Fire alarms via Internet final piece to the puzzle

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Even with just a small percentage of alarm signals being sent via the Internet, Lou Fiore, past president of the Central Station Alarm Association, is hailing the approval of a Tentative Interim Amendment by the Standards Council of the National Fire Protection Association, which clears the way for Underwriters Laboratories to list equipment that is used to transmit fire signals.

"This is one of the few times in history that an alarm regulatory (group) has been proactive. Maybe we put the cart before the horse a bit by being proactive," he said.

Fiore was referring to NFPA's approval of a TIA he authored and submitted for approval in October which paves the way for UL to list equipment for transmitting fire signals over the Internet or intranet.

Fiore said a key code revision approved by the standards council and submitted to UL states: "If an order of signal priority cannot be assured, then the maximum duration between the initiation of an alarm signal at the protected premises, transmission of the signal,
, and subsequent display and recording of the alarm signal at the supervising station shall not exceed 90 seconds."

The revision addresses the problem with the Internet and intranet, which are packet switched data networks, and are therefore incapable of distinguishing signals and prioritizing them.

Mark Hillenburg, marketing manager at Digital Monitoring Products, said requiring prioritization of fire alarm signals shouldn't be necessary with the speed of the Internet.

He said with digital dialing, signal prioritization is critical, just as it's necessary for cars to pull over when a fire truck rushes down the street.
But the signal moves so quickly over the Internet, he explained, it would be as if you called the fire department and they arrived at your door before you hung up the phone. Under that scenario, it wouldn't be necessary for cars-or in the case of the Internet, other messages-to pull aside if a truck could move that fast.

Fiore calls UL approval "the missing piece of the puzzle" for companies such as Radionics Inc. and DMP that are marketing panels and receivers designed to handle Internet or intranet burglar and fire alarm signals.

Rich Ader, director of market development for communication products at Radionics, said the UL listing for fire alarm monitoring "opens up a whole other market."

The cost of fire alarm monitoring will be drastically reduced for companies that can use their networks instead of investing $30 to $80 a month per site in multiple phone lines, he said. "If you're a big entity, it's a big issue for you," Ader noted.

Fiore said the security industry may move slowly initially in its conversion to Internet monitoring, but "as the Internet matures, this will become more significant."

"I've seen new technology be assimilated very slowly," he noted. "They (the industry) are comfortable in what they're doing now."
But "the pendulum will swing," Fiore said, "when they're forced to go in that direction."

Hillenburg goes so far as to say he believes Internet usage could be the rule, not the exception, in the future. "We think network connectivity may some day be required for fire," he said.

In the meantime, Fiore said intranet usage for alarm monitoring will likely outpace Internet use "because it's easier to apply for large national companies with major networks."

For national retailers, banks and government agencies, monitoring via the intranet "is a good way to increase reliability," he said.