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Emergency lighting: How networked systems are enabling instant access to critical life safety data

Ever heard the phrase ‘it’s in the cloud’? These days almost everything we do now uses cloud technology. From browsing the internet, surfing social media, watching the latest drop from your favourite streaming channel or listening to music online, to accessing CRM systems and collaboration software at work. Even some toothbrushes send data back to the manufacturer – and here in the fire industry we are no different, with the demand, driven by big enterprise, for life safety systems to become smart.

The benefits of cloud technology have changed the way companies do business forever. Customers are demanding a more personalised and instant experience, so it makes sense for companies (of any size) to harness the power of next gen tech to become leaner, more agile and in some cases safer. Fire safety manufacturers are utilising the power of the cloud to enhance their offering to the industry and enable instant access to critical data, particularly in an emergency.

But before we get into the benefits of cloud computing to the fire industry, it's important to understand what we mean when we talk about the cloud. Put simply, it means having the ability to store and access data and programs over the internet instead of accessing it via a hard drive.

There are three main types of cloud technology:

Software as a Service (SaaS) - where users can access applications without needing to download, install or store the software on a device or hard drive. As such, most SaaS technology comes in the form of a subscription. The benefit of this technology is that the user doesn’t have to worry about installing updates and maintenance tasks as they tend to happen automatically.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) - provides developers with a platform to create their own software or web apps without the need for servers or specialised testing environments.

Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) - Ideal for companies that create highly specialized or unique proprietary applications (think Microsoft or Adobe), but don’t want to spend time or other resources buying, storing, setting up, or maintaining the necessary equipment. It allows businesses to be able to access firewalls, servers, storage, virtual machines and other infrastructure.

In the world of life safety, the biggest benefit is that the internet of things (IoT) has allowed us to connect and measure complex streams of data about a building environment, providing higher safety stands, all of which can be maintained and controlled remotely, which can help to speed things up and reduce costs.

The ‘fit and forget’ problem with traditional emergency lighting

An essential piece of safety kit, emergency lighting by law must be fitted to all buildings where staff, residents or the general public are present. However, for many businesses, emergency lighting can often become a ‘fit and forget’ scenario.

For buildings where there are lots of units to maintain and monitor, with the associated battery discharging and checking, this can quickly become a very labour-intensive operation. It can also be disruptive to the occupants of the building with the necessary cuts to the power supply during testing. This can persuade some building owners to potentially eke out the time between system checks turning once safe environments into a high-risk zone, breaking regulations and voiding insurance terms.

If you are the responsible person for your building, and you want to minimise the threat of emergency lighting failing due to irregular maintenance, it may be wise to investigate the benefits of cloud-based technology which reports faults automatically via an enabled device.

The benefits of cloud computing for emergency lighting

Remote reporting: A networked lighting system which allows for cloud reporting means building management teams can remotely monitor performance and safety alongside other building systems 24/7. Assigned persons can be set up to receive messages in real-time via mobile text messages or email. This means engineers can fix some minor problems remotely without even needing to travel to site, or without having someone who may not know what they are looking at relaying the information over the phone. The biggest benefits here are a reduction in site visit costs and human error.

Monitoring of product life: Schedules of maintenance can also be organised via the cloud, where the system monitors the lifecycle of different devices within a networked lighting system. This means building management systems or facilities management can be proactive with repairs before any potential malfunctions occur.

Future proof technology: Another benefit of cloud-based emergency lighting technology is that it is easily scalable and flexible to the environment allowing for businesses to future proof themselves. This is perfect for educational settings, healthcare, high-rise, mixed use commercial or industrial applications – all of which can be catered for via the cloud.

But is the data secure?

When it comes to networking security and safety systems, you might be forgiven for conjuring up a SkyNet style scenario where the bad guys take full control of your networked building. Luckily this is not a Hollywood set and accessing your buildings security system via an emergency lighting device is not possible. Account access and mobile device recognition work in a similar manner to how mobile banking works. There is no remote access to the building’s security or personnel detail through this system. Involving your IT teams in conversations with your installer will ensure that your network is secure and specific to your building.

Environmental savings

As with most modern technology, new products are being designed from an environmental standpoint and should therefore contribute to energy saving. For businesses looking to make savings through their life safety systems, choosing lighting devices with batteries which can be re-charged but stop when the battery is full helps to reduce power consumption, avoid over charging and lowers the risk of damaging or reducing the battery’s lifespan. And as mentioned above, looking for systems with the remote monitoring functionality help to reduce site visits, and therefor people on the road.

Our lives have transformed rapidly in the past decade and will only continue to do so. According to the UK government website “our economic future, jobs, wage levels, prosperity, national security, cost of living, productivity, ability to compete globally and our geo-political standing in the world are all reliant on continued and growing success in digital technology.”

The UK is one of the front runners when it comes to digital technology, and indeed the gold standard for fire safety technology. Our society requires the buildings we work, rest and play in to be smarter and safer which naturally places additional pressure on facilities management teams and/or building owners. This is where cloud-based life safety tech can help, streamlining maintenance through smart automation, improving energy efficiency through better design and most importantly ensuring the highest levels of life safety are met today and in the future.