Wildcats Turn to Networked Fire Protection

Located on 352 acres in the heart of Tucson, the University of Arizona serves 35,000 students from around the world. Add faculty and staff and the university becomes the seventh largest city in the state, with 172 buildings on the main and medical campuses, all told.In the past, all fire-alarm systems and connections were selected and installed by the university's own personnel.

11/01/2001


Located on 352 acres in the heart of Tucson, the University of Arizona serves 35,000 students from around the world. Add faculty and staff and the university becomes the seventh largest city in the state, with 172 buildings on the main and medical campuses, all told.

In the past, all fire-alarm systems and connections were selected and installed by the university's own personnel. But recently the system had grown too large, with two different system families reporting to old control panels. This setup led to frequent crashes. In fact, at one point university staff spent three days in the 5.2 miles of utility tunnels trying to sort out wiring problems—to no avail.

For the first time ever, the school sought outside advice. In assessing the situation, the enlisted consultant restructured the reporting setup to get fire-alarm reporting back up and running. A more permanent solution called for the implementation of a full network.

Network protection

The university had already been creating a network; they just weren't using optimal equipment. The new installation features a network with 55 active nodes that serve to report fire-alarm, security and building-control information for 118 buildings.

The information is reported to two separate monitoring groups: There is an active network, and there are panels that serve as hubs for buildings that are not part of the network.

The 55 active network nodes themselves consist of 48 fire-alarm control panels, three graphic command centers (GCCs), two universal transponders, a network voice command center and a network display unit. There are also 34 security systems that report on the network.

The network reporting system functions with more than five miles of twisted/shielded-pair wiring located in the university's utility tunnel system. The non-network buildings utilize a combination of twisted/shielded-pair wiring in the tunnels and about two miles of telephone lines in direct-buried duct banks.

While 55 nodes are currently active, the network is actually configured for 70 nodes, which will accommodate five buildings scheduled to come on line within the next year, and still leave 10 spare nodes for monitoring station expansion and ongoing fire-alarm control panel upgrades.

The three Windows-based GCC workstations gather and process data from thousands of devices and generate precise instructions for accurate alarm response. For example:

  • The police department's GCC is configured to identify device type by floor for all addressable buildings as well as alarm and trouble conditions from non-addressable buildings.

  • The GCC used by on-site technicians is configured to see every single point carried on the network. It is, by far, the largest of the three, with about 11,683 points—or 23.3% of GCC point capacity.

  • The third unit is a backup that's loaded with the same programming used in the police monitoring GCC. In the event of a catastrophic loss at the police station, this equipment provides a secondary means of monitoring the network. In addition, one of the nodes is a mobile network display unit that can be used as a temporary monitoring station.

GCC is the key

"When we decided to install a modern fire-alarm network, one of the features we were excited about was the ability to see the performance of our buildings on the GCC," says Colleen Morgan, the university's facilities program manager. "The network could communicate a lot of information. We could go to our fully addressable systems and get reports on the dirtiness of the smoke detectors and do electronic testing of the devices over and above the annual test. It's a tremendous advantage to be able to bypass equipment from our fire-alarm shop instead of having to get into a vehicle, drive across campus, find a parking space, go into a building, log in and then press the appropriate buttons. We saw this as a money and time-saving technique."





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