It is coming up on two decades since the horrific events of 9/11, and the impact of those events is still affecting how we prepare for, and respond to, emergencies. One devastating aspect of those events was the fact that more than 300 firefighters, and many others, lost their lives – at least in part – due to a failure of first responders’ radio communications. While the reasons for this failure are complex, regulators across the country – led by the NFPA – took a lesson from it and initiated legislation, legal mandates, and updates to building and fire codes that are all designed to prevent these devastating events from happening again.
State and local municipal governments are where the rubber meets the road in terms of public policy, basic education, court systems, transit and a wide range of protective services including fire departments, police, and social services. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of these activities in maintaining a functional and civil society; yet in many areas, municipal governments remain in an endless process of prioritizing and reprioritizing purchases and services to address their objectives while never quite having enough resources to cover all the activities they would like to provide.
This difficult situation is only made worse when electronic equipment doesn’t last as long as it should, or when a key system is knocked offline or out of service by an unexpected equipment failure. Unplanned equipment expenses are bad enough, but the downtime and extra costs incurred until these systems are restored can place municipalities at risk; especially if video surveillance, access control and fire alarm systems, or emergency call centers are out of service.
Our increasingly connected economy, supported by a wide-ranging system of networked data and communications access, has had a broad impact on many elements of our personal and working lives. For example, remote offices can now remain tightly linked to headquarters, sharing IT resources and operating as if they were in the same building, even though they may actually be located thousands of miles apart. Credit card transactions are reviewed and approved in real time, reducing retail fraud and losses. Support functions such as data backups and broadcast audio processing, can easily be done by service teams via the cloud; and a wide range of useful networked equipment, from POS systems to security surveillance cameras, can quickly and easily be deployed to support the business and security objectives for installations of all sizes.
Each day, millions of workers in office buildings around the world use a wide range of electronic equipment to perform their jobs, including laptops, desktop computers, phones, printers, alarm systems, scanners, projectors, and more.
Technology has created many benefits for today’s businesses, including faster communication between devices, integrated usage and optimized operations. It allows us to accomplish everyday office functions efficiently and effectively, while keeping staff connected to suppliers, customers and their sales team. However, with these benefits come new dangers to your operations.
While electrical outlets provide power, they are also susceptible to lighting strikes – and there are more than 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in the U.S. each year. More common, however, are power surges and spikes that go mostly unnoticed every day. These temporary and instantaneous events exceed “normal” electrical line voltage, and can cause serious damage to anything plugged into those outlets, including sensitive office equipment.
No matter what kind of business you have, it almost certainly depends on electrical power. Every organization depends on lighting, computers and telephone systems. Manufacturing and automation rely on electronic programming, sensors, motors, and controls. Design teams count on servers and workstations to run their modeling and layout software. Retail stores use purchasing, inventory management, and point-of-sale equipment and software. Because every one of these systems is connected to electrical power, they are all subject to a range of disruptions.
Many electronic systems are in service today to improve our lives – some by protecting our safety (fire alarm systems, for example), some by facilitating transactions (such as point of sale devices, ATMs and fuel pumps), and some by providing security (including access control and video surveillance), among many others. All of these systems have numerous factors in common. First, they all incorporate sensitive electronic processors and components that could potentially be damaged by over-voltages. Secondly, they all have cable connections between components and/or other electronic infrastructure. This makes them all vulnerable to damage – not only from electrical surges that enter from outside your building, but also those that come from within. While most savvy integrators and installers are aware that cost-effective surge protection devices are available, surge protectors are not always installed according to current best practices. One prime example of this is the failure to protect both ends of a cable or wire run.
For proper operation, install all Surge Protective Devices (SPDs) per the guidelines set forth by the manufacturer. Improperly installed devices will not perform as intended and consequently, will not protect the equipment.
The conductor length between the SPD and the protected equipment should be a minimum of three feet in length to allow enough time for it to react. The conductors can be greater than 3 feet as long as they are isolated and are not subjected, or directly exposed to internally or externally-generated, transient voltage spikes and/or surges.
Over the years, fire alarm systems have saved countless lives in addition to protecting billions of dollars of property, equipment, and businesses of all types. High quality alarm systems have evolved to make use of sophisticated sensors, notification devices, and communication systems. They can now accurately detect fire conditions, interface with related systems such as fire doors, and alert not only building occupants, but also management, remote locations, monitoring companies, and nearby public authorities.
For residential property managers, there are only a few vital factors: rent to quiet, reliable tenants, collect the rent on time, and control expenses – particularly large, unexpected expenses. One large, unexpected expense that has caught many property managers off guard is the result of an electrical surge event, and the subsequent need to not only replace the fire alarm panel (the panel and wire may be covered by insurance, but the replacement labor often isn’t), but to also pay for a costly fire watch until the parts can be procured, installed, and re-inspected by fire marshals.
You would never come to work one day and start telling all your customers to go buy their coffee somewhere else. You would never just turn off your lottery machines and stop selling tickets for any reason. You rely on these systems to drive your revenue.
Convenience stores, truck stops, and similar businesses depend on many electrical and electronic devices, including video surveillance and security, AC power devices, point-of-sale (POS) terminals, lottery terminals, pay-at-pump machinery, and more. These devices are all at risk of damage caused by electrical surges – not only from the large, noticeable surges, but also from the many smaller surges that normally pass by unnoticed. Large surges caused by nearby lightning strikes and other dramatic events are an obvious hazard, but even the smaller daily surges have a cumulative damaging effect that can decrease device reliability and shorten equipment life. This is a particular concern for convenience store operations because electrical devices are usually installed both indoors and outdoors.