The latest versions of NFPA 72 and the International Building Code (IBC) spell out new requirements for the creation of areas of refuge within buildings that meet specific size or height parameters. An area of refuge is an interior location specially designed to keep occupants safe during a fire or other emergency. They are meant to provide safe places to shelter when immediate evacuation may not be physically possible or, as with the control room of a massive plant or refinery, operationally advisable.
In addition to fire rated construction and a steady supply of fresh air, an area of refuge is also required to have a means of two-way communications that allows occupants to speak with first responders, inform them of their status and keep informed of rescue efforts.
A New Way to Communicate
To meet these new requirements, Johnson Controls developed a digital, emergency two-way communications system they’ve termed the Detect360 Area of Refuge Emergency Communication System (ECS). This is the first member of the Detect360 family, which is a new portfolio of life safety solutions from Johnson Controls. Detect360 solutions work hand in hand with Johnson Controls fire detection, building management and other systems to expand the company’s ability to provide integrated life safety solutions tailored to the needs and budget of the facility.
The Detect360 ECS consists of easy-to-use emergency call stations that are installed in each area of refuge and then connected back to a central panel. The stations are extremely easy to use and feature a high-quality speaker and omnidirectional microphone to provide superior two-way communication at the touch of a button. Innovative audio and video capabilities meet the requirements of the IBC and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), while the system’s visual status indicator ensures appropriate assistance is given to the hearing-impaired.
“Typically, areas of refuge are stairwell landings and elevator lobbies,” Connell said. “Until the new standards were issued, two-way communications meant a standard intercom connecting that location to a central location, usually next to the fire panel.”
An expanded ability to network the Detect360 ECS is a key feature that differentiates the system from the competition. Rather than single point-to-point analog communications, the system panel can operate up to 30 remote call stations and system panels can be networked together offering tremendous expansion potential.
An optional software program running on a cloud-connected computer can manage communications for an unlimited number of systems remotely.
“It works just like an ECS panel using voice over IP. The person pushing the emergency button can be connected directly to the people working to rescue them,” Connell said.
Another Detect360 ECS precept is future-based design. Rather than take a minimally viable product approach just to meet current standards and operational requirements, Johnson Controls took a long look at where the product would need to be in five to 10 years from now.
“We built a lot of additional capability into the product because we wanted the hardware to support new software applications as it was developed,” Connell said. “We can integrate changes in the system without having to rip and replace.”
Finally, the new standards require greater survivability. “Our communications are designed to survive at least two hours in an emergency,” Connell said. In addition, the Detect360 ECS comes with battery backup good for 12 hours in the event of a power blackout.
Full Building Solutions
Looking beyond area of refuge communications, Johnson Controls plans to make available a range of products that work alongside, or are integrated with, the company’s fire detection solutions to offer an enhanced and multifaceted life safety solution under the Detect360 name.
“As part of this approach, we partnered with a company called Ultra Electronics USSI who has a product line called Hyperspike,” said Connell. “USSI, which also makes sonar buoys for the US Navy, took that knowledge in acoustics and turned it into incredible intelligibility for speakers.”
“The omni-directional speakers offer intelligible voice announcements and sharp warning tones audible over a quarter-mile range,” Connell said. “This gives us an incredible array of products to use to create customized, emergency notification systems for a multitude of facilities and applications.”
The OMNI is UL approved for indoor and outdoor use while connected to a fire panel that supports audio like the Simplex 4100ES. Another advantage is that each speaker weighs only 22 pounds with a diameter of 19 inches.
“Rather than having to bring in a crane and put up these massive tower speakers, we can put up much smaller speakers that a couple individuals can manage with a ladder,” Connell said.
John R. Haynes, director of Simplex product management, said another technical improvement introduced at the NFPA expo is the Simplex ES Net IP-Based Life Safety Network which greatly increases the speed at which fire detection and life safety systems communicate and operate.
Harnessing the power of IP technology, the network offers data rates up to 100MB per second and a range of network connection choices including Ethernet, DSL and fiber. It gives building owners reassurance knowing as the IP standard evolves, so will ES Net, making the life safety system resilient and future-proof.
Haynes also noted the ability for Johnson Controls’ Simplex products, including those under the Detect360 name, to connect with the Metasys building automation system, opening doors for remote monitoring and maintenance.
Another key benefit of ES Net is the ability to program all the panels on the network from a single location in just minutes. A technician can upload new programming to every panel without having to physically visit and connect to each one, which is much more efficient. It also eliminates having to escort technicians to each panel, which is especially helpful when panels are in secure or remote locations.
“In the future we want to take this capability even further and push updates and new features to the panels remotely without having to send teams of people on site to make the changes,” said Haynes. “We’ll be able to give our customers a greater ability to monitor the panels or provide that service ourselves if our customers wish.”
“Johnson Controls is the largest building management systems company in the world,” Haynes said. “Expanding the capability of fire alarm and life safety systems is only logical.”
Peter Ryan is the senior commercialization manger for fire detection products at Johnson Controls.