Integrate expectations
Written by: Simon Creasey | Published:

Integrating security alarms and alerts with DMR radios can provide speedier evacuations in the event of an emergency and reduce costly false alarms, as well as providing other, non-critical applications, making this an attractive functionality for building owners. Simon Creasey reports

For building owners, security is always at the forefront of their considerations. It doesn’t matter whether they are dealing with a small site that has very few people in it, or a large site such as a stadium or a tower block, where there are large numbers of people within a confined area – the challenges facing building owners remain the same and these have never been more daunting.

False alarms can be damaging – especially if it is a hotel evacuation in the middle of the night as a result of a suspected fire, or a suspect package left in a shopping centre that requires the site to be emptied of shoppers and workers. These incidents need to be managed as smoothly and efficiently as possible. That’s why a growing number of building owners are considering investing in DMR radios that allow them to integrate security alarms or alerts.

The benefits of these systems are manifold, according to Richard Iveson, business development manager at GlobalView Systems. As well as enabling swifter evacuations in the event of a serious security problem, they can also significantly cut down on the number of false alarms, which are problematic in their own right.

“In a hotel, this [cutting down on false alarms] can save reputational damage,” says Iveson. “Stadiums can avoid panic, potential injury, loss of earnings. In a manufacturing environment this could be much more. Unplanned stoppages and just a minute of downtime can be very costly – for instance, in car manufacturing they are estimated at costing £22,000 a minute.”

Too many false alarms can also lead to complacency and what Iveson describes as ‘alarm fatigue’. “When the alarms go off regularly for non-emergency reasons, there can be a tendency for people to ignore them, and in the event of a real fire this could be disastrous,” he adds.

The problem is that many users of DMR radios are not alive to the fact that full alarm/alert integration is possible on many of the devices they already use on a day-to-day basis, says Iveson.

“Often users are not aware that this is possible or the full extent of the information and functionality available via the two-way radio,” he explains. “They are often carrying a number of devices, smartphones, radio and pagers – we call this the ‘Batman effect’. This gives them the opportunity to carry just one [device], with no compromise on the information they receive.”

Awareness that this functionality is available is an issue that Gary Leatherby, managing director at Chatterbox, also identifies. “Everyone looks at a radio and says ‘it does push to talk’, but it does so much more than that and has done for the past 10 or more years because we have digital technology now,” says Leatherby. “You’ve got a display so it can connect to everything else via IP, but most people don’t see that and that’s the real difficulty for us – trying to educate the customer that this is a good idea.”

Another challenge he identifies in terms of boosting greater take-up of this type of functionality is getting access to the right person within a company who holds the purse strings.

“If we’re selling to a security guard who has the budget to buy radios, all we’re effectively doing is speaking to someone who says ‘I’ve got £5,000 to spend this year and all I want to do is buy the cheapest radio I can get and I don’t care about anything else’,” says Leatherby.

However, he points out that if “you can get in like we have done” with the people in charge of health and safety at large companies, “then they’re interested in all of this and they’ve got the lovely big budget to make it happen.”

Of course, integrating alarms and alerts with DMR radios isn’t going to be relevant to all users. Nor is it always going to be possible, due to the complexities of the area in which users may want to deploy them.

“Take a university campus,” says Ruth Nixon, managing director at Zycomm. “You might have one main building and then a whole handful of different buildings stretching across the city centre. So sometimes you have to look at the practicalities and the cost to see if it is viable or not.”

Although Nixon says the company has done some work in this area in the past, she adds that it is not something that pops up on a regular basis. “It’s a nice-to-have, but it is not on everyone’s wish-list.”

But for those organisations that do want this sort of functionality, Nick Deabill, sales and marketing manager at SMC, says before they take the plunge they need to “consider the whole solution and what they are trying to achieve with their radio system. Integrating into lots of different equipment will require involving different disciplines such as fire alarm engineers, IT departments and radio engineers. Putting this collaborative team together in the early stages is essential to ensure a smooth installation.”

Thankfully some companies, like GlobalView Systems, SMC and Everbridge, offer an ever-expanding range of solutions that make installation and integration easier than they might have been just a few years ago. Leatherby cites the example of the company’s use of Everbridge at Landsec’s Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.

“Before we integrated Everbridge into the centre’s alarm system it was one person’s job at Bluewater to keep up-to-date records of the phone numbers of all the key people who worked in the stores so that they could be alerted [via text message to their mobile phone] if something happened,” says Leatherby. “So what they did instead was they gave every store a radio and they then send out the Everbridge information as a text message via our system to each one of those radios.”

“We have recently brought to market the R-LinX,” says GlobalView Systems’ Iveson. “This is a very simple alarm handler designed specifically to be incredibly easy to set up and use. The set-up page is accessed via a webpage, links to R-LinX’s own ad hoc Wi-Fi network and can be set up on a smartphone, tablet or PC. Requiring no programming knowledge, all configuration is done via a simple menu with click tabs and text boxes, and most customers can have this set up and connected to the radio system in under 10 minutes,” he explains.

Syndico was the first distributor in the UK to partner with GlobalView Systems on R-LinX, and the company’s managing director, Andy Wilson, says the implementation of an alarm-handling solution into a radio system might well be the difference between selling a radio that costs £200 RRP and one that costs £350-£400.

“Although the simple voice features on a radio solution are often all the end-user requires, it is advantageous for a salesperson, while sat in front of a customer, to be able to offer value-added solutions such as an alarm handler,” says Wilson. “The fact that the R-LinX box, as an example, is such a low-cost item that adds such a lot of functionality into a radio system makes it an attractive add-on, and [for] the dealer it could be the element in the deal that differentiates them from other suppliers.”

Like GlobalView Systems, SMC has also recognised the need for a simplified configuration and installation process, and to this end in the first quarter of next year it intends to launch the next generation of SMC Gateway with “multiple interfaces, including cloud services for centralised management of multiple gateways and the all-new Behaviours module that allows for our new 30-second set-up,” says Deabill.

As for future trends, in addition to more solutions being brought to market that make the integration process much easier, Guy Hopkins, managing director at Logic Wireless, expects to see a greater convergence between DMR and LTE.

“We still think radio will be around for some time to come, but we see people trying to make use of the technology that’s out there in the best way possible,” says Hopkins. “Cellular is good for bandwidth, so if you’ve got apps that are reporting back information, you can use that for that and the radio will still provide you with the critical reliable comms stuff.”

He also thinks that more functions will be hosted in the cloud. To this end the company is currently developing a cloud-based solution that offers users indoor/outdoor tracking.

“If you’ve got an alarm-based system, you can add another layer of functionality by being able to track your fire wardens or security people. So in the event of an alarm going off, you can see where the relevant people are and take appropriate action,” says Hopkins.

Another rapidly developing area is linking systems to a wider range of devices. “Some of our more recent requests have been to link with drone detection technology, wind detectors, pressure pads and motion detectors on cranes,” says Iveson.

Wilson sees a similar trend developing. “The most common solutions that our reseller partners have implemented so far are fire alarm alerts, but really, potential solutions are only restricted by your imagination,” he says. “We have a neat solution for welcoming guests on the Syndico reception desk that alerts a member of staff when a guest arrives if the desk is unmanned. Also, we are planning some interesting marketing initiatives based around the wireless button that integrates with the R-LinX system, focusing on the potential discreet security benefits these can bring to end-users in all kinds of different verticals.”

Iveson says the wireless button has already been a “surprisingly big hit”, with the variety of uses ranging from “butler call at weddings to car showrooms, reception call buttons and changing rooms, etc”.

Over the coming years it is anticipated that the Internet of Things will open up even more opportunities for integration, allowing for the development of more solutions and greater connectivity. At the moment, alarm and alert integration may only be a relatively small part of the wider market, but users of DMR radios are waking up to the benefits it brings, and Iveson believes that we could see greater levels of adoption in the future.

“As more and more high-profile incidents are in the media, the importance of maximising protection for building users will increase, and alarm management can play a large part in this,” he says. “With a rise in automation and the availability of usable data, using this data effectively is essential to increase efficiency, safety and productivity.”

How to ensure smooth integration
Having taken the decision to integrate alarm/alerts into a DMR radio network, the first thing any business needs to do at the earliest possible opportunity is speak to its existing alarm provider about its intentions to ensure installation goes smoothly. It is also advisable to create an implementation team spanning relevant departments – eg, fire alarm engineers and IT.

End-users need to find a solution that allows them the flexibility to extract the information that is most relevant to their business and determine who is the right person to direct this information to in the form of alarms and alerts. One industry source says he knows of instances where users received thousands of text/alert messages, but these were ignored and valuable information was lost because they were sent to the wrong person.

It is also vital that network security is not overlooked, cautions Logic Wireless’s Hopkins.

“We’re finding that more and more of our systems, although radio-based, have more links to an IP network in some way, and obviously you have to take into account the additional security implications of that,” says Hopkins. “If you’re connected to a network then technically someone can break into that, so [on our systems] we include all of the latest security technology to make sure no-one can break in.”

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