GateWay Community College
Now that a new fire alarm and emergency communications system is up and running at Phoenix’s 30-acre GateWay Community College campus, Director of Facilities Charlie Poure can breathe a big sigh of relief.
Rewind several years to when Poure originally came on board as a Maricopa County Community College District facility director. After conducting an initial overview of the buildings on his campus, he was disheartened to discover seven buildings outfitted with different brands of obsolete fire alarm systems and faulty wiring.
“While the fire alarms would function, we spent a tremendous amount of money trying to repair them. We actually had one building which would go into alarm about once a week because of recurring faults in the wiring,” Poure recalls.
Getting to work, Poure began to look at an enterprise-level solution using equipment from Honeywell, a company he was familiar with. Armed with the latest technological information, he sat down to write a rigorous, 96-page performance specification. Although the spec went out for open bid, the requirements were tough as the system had to be accessible from different buildings via multiple command centers for more reliable coverage; it had to run on something more reliable than common wire; and the entire system had to be fully addressable.
Around this same time, Ray Mulch Jr. of Aidant Fire and Security, a local systems integrator based in Scottsdale, Ariz., was installing a waterless fire suppression system to protect one of the school’s critical computer and data hubs. Poure began sharing his dilemma regarding the current state of his fire alarm systems.
“We walked around the campus and he explained to me how he wanted a nonproprietary system that would operate from multiple buildings,” reports Mulch.
Aidant put together a proposal that successfully met the performance requirements of Poure’s specification and after winning the bid, began the installation of Gamewell-FCI E3 Series® fire alarm control panels in each of the campus’ seven buildings. Although the E3 Series system could have utilized the existing wire to network systems between buildings, Poure was adamant about using
fiber optics for added security. Making use of the campus’ fiber optics telecommunications infrastructure, Mulch was able to network the entire school’s fire alarm and Emergency Communications System (ECS), saving a lot of time and expense. Even the new waterless fire suppression system was tied in and now monitored by the E3 Series system.
Local Operator Consoles (LOCs) were installed in easily-accessible, high-traffic areas within the school’s five primary facilities. This simplistic design helps to ensure GateWay’s staff can locate an LOC quickly to send out live or prerecorded emergency notifications to any areas within campus building(s).
Authorized facilities staff can also utilize an LOC to monitor and control the entire fire alarm and emergency communications network. Checking system status or viewing details of an event as well as temporarily shutting down specific network sections for maintenance can all be done through the LOC’s network graphic annunciator (NGA). The NGA features a customizable LED touch-screen which automatically provides real-time event details and common command options during an emergency.
Constant supervision mixed with stringent fire alarm codes requiring sufficient battery-backup and regular testing and maintenance make this system nearly impervious to power outages and other common faults or line breaks as compared to typical public address (PA) systems. Redundant communications pathways enable the network to continue operating even when one or more parts are damaged, making the entire system more “survivable.”
Using a fire alarm system as the backbone for an ECS is a unique feature that Mulch believes adds strength to the overall system. “In my opinion, it’s the best solution out there because fire alarm systems are supervised so you’re adding another layer of reliability,” states Mulch.
To provide officials with detailed, floor-by-floor layouts of all campus buildings and major fire alarm components, along with real-time event information, the school opted to place a Gamewell-FCI FocalPoint® graphic workstation in its
security office. A lengthy log of historical fire alarm event data can help facility managers trouble-shoot ongoing incidents resulting from common school issues
such as tampering or dirty detectors. FocalPoint’s delivery of critical system information such as the location and cause of an alarm, plus customizable graphics indicating hazardous material storage or areas of occupants requiring assistance, allow offi cials to quickly assess and respond to emergency incidents.
“The FocalPoint graphic workstation gives a floor plan, in color, and at a glance, one can see exactly what’s going on in the event of an alarm, as opposed to going to a digital read-out,” explains Mulch. “It basically gives a higher level of information, control, and the ability to have a faster response and take action.”
Customizable Threat Protection
GateWay’s fire alarm and ECS voice messaging is programmed to provide three main layers of threat protection: fire, inbound threats and on-campus criminal activity. While fire protection is rather straightforward, potential inbound threats could represent a spill at a nearby chemical plant, extreme weather events or a gunman in the area.
The campus IT group may also issue alerts via e-mail and text messages– a feature the E3 Series offers as well. However, according to Poure, “There are many cases where people won’t receive such messages. For instance, if students are taking a test and their phones are off, or if staff aren’t sitting at their computers.”
Consequently, GateWay relies upon the E3 Series’ state-of-the-art speaker strobes to broadcast intelligible or crystal-clear announcements.
“While a traditional fire system gives off bells, horns and strobes, these signs are easy to ignore,” explains Mulch. “But when people receive a voice directive, they respond. High intelligibility voice evacuation is the best technology.”
Aidant also set up the system to provide Poure’s staff with zoned communication so that they can direct announcements to one or more floors within a building, a group of buildings or to the entire campus.
The versatility to provide a customizable solution, capable of being easily modified or expanded well into the future, is a huge feature schools and other campus environments should seek when choosing a fire alarm and mass notification solution. Mulch emphasizes the cost-effectiveness modular systems like the Gamewell-FCI E3 Series offers. “There are so many ways to build up this particular system, that’s what’s so cool about it,” explains Mulch. “You can custom design it to the application and the client’s needs.”
From Poure’s perspective, the system’s simplicity, performance and reliability are big benefits. “The system works, it’s easy to explain and it’s easy to maintain,” he says.
Planning for the Future
Now that GateWay’s fire alarm and ECS are tied together into one redundant, multi-functional network, a similar system is currently in the works for Maricopa County Community College District’s Skills Center -- one of 10 other campuses in this central Arizona county. Working again with Aidant, the plan is to put E3 Series panels into an expansive academic facility, a multi-purpose building and a central plant. These three buildings will then be connected up with GateWay’s systems, allowing the school’s 24/7 security office to monitor the three facilities’ fire alarm and ECS via the FocalPoint workstation.
In addition, GateWay is currently constructing two more facilities, which will also be outfi tted with E3 Series panels, bringing the GateWay campus total to nine panels. Poure is also considering an outdoor Giant Voice system.
“The fact is that now this campus is united with one single system. This type of system is what is really necessary for multiple facilities and multiple campuses,” concludes Poure.