S+LSS Editorial Advisory Board Issues and Trends Roundtable Discussion

Security + Life Safety Systems Editorial Advisory Board members recently gathered for a half-hour roundtable phone discussion on the latest issues, trends and new products in the six markets that S+LSS covers. Most of the discussion appears below:

Hot Topics:

POE, Whole Mass Notification Systems, Working More Closely with Building Owners and Managers, Collaborating with IT Professionals


David George, Leader, Corporate Communications, System Sensor (DG)

Jeff Hendrickson, Director of Marketing, Silent Knight (JH)

Steve Thompson, Director, Marketing Fire & Security Johnson Controls, Inc. (ST)

Steve Surfaro, Group Manager, Strategic Alliance Systems, Panasonic Security Systems (SS)

John Maisel, Publisher (JM)

Andrea Klee, Editor, Electrical Contractor Magazine (AK)

Ed Brown, Editor, Security+Life Safety Systems Magazine (EB)

Download an mp3 of the discussion (17.6 MB)

SS: The [product] with the biggest impact for electrical contractors is actually more of a compliance with the standard … both POE [Power Over Ethernet] and the upcoming expected to be ratified POE high-power 802.3AT technology. Basically, this is really a very big cost savings for electrical contractors because they don’t have to pull a separate power cable for networked cameras and actually there are a number of contractors who are beginning to deploy higher-powered devices like outdoor cameras in certain cases. Because it lowers installation costs, it’s going to be a huge driver for end users and electrical contractors who want to understand how to deploy standard space POE as opposed to nonstandard space power injection systems.

EB: Can you explain a bit about POE?

SS: POE conforms to an IEEE standard—it’s also known as IEEE standard 802.3AF—basically, it will deliver 12.9W. Panasonic has a full line of POE-equipped cameras. POE has been there for a long time to support VOIP terminals and phones. That’s been extremely popular. There’s some myth in the industry that pan/tilt cameras can’t be used with POE. Really, most of the manufacturers now have products that do endure, but this is a good article discussion because there’s a pending ratification of a new standard which is 802.3AT. And basically that’s due to be ratified by April 2009, according to my BICSI counterparts. BICSI is the transport professionals, and they’re composed largely of electrical contractors and designers. And basically that’s going to offer anywhere from 24W on up to 60W. That’s over an Ethernet cable, by the way. That’s quite a bit of power for Ethernet.

JM: Is that going to pose any new either training or restrictions or enhancements to the overall integration? Does that pose any challenge for integration with traditional power systems?

SS: With traditional power systems—like if there’s an existing camera or device that is nonstandard space power—it’s tough to do that unless the individual manufacturers have the midspan or the POE switch manufacturer has made a specific adapter that allows for a standard space POE to be used. That’s going to be a minor impact. The major impact is going to be where if a customer does choose to upgrade to a network camera that is POE or POE high power, then both the electrical contractor and end user are going to enjoy the benefit of ease of installation and lower costs respectively of deploying a compatible camera. Keep in mind that the new standard is going to be backward compatible with the older standard. So that’s not going to be an issue. But it is going to be a challenge for electrical contractors to learn the difference between standard space power sources, deployment of network infrastructure, which they should begin to understand now anyway, but also probably with the higher power systems, they will have to understand how temperature affects cabling and the current handling capacity could be decreased in higher temperature environments.

ST: I think in addition to the POE cameras, there’s a lot of interest in POE to the door for access control and again, getting back to the power issues, there needs to be some budget on power for the various locking hardware and so forth and making sure that the power injectors, switches and everything match what is being done there – I think that’s all part of the education process that you’re describing.

SS: That’s really an excellent point. In fact, there is a danger in the industry right now. That’s such a good point. Individual manufacturers are evangelizing the use of lock power … noninductive, load-based lock power like electromagnetic locks, and that’s fantastic. But keep in mind there’s a fight on the standard. There are companies right now that are trying to lower the standard because they want two product cycles out of this. Keep in mind that if the power is set pretty high, perhaps a switch manufacturer may not get a new switch sold for a given customer within a three-year product cycle if they’ll in fact be able to keep that switch for about six years. It’s not good for their business, but it is good for the end user. So there’s kind of a difficulty there, but certainly, we’re talking about a minimum of 24W here, and your access control example is great.

EB: So the 24W would include … suppose someone would want to use this for both the camera and access control? 24W is total?

SS: It would be anywhere from 24W on up—expected to be 30W per line—in other words, per ethernet cable. It’s as easy as … you have a jack that’s right at your desk, and you just plug your POE-enabled device into that jack. The first thing you’re probably going to ask yourself is, ‘Hey, why didn’t my device blow up?’ The nice thing about POE is that power is not delivered unless it’s requested by the power device.

EB: Are there people who make power supplies specifically for this?

SS: Yes, they’re known as midspan adapters, POE injectors and POE-enabled switches. Microsemi, Power Design, CISCO, Panduit, Commscope—they all make these.

JM: This sounds like the potential for some ongoing editorial, so this is good.

DG: Moving a bit to the fire market, and perhaps Jeff can compliment here, System Sensor has just come out with a new line of speakers and speaker strobes for the professional fire market. A unique feature of these for the electrical contractor specifically is that it’s a plug-in design. There has been in the past, with past suppliers of speaker products, a big problem with ground faults and speakers so we’re talking about notification systems in the case of a fire or emergency in the building. And with the new design or new technology that we’ve put within these, it’s a plug-in speaker design so a universal mounting plate mounts to the back box, the wiring is all done on the mounting plate, and then the speakers later, after likely the drywall is finished and painted, the speaker is plugged into place, screwed down and is ready to rock and roll. It’s new. It provides more room in the back box, which having worked in the electrical industry, it’s always critical to have space in that back box. [There are] about 45 product SKUs within the new offering and really completes our line now of our audible visible notification appliances including horns and horn strobes, speakers, speaker strobes, red/white, wall/ceiling, indoor/outdoor, the whole mix here. It’s called SpectrAlert Advanced. SpectrAlert has been around for probably a dozen or more years, and now the Advance portion—this is Phase II of the Advance launch—which completes the product offering for us. We launched it at the International Security Conference West [ISC West] Conference just a few weeks ago. That ground fault—or lack of ground fault—was a major feature that was played up that got a lot of positive play amongst attendees here, and I would expect it would as well with electricians who are doing fire.

DG: The second, that’s addressing market needs and it’s something that you guys have written about as well is whole mass notification systems. System Sensor has come out with a couple of products that help address mass notification. Mass notification obviously is something that’s not necessarily a fire emergency. We may want to have people take cover or exit the building depending on what that emergency might be—whether it’s manmade or nature—and the speaker product’s plate to that and also some amber strobes that we have as part of the visible line complement what might be available today on the market today, as well. So as we see mass notification systems being rolled out in nongovernmental areas, say, in college campuses, office buildings, campus facilities that are noneducational, I think you’ll see from System Sensor and other manufacturers a breadth of products that are going to be addressing that, whether it’s starting with a fire system or an e-mail system or some type of evacuation system internal to the building, external to the building—I think there’s going to be an explosion of products that meet that need in the next 12 to 24 months.

DG: I think it’s understood that mass notification system isn’t necessarily starting with a system, but it’s starting with a plan. So it’s probably working with the building owner or facility manager and asking them what their specific needs are, and it might vary greatly. Where I work, it’s about a 500-employee manufacturing facility, and our needs would be drastically different than a multibuilding campus environment, for instance. We may need just a voice system because we’re all under one roof here, whereas a campus environment may need a voice system complemented with some kind of maybe text messaging, phone messaging, some kind of instant alert product that would complement that. I think from an electrical contractor standpoint, it’s working with that building owner/facility manager and what their plan is first, and then maybe having a technology solution that’s secondary to the plan.

JM: To address that, we continue to hear of the increasing importance of the contractor really getting into the head of the building owner to really cooperate and work more closely with them to help identify these needs. Is that continuing pretty much across the market—that the owner has greater needs for communication with the contractor?

DG: I would think it would deal with all the trades, but particularly as central as electrical contractors are in so much of a building’s construction and the technology side of the building’s construction, I think it would be critical, yes.

JH: We are in a brave new world where electrical contractors are involved in a variety of different parts of the building, and obviously Silent Knight, we work closely with System Sensor, we’re focused on the fire side of the equation. We see even in the fire market, which tends to be somewhat compartmentalized, that the equipment that we’re working with tends to become much more technically oriented. It tends to have open communication formats either at this time or coming in the very near future, so an electrical contractor is going to need to be able to work with an IT department for or have IT capabilities themselves and when they’re speaking to that building or facility manager it’s taking on a whole, new role. I was fascinated on the conversation on POE because now you’re going to take something which was probably a fairly isolated, technical communication channel and you’re going to start to bring power into that equation. Right away, I started thinking of a myriad of different reasons why dragging an Ethernet cable over to a computer and plugging it in just changed because now the gauge of the cable and the quality of the cable and the distance you can run that cable and provide power is going to be a completely different animal from how far you can go if you’re just going to run data. These contractors are really going to have to up their game in terms of working with IT and that technical side of the market. I think that’s a great topic to explore.

SS: That’s really well said. Just so everybody is clear, your point about IT and collaboration, very, very important. IT professionals tend to want to prevent the end run around them and want everyone to conform to their business plans—the individual business partners, including the facility managers and contractors. The key thing to actually understand on the infrastructure, such as POE and the selection of cabling and the cable distance, that’s actually a core competence of the electrical contractors and not the IT professionals. So IT professionals actually have very little knowledge of POE other than they can go 100 meters.

JH: I absolutely agree with you, and isn’t that an interesting blend because now you’ve taken an expertise that exists on both sides of the equation and you’ve put it in one cable and they’re both going to be staring across the table thinking they’re the experts. There’s some opportunity for dialogue there.

ST: I think that compounding that is the whole issue of software because to the customer the system works not just based on the devices and the cable and power and all that, but how the whole thing operates and works for them which increasingly demands that the electrical contractor has some understanding of how the software works—how to get it configured, how to describe it to the customer—and that also collides with the folks in the IT world when we looks at applications that cut across not only facility type applications but into some of the business application and the IT applications that are tied together.

Comments on Security+Life Safety Systems Magazine

JH: This sort of dialogue certainly is very useful for me, and it helps me to understand the challenges that you guys face when you’re trying to put together a publication. I think feature stories about challenges are always welcome. Those are very attractive to the dealers.

DG: Thinking of how the magazine addresses the growing needs for electricians within the fire market, I think you probably have all levels of maturity within your readership. Some guys have been doing it for 10 or 20 years, and then others may be new to the business. I always love the approach where you have some combination of a real back-to-basics format—whether it’s how does a fire system work together, how do devices talk to panels, how does a notification system operate—just some very general things that for more of a rookie coming into the electrical trade might be very beneficial and then … just how the systems are integrated.

Fire and security tend to be the cousins in the industry. Sometimes they’re separate. Sometimes they’re integrated. Just continue to show by case study or examples how they all fit—how the pieces fit together in the puzzle I think would continually benefit your readers particularly since we’ve got some newbies and some who have been doing this for a long time.

JM: The April issue of Electrical Contractor had a back-to-basics article written by [S+LSS Managing Editor] Ed Brown on what is integration and how do you do it. That’s a continuing goal—figuring out how we can bridge those gaps because they’re certainly there.

AK: As we see our role as an information and educational source for our readers, we do cover a very broad range of contractor sizes and their scope. We’re always checking and double checking that we’re covering everything because we do really want to provide them with the most complete information source.

DG: There’s a unique advantage that electrical contractors have within any of the low-voltage trades like security and fire, for instance. Since they’re already trained at the higher voltages they have very aggressive training programs in most areas—that moving to the other side of the decimal—to the 12- and 24-V world, I think they’re at a unique advantage. Obviously, we see it at System Sensor and want to help this audience become more proficient as they’re doing more code regulated fire systems. I don’t think it’s entirely up to the magazine, anything that we can do as well.

AK: Ed and I have been talking quite a bit about moving our project profiles to be more technical and to have more of a problem-solution type approach. This is also very helpful for how we can continue to move the editorial forward.

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