Cool Tools: Testing Alarms And Control Systems

By Jeff Griffin | Jun 15, 2014
Ideal SignalTEK II quarter right.jpg




Electrical power is essential for the operation of any building, and more owners and managers want their buildings to be “smart.” What does that even mean? A building becomes “smart” when automated controls, fire and entry alarms and video surveillance systems are incorporated into an integrated system. These individual components require testing during installation, upon completion and after they are in service, for routine maintenance and troubleshooting when problems occur. While many tests for alarm and control systems are similar to tests for conventional datacom networks, system-specific tests also are necessary.

Representatives of Ideal Industries, Megger and Platinum Tools discuss testing these integrated systems.

Jeff Meader, business unit manager, Ideal Industries, said: “Testing, in general, provides a level of assurance that both the cabling infrastructure and devices are working to specified performance levels. For example, bad cabling or poor terminations in security applications can be the difference between seeing details and smooth video versus pixelated and jittery images with limited usefulness when needed most.

“Tone and probe testers/locators find and identify copper cables as well as verify continuity. Wiremap-based products test for continuity verification of category cabling and RJ-45/11 and coaxial cables. PoE [power over Ethernet] testers indicate voltage/wattage available or being consumed by devices.

“Qualification testers check for the gigabit Ethernet standard by sending gigabit traffic onto a cable to prove it can actually handle gigabit traffic and connect/perform at 1 gigabyte per second. CCTV [closed-circuit television] multifunction testers display analog CCTV signals, verify line voltages, communicate with cameras in over 20 protocols and measure IRE levels. Certification testers certify that the installed Category 5e/6/6a or fiber cabling meets the latest TIA/EIA standards. This allows any application—security, Ethernet, automation control—to be used on that cable and perform to specified levels.

“Qualification testing still is relatively new in the market. It performs tests that are more complex than just a wiremap but are simpler to perform and much less costly than full system cabling certification.

“With the move to IP [Internet protocol] cameras and systems, higher resolution cameras and networked/remote viewing surveillance systems are essentially a network of cameras instead of computers. Tests for these systems are the same as for data networks but differ from the traditional analog/coaxial surveillance systems of the past.

“Wiremappers to verify correct UTP cabling terminations are a must.

“A PoE tester can verify if the camera is receiving enough power from the injector over the category cabling. A TDR [time-domain reflectometer] or wiremapper with length feature can help identify if cable runs are too long and if signals may be attenuated too much before reaching the far end of the cable. Gigabit qualifiers can prove the cabling infrastructure can actually handle 5 megapixels or HD camera resolutions at higher frame rates.

“These testers also provide printed reports and documentation for the installer to give to the client as proof of performance of the system.

“Lastly, active network-based testers allow installers to identify and ping multiple devices on a surveillance network. In the event new IP devices are added to the network or a camera goes down, these types of testers have several ways of finding issues and helping the installer/integrator/owner quickly resolve them,” Meader said.

Peter Dennis, communications product manager, Megger Instruments, said: “The nature of some specialized internal and external building wiring, particularly that used for emergency systems such as alarms, surveillance and essential building controls, requires each of these areas be reliable within themselves and introduces issues with integration and centralized administration.

“Modern integrated systems now utilize a structured cable installation to centralize services and provide a one-stop-shop for all resource requirements. This is predominantly now delivered by utilizing IP.

“Test instruments have had to become faster, more compact, more reliable and affordable. Basically, customers expect more for less. This is possible with new technology and improved manufacturing techniques, which reduce costs but, at the same, time introduce additional functionality.

“Building alarm systems use specialized cabling with individual characteristics, which may require special testing equipment. Armored file cable, for example, is completely different than telephone cable.

“CCTV surveillance systems tend to be predominantly coaxial, which is subject to specific faults and installation issues, and testers are needed to measure signal and video strength to be viewed and monitored. The first and most common cause for performance degrading is that of the outer conducting shield. The second main fault on coaxial is that of fraying. Both these faults can be easily detected by using a performance tester. Once identified, we need to chase down where the fault actually is, and using a TDR allows us to see and measure distance to the fault.

“Building controls consist of standard and mission-critical cabling. Testing is similar for both with noise, the big killer of signal communications cable.

“Standard cabling links areas that could be inoperative for a short period of time without causing significant issues. Mission-critical cabling links systems and is deemed as having to be maintained ‘at all costs.’ This cabling is usually highly fireproof, often actually fire retardant, which protects the systems connected to it. Armored cable is resistant to impacts. This type of cabling usually is stiff and can be hard to work with. Its internal structure sometimes allows the strands making up the conductor to come apart, particularly if the cable is bent past its optimum bend radius,” Dennis said.

George Jang, product manger—testers, Platinum Tools, said: “Smart buildings or smart homes are programmed with standard computers or even with mobile devices. Unless all the components are wireless, controller and alarm branches are managed by programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and these may be connected via the wired network.

“Much of this cabling is twisted-pair copper. Both twisted-pair and coaxial testers can measure length and detect breaks and shorts of in the box before the cabling is pulled from the box, an often-overlooked step that can be costly.

“Cabling for such systems may be only one part of a building’s integrated system but often are critical in ensuring the overall performance for the building’s alarm, surveillance and controls. For example, high-definition or ultra-high-definition cameras will do little good if the details in the video image are snowy due to improperly terminated or configured cabling.

“For video surveillance, cable testers ensure that cabling is properly terminated, that no breaks or shorts exist in the cabling used and that each cable is identified for the specific camera being configured. For custom-length Cat 5/Cat 6 cables, it’s crucial that the cable is not miswired. Installers then can map each cable for each camera.

 “Each camera can then be tested for video quality using one of the many CCTV testers available in the market. Handheld testers with built-in video displays allow the installer to properly position the camera for the desired coverage of an area.

“If a standard landline notifies alarm monitoring services, testing can confirm ensure the designated phone line has no breaks, that a dial tone is available, and that it can call the required phone number for the service,” Jang said.

The products shown here could assist you in your jobs that require integrated systems testing.

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





featured Video


New from Lutron: Lumaris tape light

Want an easier way to do tunable white tape light?


Related Articles