Responsive, smart, intuitive, and interactive. A leap forward in fire safety technology.

29 Mar 2016

The leap forward in trouble-free, interactive fire detection panel development can only be truly appreciated by measuring the advance against the pioneering work of the past, with an accelerated evolution of smart technology observable over the latest generation of innovations designed to meet the increasing challenges of intelligent fire detection systems integration.

Far-sighted manufacturers are constantly working on more stable, more reliable fire detectors to ensure the fastest possible detection of an incident while striving to rule out unwanted false alarms.

At the same time fire panel manufacturers work to monitor and report on these new detection devices and include software to further ensure false alarms are kept to a minimum but also making sure operators are alerted as soon as there is a fire or an event that could affect the performance of the system.

Yet, as increasingly complex systems are developed for intelligent building management, it is often forgotten that it’s the on-site operators who will have to cope with multiple systems whose screen displays can be highly complex, with the potential for confusion.

To the uninitiated, during an alarm situation – with bells ringing and lights flashing – buttons and texts can be baffling.  Even if the installer has trained the local operators there is a chance of instructions being forgotten and thus the burden of responsibility for the operator, from having to act unprepared, can be overwhelming . . . an outcome designers in the pioneering days of interactive panel development strove dedicatedly to overcome.

Dispelling anxiety    
Even today, this same sense of bafflement can bewilder an operator responding to a panel ‘alert’.  For example, suppose you have a trouble-free established system that’s has never activated to a live fire alert. Then, years after installation, a fault notification is received. Typically this state is reported by the buzzing of the panel displaying a message and initiating a flashing LED.  The inexperienced operator, unfamiliar with this live fault condition, becomes painfully anxious that they might act incorrectly and, in consequence, falsely evacuate the building. Without a menu-driven interface of absolute clarity this predicament is all too likely.

To illustrate this point, a senior fire risk specialist recalls: ‘I have personal experience of this state of anxiety when some years ago I was phoned by an operator. When asked to describe what the fire panel was displaying, the caller froze in a panic and could not articulate; and then, when asked to press a particular button, pressed the wrong one and turned on all the sounders.’

Advances Towards an Intuitive Interactive Interface.
Decades past, the best an operator could expect from a fire panel would be some sort of indication that there was a fire somewhere in a very large area (conventional systems) while at the same time no indication might just mean the wires or pneumatic line had fallen out.  Some readers may have seen lovingly polished wood cabinets with brass flags to indicate the location of a fire.  When remembering that these precursors were state of the art solutions some 60 or 70 years ago it is altogether humbling to consider how panels will develop further in future times.

In the progress of notable technological enhancements Fault Monitoring was a major step forward, allowing panels to indicate an event if something was wrong. Originally, this was literally just an indication that something was wrong with no guidance as to what.  It might then take an experienced specialist a lengthy time to troubleshoot the system and locate the fault or false indication.  A natural progression then for panel designers was to call upon them to build in more accurate monitoring and indication of faults. The introduction of addressable detectors did allow some more accurate pin pointing of faults while reducing search times in the event of a fire as staff was notified of the location.  A major restriction in progressing along this route of clearer indication was the lack of LCD technology and manufacturers relying on banks of traditional light bulbs, which typically themselves had a very short working life.

The development of LEDs and simple LCDs greatly improved panel indication, but at a price many building owners were not prepared to pay.  Also, due to LCD limitations messages were often very brief and in a quasi code that needed trained engineers to interpret.  This complexity demanded simplification to reflect the realities of operator decision-making and take account of the contingencies of true workplace conditions.

Real-world safety-critical decision-making.
For, in reality, as you’re aware, it is quite often a security guard or receptionist in a commercial building who is in the frontline when there’s a fire alert. Therefore, manufacturers and specifiers need to think carefully about such inexperienced operators when designing systems. 

In response to these concerns, fire detection systems have advanced a long way to meet the challenges of such frontline real-world eventualities, while manufacturers have continued to work towards developing ever more stable, more reliable fire detectors that will guarantee the fastest possible detection of an incident whilst eliminating unwanted false alarms.

In parallel with these developments, today’s fire panel manufacturers deploy the very latest technologies to ensure that their products are able to monitor and report these new detection devices. Software is updated and enhanced to ensure that false alarms are kept to a minimum and that those operating fire detection systems are alerted as soon as there is a fire or an event that could affect its performance.

Clarity for ease of operator response.
Specifically, in answer to these challenges to achieve clarity for operator response, the Taktis panel is a solution that uses a touchscreen display to intelligently combat the issue of poorly trained operators by creating a front end that gives them confidence and guides them intuitively through any task they need to perform.

Take, for example, a fault appearing on a fire detection system, as described earlier. With this innovative system the operator would still be alerted to the fault by the panel buzzing and an LED but in this case the display would be clearly colour coded to show that the message is a fault and not an alarm. Zone and point descriptions of up to 80 characters would then ensure the operator knows exactly the type of problem it is and its location. In addition, only relevant actions for them to take would be displayed on the touchscreen.

Situation-relevant easy-to-read responses.
This ease of recognition is achieved by using virtual buttons on the touchscreen that can be displayed under different circumstances rather than having traditional physical buttons which are always present whether relevant for the situation or not.  Readability of displays is also important as often they are situated in areas where there could be an intensity of light, and at other times in dark corners, so high resolution, colour, resistive touch screen LCD displays with automatic backlight adjustment according to ambient lighting conditions are used to ensure readability is always maintained, regardless of environmental conditions.

In fact, across all levels of responsibility in a risk management chain of command, Taktis is conspicuously easy to operate at any designated entry-level, with simple accessibility to permit login-restricted users to make correct decisions based on clarity of system data, not on assumptions.

Beyond these advantages, there can be no doubt that the flexibility and accessibility of this revolutionary remote overview platform offers tangible benefits in terms of efficient use of resources for risk management. From these benefits there are appreciable cost savings and improved service for end users of building management systems by minimising on-site attendance and reducing any potential system downtime.

Part of the fire standards requires some functions to be restricted with access only by engineers rather than unskilled operators. But an intelligent system such as Taktis allows operators and engineers to have their most commonly performed tasks presented to them onscreen when they log on to the system rather than requiring them to drill down deep within a complex menu structure.  This greatly increases ease of use and time saving, which increases the efficiency of site personnel and reduces the risk of mistakes.

Smarter system diagnostics.
Another area of concern for risk management is the integrity of maintenance routines. Unless you employ someone to shadow Service Engineers how do you know they are really performing their assigned tasks? It’s possible you know of situations where a rogue maintenance company never actually tests any detectors in a system but just states they are visually ‘All OK’. This sort of negligence raises massive issues of accountability.

With increasing demands for power in fire detection and alarm systems, Taktis has the impressive capability to address such supervisory procedures, including the management of fire and security servicing inspection routines, false fire alarm interrogation and diagnosis, or the scheduling of system maintenance call-outs. At the same time, this capability benefits users with the support of a full audit trail for traceability and regulatory compliance. In addition, sophisticated network analysis tools provide the ability to identify connection problems instantly. Similarly, the Taktis interface can ensure all mandatory periodical tests are completed and provide all the data required for compliance with audits.

As these new cutting-edge approaches indicate, this predictive monitoring and servicing of fire alarm systems allows potential problems to be resolved before they arise.

A boost to better risk management practice.
The boost to intelligent life safety system management that Taktis brings to the industry represents a game-changing moment in user methodology. For example, in the context of the requirement for extensive 9999 event logs, Taktis has an immense history log capacity – with one second resolution – that also allows easy filtering of events via the touchscreen. 

For real peace of mind and full compliance with any health and safety audit, storage of this data offsite on a secure file server means that even if there is a major catastrophe data related to the site can still be accessed and analysed for compliance and incident investigation. 

Kentec hosts a management system that can data-harvest information from the internet-enabled panels at regular intervals or continually as events occur.  What’s more, site configuration files, manuals and drawings can all be stored in the same place.  This gives secure storage while also allowing more detailed analysis and report generation. It is then a simple click process to run a report to see which detectors really have been tested on the system and when. 

Very simply this process demonstrates, incontrovertibly, site compliance.  Using a service pack in the management system may also allow maintenance companies to plan service visits.  Once the decision has been made, regarding what should be tested on a visit, the Taktis panel is informed so that when the service engineer arrives a simple touch of the screen can set all the necessary isolates, etc. and the system knows which detectors should be tested, turning on their LEDs to help the engineer locate them.  Undoubtedly, this approach is a true cost-saving, time-efficient boon to busy maintenance engineers.

Reassurance . . . a comprehensive overview of systems.
Following the service work an automatically generated report can be sent to the site owner.  This can increase efficiency of staff while also ensuring fire systems are kept in perfect order. Because all data-sets are recorded it also means that companies can review all their sites on one single screen for anything out of the norm. 

So, by careful selection of thoughtful technology, specifiers can ensure that staff on site feel reassured by the fire alarm panel and not frightened by it. It’s also reassurance that frequent users find Taktis easy to interact with and, in so doing, they ensure correct actions and more effective use of their time.  So the moral is: This very important selection of the right fire panel can ensure all mandatory periodical tests are performed and all the data required for statutory compliance is provided.

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