Advanced Fire System Communications

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Advanced Fire System Communications

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There are two areas in which advanced communication technologies are having an impact on fire systems, remote communications over the Internet and fire panel networking.

Remote Communications over the Internet
In the late 1970s a standardised communications protocol was developed that would change worldwide communications forever. This standardised Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, commonly abbreviated to 'TCP/IP' or simply 'IP', enabled the inter-connection of computer networks on a global scale. Now, 30 years on, TCP/IP is a fully established communication protocol and is used for communication on the World Wide Web (Internet). However, TCP/IP is not exclusively for use with computers and provided certain rules are followed it is possible to connect virtually any device on to a TCP/IP network, including the control equipment and associated peripheral devices of a fire network.

Nearly every commercial building has a computer network already installed. For a device to communicate over this network, it simply needs to support the TCP/IP protocol and be connected to a spare network port. Therefore, suitably enabled fire detection equipment can communicate over this network without the need to install any additional communication cabling.

Once the device is connected to the network it has to be identified so other devices can communicate with it. This is achieved with the IP address. The IP address is unique to each device on the network and allows messages to be sent to, and received from the device from anywhere on the network. In fact it is possible to communicate with the device from anywhere within a building or even multiple buildings, provided those buildings have a common TCP/IP network.

Can IP Networks Replace Dedicated Fire Panel Networks?
Inter-connecting fire panels over an existing computer network lends itself to many, potentially hazardous, problems. First and foremost computer networks are generally wired using non fire-resistant cable. If there is a fire, the cable connecting the fire panels could be damaged rendering the network useless. Secondly, the fire system would be sharing the network with other non-fire devices such as computers, printers and other IT equipment. The fire system has no control over these other devices and therefore cannot guarantee how they might interact or how network performance might be impaired during a critical fire situation. However, this doesn't mean that there is not a place for TCP/IP in fire systems. Just because fire panels are not linked together on a TCP/IP network doesn't make TCP/IP superfluous. TCP/IP solutions can be seen as secondary enhancements to the primary function of the dedicated fire panel network.

Using TCP/IP as a Gateway into the Fire Network
Creating devices which can communicate and interact with an existing dedicated fire network opens up innovative possibilities, as is demonstrated by the new ipGateway product from Advanced Electronics.

ipGateway is a fully interactive internet portal for the Mx-4000 range of fire alarm control panels, which allows remote monitoring of any Mx-4000 series fire system, both stand alone and networked, from anywhere on the internet using a standard web browser. A distinct advantage is gained from the use of a web browser to view the information as it eliminates the need for any proprietary software to be installed on each PC that uses ipGateway.

When accessing ipGateway the user is presented with comprehensive information about the fire system. This includes a breakdown of all the zones, a detailed description and current status of all devices contained within each zone and an overall indication of the current status of the system. The information displayed on the user's web browser is updated in real time, ensuring that any change to the status of the system is clearly identified and reported to the user as it happens.

In addition to the visual representation, ipGateway allows the user to interact with the fire system as though they were stood in front of a fire panel. From a remote location anywhere in the world a user, with the correct authority and access rights, can enable/disable zones, enable/disable devices, reset networks, reset, mute, silence or resound sounders on a panel or a network. When connecting the system to the Internet a higher level of security is needed to counter threats such as viruses and unscrupulous access. The built-in security features of ipGateway require an authorised user to logon using a password and to connect to the remote system via a secure IP address.

ipGateway can also be configured to use an existing email server to send a notification as a result of an event on the fire system. Each event can be setup to alert a number of different personnel at varying times of the day. This is useful for environments where a number of people are responsible for the fire system, but those people work various shifts throughout the day. These e-mail addresses are simple to set-up in the web browser without the need to configure local e-mail clients.

It should be noted at this point that the ipGateway is not intended as a replacement for an existing fire system control and indication interface, instead it should be seen as a secondary enhancement by providing a set of tools and functions to compliment the everyday operation and maintenance of a fire system.

The remote interrogation of the fire system opens up possibilities for maintenance companies to identify problems before they actually happen, saving time and money by reducing unnecessary journeys to site. The fire system can also be configured to send maintenance and status information as a text message or e-mail.

By enhancing the built in functionality of a fire system with a TCP/IP gateway, both their visibility and reach can be significantly enhanced and extended.

Hi-Speed Fault Tolerant Networks for Fire Systems
It is already common practice to connect fire alarm control panels and peripherals, often located in physically different locations, over a proprietary network. However, the design and performance of the network can have a significant effect on the overall operation of the system.

Advanced Electronics Ad-NeT+ fire network can be configured to allow the inter-connection of up to 200 panels (nodes) in a fault tolerant configuration. The maximum cable length between nodes is 1.5km, with a total loop length of 20km. The network is capable of withstanding a single fault between nodes without loss of communications to any single panel. This is all achieved using standard two-core fire resistant cable.

Indication and response times from Control and Indicating Equipment (CIE) are set-out in the EN standards and EN 54-13:2005 (E) 4.3.2.1states that 'a fire alarm condition on a CIE shall be indicated on the main CIE within 20sec.' The typical delay on an Ad-NeT+ 50 panel network for each panel to indicate a fire from any zone is less than one second and 3.5 seconds for a full 200 panel system.

The network operates as a true peer-to-peer system allowing information from any input or output device to be passed over the network and displayed on any Mx-4000 control panel or remote terminal as required. Details include Fire, General Alarm, Pre-alarm, Fault, Control Inputs and Disablement as well as analogue values, test instructions and status information. The Ad-NeT+ systems DynamiX zoning facility allows the networked system to utilise up to 1000 zones providing non-confusing indication and allowing true peer-to-peer cross panel report, control and site-wide cause and effect functionality. No single panel is required to act as a 'Master' for the network to operate.

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