Notifier Provides Long-Term, Open-Protocol Fire Safety Solution for Expanding ExCeL Development

23rd May 2011

Occupying a huge 100-acre site in London's Docklands, the ExCeL exhibition and conference centre has been a continuing success story ever since it was first opened back in November 2000.

With three on-site Docklands Light Railway (DLR) stations, five hotels and parking for 4,000 cars, in 2009 ExCeL London welcomed the world's leaders to the G-20 London Summit and continues to play host to annual events such as the London International Boat Show, the British International Motor Show and Grand Designs Live.

In June 2008, a £164m expansion plan was announced, increasing the event space by 50 per cent (nearly 100,000m2), adding additional meeting and event space, banqueting facilities and a flexible 5,000 seat International Conference Centre for London.

Phase 1 refit

ExcelIn considering the most appropriate approach to fire safety for the new development, the decision was taken at the same time to review provision throughout the existing exhibition and conference facilities.

As a result, due to the continuing problems of maintaining an unsupported fire safety system, ExCel decided to replace the existing Phase 1 solution with a Notifier by Honeywell system supplied and installed by Notifier Engineered Systems Distributor (ESD), Uny Systems.

"In selecting a fire safety solution, we were keen to learn some lessons from the initial installation," confirms ExCel London facilities manager, Kevin Bond. "The original fire safety and voice alarm/public address (VA/PA) systems were no longer supported by the manufacturers, which made maintenance less efficient and more costly to manage.

"It was therefore essential that the chosen system was not only based on advanced technology but came from a supplier with a proven and long-standing track record of product support." As the resulting tender process evolved, the decision was taken in conjunction with principal contractor, Sir Robert McAlpine, to specify a Notifier solution.

Bond had previous successful experience of Notifier as offering a flexible open-protocol solution which combined flexibility and reliability in integrating with other building control systems in large, multi-function public access sites. "At the same time," he says, "Notifier products had the strong history of backwards compatibility we were looking for, which gave us the confidence that we had a solid, future-proof solution."

Uny Systems had already established an excellent track record in providing independent maintenance services over a period of two years and was selected to install the new system. This included 10 Notifier panels and an ONYXWorks graphics package, providing full visibility and control of the site-wide fire system via a simple and intuitive user interface.

Uny Systems also secured the contract to retro-fit the Notifier VA/PA system, which included retaining the existing wiring and speakers as part of a low-cost, easy-to-maintain yet reliable solution.

The control panels and fibre optic network were installed, together with the replacement of 3,500 plus existing devices. "In order to meet the demanding requirements of the site, the changeover period was reduced to just three weeks and, working with the Notifier team, we successfully pushed the boundaries of the product's capabilities," recalls Uny Systems managing director, Roger Agate.

"In retro-fitting both the fire alarm and VA/PA systems, the Phase 1 project was especially complex," he recalls, "as in many cases the usual vagaries of using existing wiring were made more problematic by the absence of drawings confirming their location.

"However, we have a lot of experience in managing such replacement projects, especially where full life safety protection must be maintained throughout, and were able to work closely with other contractors to ensure a seamless transition."

Proven support, unrivalled flexibility

Once again, a Notifier fire safety system was chosen for the Phase 2 development, which opened in March 2010. The result is a fully-integrated fire safety system throughout the ExCel site, providing state-of-the-art protection for the many thousands of visitors and staff at what is the largest exhibition complex in the UK.

Fellow Notifier ESD partner, Trinity Protection Systems was responsible for this phase of the development. McAlpine had previous experience of working with Trinity on earlier Notifier installations and was confident in the company's ability to provide the level of consultancy and back-up support the large, complex project demanded.

Installation, which was phased to meet the broader requirements of the new-build programme, was completed in May 2010. The solution includes 10 networked Notifier ID3000 fire detection and alarm panels, with 1,500 devices, and interfaces via modules with high-sensitivity smoke systems. This is essential to cover more than 80 per cent of the ExCeL Centre's Phase 2 footprint, with exhibition halls incorporating both 15 metre-high ceilings and a 5 metre ‘dropped hall' area

Giving safety a voice

A key element of fire safety provision at the ExCeL Centre is providing an effective public address and emergency messaging capability in a highly complex environment often involving many thousands of visitors. At the outset, the chosen solution had to integrate with the existing third-party VA/PA equipment in Phase 1, which was problematic as it was no longer supported.

In meeting this requirement, Trinity initially looked at partnering with a specialist sub-contractor to provide a bespoke solution but this was felt to be too risky and complex.

At a cost of several thousands of pounds, Trinity then took the decision to engage AMS Acoustics to undertake a full-blown independent assessment of Notifier's relatively new VA/PA solution, to establish if it would meet ExCeL's requirements.

"We felt this investment was important in order to secure expert third-party endorsement of the Notifier solution," confirms Trinity business development manager, Martin Low. "And, as a result of the very positive report, we felt comfortable in recommending the Notifier solution, in order to provide a fully-integrated detection and evacuation system."

As a result, the tender was revised and Trinity successfully bid to incorporate the Notifier VA/PA solution as part of its Phase 2 installation contract.

Future-proofing fire safety

Today, with the completion and sign-off of Phase 2, the two stand-alone fire alarm and VA/PA systems have been fully integrated. This work included further enhancements by Uny Systems to the overall implementation, including bespoke microphone routing software and combining and further expanding of the already complex cause and effect programme. As a result, the ExCel Centre now benefits from a single, seamless fire safety system and public address system.

The combined implementation represents one of the largest and most complex single Notifier systems in the UK.

Looking ahead, the ExCeL Centre has ambitious growth goals as a leading international events and convention destination and will play a leading role in the 2012 Olympics as it hosts seven major sporting events.

As part of this expansion, ExCeL Centre will benefit from a fully-supported Notifier fire safety and VA/PA solution, designed and installed by two highly experienced, trusted and proven Notifier ESDs.

"Much of the success of this huge project results from the unrivalled flexibility and application of the Notifier approach, which ensures our robust solutions are fully compatible and integrate with all Excel's related operating systems," explains Notifier strategic marketing director, John Brandwood. "At the same time, the ability of Uny Systems and Trinity to build strong relationships based on a similarly committed and responsive attitude ensured that installation on both phases was both seamless and on time."

"In looking to attract more visitors from around the UK and internationally," concludes ExCeL's Bond, "we believe we can offer facilities that can stand comparison with the best in the world. With Notifier and its partners, we are equally confident that they will benefit from similarly world-class fire safety protection."