Making Safety Smart in Smart Buildings

Making Safety Smart in Smart Buildings

This piece was originally published in the October 2018 issue of electroindustry.

Rodger Reiswig, Vice President , Industry Relations, Johnson Controls Global Fire Protection Products

Mr. Reiswig is actively involved in several NEMA committees. He chairs the Fire, Life Safety, Security and Emergency Communication Board of Directors.

The term “smart buildings” means different things to different people. In the area of life safety, the definition is based on how systems are integrated with one another so that they are not just providing information to each other but also causing things to happen from one system to another.

Because of the critical role they play in protecting lives and property, life-safety systems require a level of reliability and resilience far beyond that of other building systems and networks. Therefore, we have to be extremely careful about how we allow information from other systems to come into the life-safety system.

The design and specifications of life-safety systems are guided by building codes, standards, and listings, with each controlled by different organizations. Listing entities like UL and FM Global regulate how much information can come into any life-safety system. There must also be some type of a barrier or gateway to prevent unauthorized or corrupted information from coming into a fire alarm system. Listed gateways can accomplish this. For example, you could take a Johnson Controls building automation system and a Simplex fire alarm system and get them UL Listed together, allowing them to send information in both directions.

Many manufacturers are active in developing codes and standards, with some representatives sitting on specific committees like healthcare occupancy. Others may contribute to product listing documents, and still others may participate in committees that determine how products should be installed and maintained. We’re even involved with groups like the National Disability Rights Network that advocate for laws that promote equal access and notification of life-safety events.

Factoring in Safety

Building Automation and Control Network (BACnet) is a good example of interactive systems that promote equal access and notification. Developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), it is a common protocol that allows all types of systems to be on the same communication platform and thus send and receive information. BACnet is based on entities’ being able to define and identify other entities. For example, the lightning system recognizes what a smoke detector is when those entities are sent out to the network. It’s one of the most important methods we are using to communicate among dissimilar systems.

The use of sensors as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) is another factor. Occupancy sensors, for example, can tell where people are located in a building. Knowing that is a critical piece of information for first responders.

Another example would be a big parking garage next to a mall. Carbon monoxide detectors and occupancy sensors in the garage may indicate that the garage has become crowded. An integrated system can turn on fans to get fresh air moving throughout the building rather than telling the fire system to go into alarm mode. It’s performing a life-safety function but at a non-emergency level.

The future of smart buildings begins with awareness. The average building owner may not know that a lot of this life-safety technology even exists. One of my recommendations is to involve the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), local fire marshals, fire chiefs, and first responders. Another is to work with your design engineer. As you discuss preferences for windows, flooring, lighting, and so on, ask how these systems could integrate and what the benefits of integration would be. The bigger the facility, the greater the safety benefits.

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