From ASIS in Orlando …Fire Protection Hand in Glove with Security

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff September 15, 2005

The Orange County Convention Center was a hive of activity once again on the second day of the 51st annual ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits, with the day being kicked off with a speech from none other than former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

We started off yesterday’s report by describing it as an event for “security professionals.” But today we must qualify that characterization. As you’ll see from our report, the convergence of security, fire-protection and IT systems has made security a cross-disciplinary concern.

Note: Besides bringing you the lastest from ASIS, CSE’s editors are also happy to provide dining tips! There are two steak/seafood restaurants in Orlando with similar names: Bonefish and Fishbone. If planning a group dinner at one of these establishments, make sure everyone is on the same page as it’s highly likely that certain members of your party might end up at the wrong restaurant. Not that this happened to the CSE editorial/sales staff. Really.

Fire and Security—Strange Bedfellows?

We are seeing lots of familiar faces at the American Society of Industrial Security show this year—Simplex, Notifier, System Sensor—faces one always expects to see at the National Fire Protection Assn.’s annual expo, but not necessarily at a security show.

Indeed, these vendors themselves note that they’ve gotten some odd looks as they stand by their fire-alarm panels. “For us this is a different type of client—there are a lot more computer users and people who work with networks,” said Jeff Hendrickson with Silent Knight.

Hendrickson points out that his company is here to reach out to people they wouldn’t normally make contact with. With ever-increasing sophistication of building types and interconnection of systems, this is key for these vendors. “We’re being encouraged to play, if not out right integrate, with security folks,” he observes.

For manufacturer FCI, this is an opportunity to promote and gather feedback on the whole topic of mass notification. “We’re not really sure who’s going to be heading this up,” said FCI’s Ray Kimble. “We’re guessing that since it technically falls under life safety, it will fall under NFPA’s jurisdiction.”

That said, tying mass notification into fire-alarm technology makes sense. It’s a circuited system and one that can be more survivable. FCI’s NetSolo line, for example, features a distributed style 7 configuration that allows it to act like a worm if it’s severed or damaged for whatever reason. “This way if someone damages your system the message can still get out,” said Kimble.

But it’s not just the fire-protection manufacturers that are at the show. Veteran fire-protection engineering design firms, such as Rolf Jensen Assocs. and Schirmer Engineering, are also here. RJA, in fact, gave a presentation on halon and halon alternatives. According to RJA’s Dick Evensen, it’s in suit with the whole confluence of security systems with IT technology: “Those server rooms have to be protected.”

Schirmer Engineering, which has been providing integrated security services for a number of years, believes the two disciplines, though disparate, go hand in glove. Sean Ahrens, CPP, a senior security consultant with the firm, cites a good example:

“We had an office project in Baltimore with multiple tenants, and we couldn’t just lock the whole building down because of one tenant. So we had to go to the codes and our fire guys down the hall,” said Ahrens. “In this particular case, we assumed that we had to leave a set of doors open for life-safety reasons. As it turned out, that was not the case because the distance was less than 50 feet.”

But despite the push for systems integration, some professionals warn that there are serious technology gaps between the security and fire-protection disciplines. Take fire alarms, for example, which offer the greatest potential for integration. According to Schirmer’s Steve Moritz, fire-protection equipment tends to lag behind security innovations due to strict UL testing requirements. Security systems don’t generally require such testing, but when they’re married with fire protection, that can lead to local approval problems because of the lack of UL listings.

“It really depends on what the client needs,” added Rob Lomb, another security specialist with the firm.” Maybe an integrated fire-alarm and security system doesn’t make sense, but an integrated command center certainly would.”

In the end, having expertise in both fields helps leverage capabilities so that manufacturers might be able to offer clients custom solutions.

Getting Digital Means Getting More Space

A lot of acronyms are flying back and forth at the ASIS show: IP, DVR, EVR, NVR—even HDR. In our show daily yesterday, we covered IP— which is, of course, Internet Protocol. The others refer to video technology, specifically digital video recorder, network video recorder and hybrid video recorder (EVR is a brand name by Toshiba).

Digital technology has really changed surveillance technology on both the recorder and camera fronts. According to Frank Abram with Sanyo, which debuted its “Tiger” DVR at the show, many factors have led the industry to embrace digital so quickly: the ability to remotely monitor various locations from one location; economy of equipment and people; centralization; and capabilities that weren’t there before.

But despite all those benefits, digital technology still has a number of challenges, perhaps the greatest being storage capacity. Both Sanyo and Toshiba—which, by the way, has officially changed its name to Toshiba Surveillance and IP Video Surveillance—exhibited 2 terabyte units.

The extra capacity, explained Abram, helps avert the video quality problems user often run into with compression. There’s nothing wrong with compression, added Abram. “You can get massive storage if you compress. But what’s the quality of your video you’ll get back? That’s what the user needs to be aware of.”