President and Division Manager Bob Riel explained. While the bulk of the profit still comes from straight electrical wiring, being able to offer the specialty systems—such as hotel security—positions the company to be that much more competitive. And that success is reflected in their bottom line. Since it was conceived six years ago, Dynalectric’s systems division now nets an additional $8 to $9 million in annual revenues.

Providing needed services to buildings such as the Omni is a prime example of this specialty low-voltage work. General contractor Swinerton Builders Inc. took on the project, which was finished in the spring of 2004. The 32-story structure needed to connect two sets of security and fire alarm systems—one for residential condos on the top floors and a second for the hotel_into one easy-to-use graphical interface.

The Omni Hotel occupies the lower 22 stories of the tower, with the top floors reserved for a condominium complex known as the Metropolitan. The hotel has one set of entrances, lobby and elevators, while the condos have another. The fire alarm needs for the two were basically the same, while security was very different. All the security and fire alarm systems were tied together to one security control center in the hotel, in addition to private security systems installed for private condo owners by request.

The hotel itself includes more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space, a 9,266-square-foot Grand Ballroom and a large prefunction area and outdoor terrace. It also includes nine state-of-the-art meeting rooms on the fourth and fifth levels and three boardrooms on the sixth floor. It offers T-1 high-speed Internet access, built-in audiovisual equipment and ergonomically correct seating.

Most hotels, as Riel pointed out, use basic entrance security that involves locked doors opened by hotel room cards. A more complex security system can be unrealistic mainly because of the high cost involved with using a networked access control system rather than a stand-alone, card-key system. For that reason, most hotels offer security lock systems that use inexpensive magnetic stripe cards and battery-operated door locks, completely separate from any other access/security system the hotel may have installed.

In the case of the Omni, Dynalectric installed 32 Pelco mini-dome cameras, locating them in entranceways, parking areas and a variety of public spaces. A security office fully equipped with digital video recorders keeps track of all images the cameras capture. In addition, Bob Keeyes, Dynalectric’s security specialist and project manager, said they installed more than 25,000 feet of low-voltage wiring to support the security system, which included door contacts, access points, motion detectors, cameras and panels.

The hotel also features 18 proximity-card reader access points to keep people out of sensitive areas, Keeyes said. The difference between proximity cards and the more common hotel swipe cards, Keeyes added, is the action required to unlock doors. While most hotels issue swipe cards that require the guest to insert and remove the card before the door is unlocked, a proximity card requires placement near (generally between one to three inches) the reader to unlock the door.

On the condominium side, residents use proximity cards to open doors to the residence lobby and to enter the parking garage. Condo elevators also require proximity cards. The card system is all part of the building’s single security and alarm system, which uses an Edwards Systems Technology (EST) Synergy System to integrate smoke control, access control, alarms and security. The synergy system includes life safety, security and access control systems on one infrastructure with access control credentials, readers and database software. Unlike many security and fire systems that use gateways to connect them, the synergy system is completely integrated, said EST District Manager Ray Huby. This system offers several advantages to building owners. According to Huby, because the system is integrated, the card access and other security features must meet the UL 864 standards required for fire alarms. It also allows building owners one point of contact for the entire system throughout construction and maintenance.

In addition to installing a security alarm system for each “spec” or custom-built condo, Dynalectric also designed separate systems for the private condo owners of the spec units. With each alarm system, Dynalectric installed a local panel and an addressable security module connecting the condo to the security office.

Systems using basic security locks and proximity readers, Riel said, are still the typical installation for hotels and residences and are what Dynalectric finds to be most common in anything other than military or government facilities.

“We’d all love to do palm readers and retinal scanners,” Riel said, but added that they are seldom in use. When they are, the installation labor and procedures are still the same. “It’s just a box built by somebody else that you install.”

Fire alarm systems, at the Omni and other high-rise buildings, are more complicated than a standard low-rise building. High-rise buildings require smoke control systems as well as voice evacuation and firefighter phone systems. Dynalectric installed life safety speakers and smoke detectors in all 512 guest rooms and all 37 condominiums. They also installed speaker/strobes and smoke detectors in all public areas such as lobbies, restrooms, meeting area and hallways. To ensure the integrity of the smoke control system, the fire alarm/security system monitors the sprinkler water flow for each floor as well as the stairwell door position. A firefighter phone system is located on each floor for communications throughout the building. The smoke control system includes pressurization of the building’s two stairwells, elevator hoist wells and lobbies. The system allows firefighters to control smoke-fire dampers, air-handling units, and fans, all designed to raise or lower air pressure to control the movement of smoke.

Offering a full package, Riel said, is what has made Dynalectric one of the San Diego-area leaders in electrical contracting. Dynalectric continues to piggyback security systems along with electrical systems in numerous hotels and other business complexes in the San Diego area.

“If all you do is security or teledata it won’t work,” Riel said.