Trust, But Verify

With the introduction of Internet-protocol-based, enterprise-wide, and integrated security solutions, today’s systems are more sophisticated than ever, and their deployment has become much more complicated. In this environment, end-users need their electrical and low-voltage contractors to formally and contractually prove that the installed system works as outlined in the project specification document. According to Tom Feilen, director of national accounts for Koorsen Fire & Security, Indianapolis, this formal checks-and-balances process, known as acceptance testing, is more commonly being written into bid specifications.

“Acceptance testing is the verification of the system’s functionality as intended by the designer and/or owner and is typically performed by the installers going through and checking device and software operability,” said Jason Fean, VDV/security contract manager for Mona Electric Group Inc., Clinton, Md.

The general contractor, owner, the owner’s security consultant, the electrical contractor, door hardware and cable subcontractors, and the owner’s operations and engineer all collaborate to ensure that the system’s scope of work has been completed and that it operates as the owner’s performance and design specifications intended. 

“The electrical contractor needs to work closely with the owner, designer and integrator prior to developing the acceptance testing plan to determine the owner’s requirements for both the security system’s functionality and its interaction with other building systems, and to ensure that the system fully meets those requirements,” Fean said.

An acceptance test and commission checklist may include items such as testing the security system’s power supply, uninterruptible power supply, panels, servers, switches, field and perimeter devices, door and panic hardware, all cabling, and system programming and network infrastructure. It also may include ensuring that plans have been made for emergency shelter and emergency power off activation, said Roberto Pablo, technical engineering and development manager for Cochran Inc., Seattle.

“After the acceptance test, there will most likely be a short list of follow-up items. This remedial work should be completed within 10 business days,” he said.

Without acceptance testing, a project may realize the unexpected additional scope of work, perceived unbillable work, milestone misses and subsequent downstream resource issues, said LeeAnn Dickson, Cochran account executive. 

“The completed acceptance test, however, transfers responsibility from the integrator to owner, who has now accepted the system as having 100 percent operational integrity,” Dickson said.

The growing demand for installers to provide acceptance testing is partially driven by the increased interaction of devices within the security system, such as access control, intrusion and closed-circuit television systems as well as the interaction of security system devices with other building systems. 

“Because all of these systems involve electrical contractors, demand for their involvement in acceptance testing is also increasing,” Fean said.

The security system’s acceptance test plan should be done at the project’s onset. The owner should approve the plan at that time, and the agenda should closely align with the approved scope of work. 

“This ensures that all parties have clear expectations of what is included, and excluded, from the scope of work,” Pablo said. 

In a well-developed acceptance testing plan, each system, device and piece of equipment will have specific requirements that must be met. 

“To determine whether the security system is operating and communicating properly, the contractor needs to understand how the different system components interact with each other and with other building systems,” Fean said. 

It is also important for the contractor to know who is going to be using the system and whether they can do so effectively. 

“The acceptance plan needs to slant its terminology toward the users and their understanding of the system’s level of sophistication and the technology,” he said.

Acceptance testing might be another layer of responsibility for the electrical contractor, but, by providing the service, the contractor can ensure that it has met all of the owner’s and system designer’s requirements and can demonstrate proof of operability. 

“In addition, [it] allows the contractor to troubleshoot and solve problems before project completion and eliminate callbacks,” Fean said.

In the future, with owners increasingly wanting to ensure that the security system they are getting fits the unique scenarios specific to their facility, acceptance tests will include simulations of security incidents in addition to proving general operability. 

“I believe we are also going to see an increase in the addition of trial periods to ensure that, even though devices have been tested and are under warranty, they are operating properly and that all issues will be addressed within that period,” Fean said.

About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer
Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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