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I have recently been asked by clients and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) my opinion on the use of Internet Protocol (IP) communicators in lieu of the Digital Alarm Communicator Transmitters (DACTs) which have traditionally been used to communicate from a premise to a supervising station.

It appears that Section 8.6.4 in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72 – 2007 allows for “Other Transmission Technologies”.  Many of the fire alarm manufacturers are now beginning to offer an IP communicator that is listed to the requirements found in 8.6.4.

My concern about an IP communicator, with no other alternative communication path, is that while they will be designed to have a battery backup for 24-hours or more, how do we ensure that the data equipment upstream, i.e. switches, routers, and gateways have same sort of emergency backup?  I have calculated a UPS (uninterruptible power source) for my home’s IP equipment, and it is not inexpensive.  List price for the UPS was over $10,000 as I recall.

So, in a long power outage, if we don’t have 24-hours or longer of emergency power to the IT equipment, how do we ensure that a fire signal gets to the Central Station?  The answer is that we cannot, but if correctly installed, the system will notify the end user at the site with a trouble signal.

There are some steps that I would suggest to help minimize this issue:

  1. First you have to minimize the number of data connection points in the circuit.  If possible, I would connect directly to the router/gateway.
  2. I would ensure that the IT components are secured in a locked room, cabinet, or enclosure to ensure that someone trying to obtain a spare data port doesn’t simply unplug the connection.
  3. I would put wording into your monitoring contract that states effectively that if the client doesn’t have emergency power for those data components, that you, the monitoring provider, are indemnified against loss of signal due to the power loss.  (You should consult your attorney for specific language.)

An alternative is to use an IP/GSM (Global System Mobile Communication) dialer which can allow the IP communicator as the primary path and use the GSM as the alternative path when IP communication is not available.  This would be more like a traditional slave communicator that would monitor alarm, supervisory & trouble conditions.  To obtain a UL Commercial Fire Listing you must use all of the required components.

Prior to implementing this solution, you will need to make sure that your central station can receive both the IP and GSM signals, and that it is affiliated with the GSM network.

It would be great to hear from other members of the fire alarm industry on how the issue of IP communicators is being addressed in their area.

This post is contributed by Mr. David Miller, Principal at TRUSYS.

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