Will You Be Ready? IoT Applications to Fire Alarm System Installations

Published On
Feb 16, 2018

For many years, the installation of fire-protection systems has been strictly a capital expenditure with recurring operating costs. Typically, the standard procedure has been to read the fire alarm system specification, look at the drawings, price the project and then (hopefully) win the project. The rest of the job is typically prewiring and installing the specified or accepted fire alarm system. The goal is to finish the fire alarm system installation with a profit and go on to the next one.

Previously, I discussed the fact that the smart building concept has been struggling to gain a foothold in the building community. Now, through the internet of things (IoT), it will become a more effective way to decrease capital costs and greatly reduce operating costs.

The National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) has established the High-Performance Buildings Council to promote the adoption of high-­performance technologies and systems that increase the energy efficiency, safety, resilience, sustainability, productivity, and security of federal, commercial and multifamily residential buildings.

NEMA has established high-­performance building goals that include increased building life spans, improved material/product durability, improved building operations, improved building maintenance, increased cost performance, enhanced occupant productivity and improved occupant safety.

With the IoT concept, building owners are now able to substantially reduce the operating costs through interrogation of the fire protection systems’ ongoing “health” to control false alarms and unscheduled emergency repairs. They also are better able to reduce service costs by ensuring the right part is brought on-site the first time when a repair is needed. The IoT is being used to develop unique applications using power over ethernet to reduce cable costs and provide design flexibility.

What part will you play in the application of IoT concepts and new technology? It depends on your commitment to learn about fire alarm technology and how it will meet the owner’s goals while still providing code-compliant life safety systems. It also depends on your ability to learn the changing installation techniques and wiring systems allowed for fire alarm systems in NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. For example, the code already allows a fire alarm system to be installed on an ethernet network using Class N cabling techniques.

First, NFPA 72, Section 3.3.67, defines a Class N device as “A supervised component of a life safety system that communicates with other components of life safety systems and that collects environmental data or performs specific input or output functions necessary to the operation of the life safety system.”

Typically, Class N devices include components connected to a Class N ethernet network that monitors inputs from the environment—such as smoke or heat—and provides outputs that address all the other life safety equipment.

“Endpoint” is another new term. NFPA 72 2016, Section 3.3.92, defines a Class N endpoint as “The end of a pathway where a single addressable device or a control unit is connected.” As stated in Annex A for endpoint, “an endpoint device originates and/or terminates a communication stream and does not forward it to other devices.”

Class N pathways are defined by their performance. Section 12.3.6 states: “A pathway shall be designated as Class N when it performs as follows:

  1. “It includes two or more pathways where operational capability of the primary pathway and a redundant pathway to each device shall be verified through end-to-end communication.(Exception: When only one device is served, only one pathway shall be required.)
  2. “A loss of intended communications between endpoints shall be annunciated as a trouble signal.
  3. “A single open, ground, short, or combination of faults on one pathway shall not affect any other pathway.
  4. “Conditions that affect the operation of the primary pathway(s) and redundant pathway(s) shall be annunciated as a trouble signal when the system’s minimal operational requirements cannot be met.
  5. “Primary and redundant pathways shall not be permitted to share traffic over the same physical segment.”

Ethernet network devices are addressable—similar to fire alarm devices on an SLC loop—but with an important distinction: A device with an ethernet address typically has a dedicated cable connected to the physical endpoint. They are unlike the typical devices on an SLC loop that are all on the same communication line. The ethernet network switches direct data packets to each intended recipient device.
Understanding the technology of the future is important if you plan to continue as a knowledgeable electrician. Additionally, being aware of these constant, lightning-fast changes will be important when providing guidance to owners and customers.
The future will require applying the IoT philosophy to fire alarm system installations. Will you be ready?

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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