Hopefully, those of you in the fire industry reading this blog, and if our marketing strategy is paying off, will be more than aware by now that Hochiki launched a brand-new hybrid wireless fire detection solution, Ekho, into the market at the end of 2020.
And it seemed perfect timing, as a number of headlines at the end of 2020 and the start of 2021 were focussed entirely on the ongoing tall buildings cladding issue, and in particular reference to tenants and leaseholders being forced to pay for extortionate Waking Watch schemes up and down the country, whilst cladding was waiting to be removed and replaced. And the saga has rolled on since, with the UK government’s Fire Safety Bill being rejected several times by the House of Lords, who kept voting to shield residents from fire safety work costs, before it finally became law on 29th April 2021.
But as sections of the fire industry continue to berate the Waking Watch scheme and propose a plethora of alternatives for building owners and fire system designers to consider, including like us wireless systems, we’d like to take this opportunity to point out that as well as providing an excellent short-term or long-term solution to buildings with dangerous cladding, Hybrid Wireless systems are perfectly suited for a whole heap of other, tricky applications, where cabled systems just don’t cut the mustard.
There are many situations where altering the structure of a building in any way, including drilling access holes for cables or even fitting cable runs, will be frowned upon as well as outrightly banned. With strict legislation protecting heritage sites, listed buildings and ancient structures, such as cathedrals, cables just can’t be considered.
But with the communication range afforded by the newer generation of radio fire detection devices, particularly when supported by a mesh network technology, a hybrid approach comes into its own. Wireless devices communicating with a standalone wired fire alarm control panel, can be discreetly placed all around the site to provide 24/7 protection, without any significant alterations to the building’s structure. On larger systems, several Expanders can create a mesh network which will then allow the radio signals to always find the best critical signal pathway back to the Translator, regardless of the type of construction, the layout or building materials.
When sites such as schools, universities and hospitals outgrow their main buildings, sometimes the more cost-effective option for expanding is to install pre-built out-buildings. But depending on the distance between the main building with its existing house fire system and the new buildings it can be expensive, disruptive or both to excavate trenches to run new fire cables. And that’s assuming the existing house fire control panel has the required capacity to support additional loops/devices to protect the new structures.
With a hybrid wireless approach, the simple addition of a Translator onto either an existing loop with adequate capacity, or a new loop installed specifically to service the remote buildings on the existing wired system, means you can ditch the digger, keep the occupants happy and keep the site up and running throughout the install.
Using systems like Ekho can also reduce project duration on time-sensitive sites, or to lower the impact on the day-to-day operation of the building and its residents. Hospitals and Care Homes are two environments where reducing time spent on-site presence by fire engineers will be beneficial to patients and staff alike, particularly during the current pandemic.
In these environments, wireless devices can be quickly installed, often in minutes and, to save even more time, can be learned onto the Translator off-site, ahead of install. And this also makes perfect sense when considering those projects where certain areas of a building have restricted access, such as banks, MOD sites and laboratories.
It may be that a site has a blanket ban on drilling into the fabric of the building to run cables due to the presence of asbestos or other harmful materials. If there’s then no scope for running visible cable trays or conduits, utilising hybrid wireless in these problem areas is an ideal solution. Wireless devices can be installed more quickly and a lot more cleanly in these situations.
Where an existing wired system hasn’t yet been extended into a new area of the building, during the construction of a new hospital wing or school block for example, there’s an immediate risk if nothing is in place to monitor these spaces as they are constructed. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005), which applies to any premises in the UK, requires the application of BS5839-1 guidelines and gives no exemption for temporary structures or building sites. A temporary hybrid wireless system can be set up in minutes and moved from area to area as construction progresses.
It’s also worth considering the hybrid wireless approach where there is a change of use of a section of building (storage into office space for example) and running cables into it would again be either too costly or too disruptive to the day-to-day running of the site. With the simple addition of a Translator onto an existing loop and a selection of wireless devices, you’d very quickly have a compliant site.
Now, with Hochiki being a traditional wired life safety systems manufacturer, we’re not about to suggest you abandon your cable suppliers for good and install wireless devices just anywhere and everywhere. For a start, there will be sites where wireless just doesn’t fit – underground sites, military bunkers, sites that require very complex cause and effects and those really radio ‘noisy’ sites where radio signals are likely to be affected constantly. Hence the reason we insist all of our Ekho customers carry out site surveys using our Survey Test Kit – before they commit themselves to specifying a hybrid wireless solution.
So instead, we suggest you think of the hybrid wireless approach as a trick up your sleeve, that can be employed to overcome a range of specific site issues impacting the use of cabling. After all, a high percentage of your projects will always lend themselves to be cabled and that won’t change. But for any job that’s likely to give you a whopping cabling headache, think hybrid wireless and consider Ekho. It makes complete sense.