Shopping around for the best in fire safety protection

15th August 2011



Each type of building development, whether a new build or a refurbishment, brings with it a unique set of demands in the drive for effective fire safety provision.

Some older buildings will be inherently complex in structure or be involved, perhaps, in the manufacture or use of dangerous substances. Similarly, the sheer scale of other sites will present distinct challenges in ensuring both early warning of, and rapid, controlled response to, a fire-related incident.

Shopping centres offer an excellent example of how specialist expertise on the part of both the fire systems manufacturer and fire specialist contractor is essential, in order to meet the varying demands of the centre operator, main contractor, owner of each individual trading unit and, last but not least, the shopper looking for a safe and convenient buying experience.

In recent years, Notifier by Honeywell has worked closely with fire specialist design and installation partner, Trinity Protection Systems on a number of major new and redeveloped shopping centres owned by Land Securities - including Princesshay in Exeter, St David's, Cardiff and the Galleria in Hatfield. The common goal has been to create a fire safety environment which meets all the differing requirements of the various stakeholders, both in terms of ease of installation and ongoing operation and maintenance.

The key to success in each case has been flexibility. The Notifier system integrates easily with other new or existing on-site building management systems and Trinity has had to work closely with other contractors in meeting the often moving deadlines of each phase, at the same time ensuring full and continuous fire safety protection throughout the development.

Simplicity is the key

For Trinity director, Shaun Corbett, simplicity of systems design and operation is critical here, as the inherent nature of shopping centre design involves change, both at the initial development stage and in supporting any subsequent expansion or change of use.

"At the initial phase, we work with the Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) contractor to deliver a system which meets the requirements of the shopping centre consultants and architects," he confirms. "However, as the project progresses, a new set of contractors become involved working on behalf of each retail unit.

"On larger developments this can involve more than a hundred different shops and cafes of varying sizes, each with their own fire safety systems and operational requirements. In response, the Notifier system's multi-channel interface unit makes it especially easy to integrate each outlet's preferred system with the central house fire alarm system."

The Notifier approach also offers a number of other benefits which make it ideally-suited to meet the needs of shopping centres. The system includes broad functionality which can accommodate any specialist needs such as the inclusion of a mechanical plant room. "In each case, it is simply a matter of extending the loop of the ID Series intelligent fire alarm panel, dropping in the relevant interface and programming them as part of the broader system," says Derek Portsmouth, National Business Manager - UK and Ireland, Notifier.

Based on proven technology, the ID Series is also stable and robust, providing the reliability essential for an environment involving many thousands of staff and visitors each day. Equally, the Notifier system is backwards-compatible, especially valuable when a shopping centre site is being extended or refurbished, so enabling the new system to be integrated with the legacy system to ensure a smooth transition with no interruption to businesses operating across the site.

Cause and effect

Trinity, a Notifier Gold Partner, has many years' experience working with Notifier equipment and one area where this continues to prove particularly valuable is in ensuring users get the best from the equipment's sophisticated ‘cause and effect' programming capability.

"This is a key requirement for many large sites," confirms Corbett. "However, in the case of a shopping centre, cause and effect programming is typically more intensive as the system needs to be able to accommodate the very different requirements of a small individual retail unit or café with a large departmental store spread over several floors.

"The Notifier solution is especially strong here and our engineers have extensive expertise in developing highly complex cause and effect matrices which can meet the strategies of both individual retailers and the broader shopping centre management within each development.

The ID3000 system also monitors and controls the complex retail alarm, smoke control and sprinkler system, via loop-mounted Input/Output (I/0) modules. The individual fire control panels are linked using Notifier's ID2net ultra-high speed Intelligent Digital Delivery Network, which transmits an alarm across the network in less than half a second.

The fault-tolerant network consists of repeater panels equipped with a comprehensive function display and printer unit. Full fireman's control functions are provided at each repeater location to aid in the control and clearance of smoke during an incident.

New builds

Exeter and Cardiff provide two powerful examples of how this has worked in practice in the development of new shopping centre sites in recent years.

In common with many other town centre retail centre developments, Princesshay was previously a pedestrianised parade of shops, established in the 1950s, which was replaced by a completely new shopping centre. Opened in September 2007, it includes 64 stores and services and with nearly 400,000 sq ft of retail space.

The new shopping centre was built on a phased basis, including a large number of residential flats as part of the final stage of the development. As a result, the selected Notifier system incorporating 13 networked ID3000 fire panels had to ensure full continuity of fire safety protection for both existing units and each new part of the site as it came on stream.

"This proved especially simple to manage with the Notifier system," recalls Corbett, "as it was able to expand easily with each new phase joining the central network. At the same time, in the three years since the new centre was first opened to the public, the fire safety system has remained trouble-free and easy to maintain."

More recently, the much larger St David's development in Cardiff reflects the ability of Notifier and Trinity to meet the needs of a huge development including both new and refurbished retail areas.

The new £675 million St David's 2 extension, opened in October 2009, includes 88 stores and has made Cardiff one of the top shopping destinations in the UK, now attracting an annual footfall of some 33 million. It was also crowned International Shopping Centre of the Year by Global Retail Leisure International in 2010.

Reflecting the ability of Notifier and Trinity to respond positively to new and evolving requirements, the fire safety system - which incorporates 13 ID3000 panels and more than 7,000 devices - has been developed to integrate and manage for the first time the site's sprinkler management system. "This unique capability offers the twin benefits of greater control within a highly cost-effective solution," says Portsmouth.

The Notifier solution also includes the latest ONYXWorks graphics system, which allows the complete site to be managed from a single central workstation. "Again, this highly intuitive system, including a clear and easy-to-read display panel, is ideally designed for security staff - who in many case are temporary or rapidly changing - to immediately pinpoint the precise location of the device in alarm," he confirms.

Refurbishments

At the same time, the original adjoining St David's Shopping Centre, incorporating a legacy Notifier system, underwent a complete refurbishment programme. In upgrading to the new ID3000-based fire safety system, all work had to be undertaken out of hours. "The flexibility of the Notifier system allowed us to swap out each panel and change the heads overnight and bring these immediately back on-line, ensuring comprehensive 24-hour safety cover throughout the development," says Corbett.

Another major centre complex development undergoing redevelopment following its acquisition by Land Securities in 2006 has been the Galleria in Hatfield, originally built in 1990 and comprising more than 120 retail units.

The resulting bespoke site-wide Notifier fire safety solution, designed and commissioned by Trinity, incorporates nine ID3000 fire alarm panels, with approximately 2,000 devices. The new system also monitors and controls the complex retail alarm, smoke control and sprinkler system, via loop-mounted I/O modules.

In addition, Notifier's ONYXWorks provides the Hatfield site with a complete monitoring and control facilities management system, allowing all alarms and system faults to be displayed in a clearly understandable format, which in turn provides an exact location map for each device. Requirements such as shutdown fire door control may also be programmed quickly and easily, by interfacing directly with the existing voice alarm and smoke control systems, so minimising disruption and ensuring controlled evacuation and escalation in the event of a fire.

In common with many other redevelopment projects, the installation programme had also to take account of a number of specific local constraints. In the case of the Hatfield Galleria, this included the need to deploy specialist access equipment and techniques, in order to route cabling above false ceilings and in the atrium," says Corbett.

The importance of voice

Another increasingly important element in developing fire safety solutions for shopping centres is the inclusion of public address/voice alarms (PAVA systems). With other aspects of a modern fire safety system able to pinpoint and determine the nature of a potential fire-related incident quickly, it is equally important to ensure a safe and controlled evacuation of the site in question as quickly as possible.

With this in mind, each of the Notifier systems installed incorporate a sophisticated Voice alarm and public address system which once again meets the specific demands of the site in each case, in integrating voice-controlled instructions as to how to leave the building in the event of a fire alarm or similar emergency with the provision of music and other advertising and advisory messaging.

In the case of developments which include a large central atrium, such as St David's 2, additional specialist work was undertaken on speaker development to address the acoustic problems presented by such large open spaces with high ceilings.

Future-proofing

Many shopping centres are designed with an eye on potential expansion and it is important therefore that the chosen fire safety system is future-proofed in being able to support future growth or redevelopment.

At the same time this demand for flexibility extends to the need ideally to be able to integrate with the rest of the site's management system, by monitoring, measuring and reporting all aspects through one centralised control system.

"In responding positively to these requirements, the ID3000 fire protection system is ideally designed for large shopping centre developments," concludes Corbett, "as it sets the highest standards in technical sophistication, functionality and reliability, at the same time remaining easy to install, programme and operate.

"Supported by Trinity's unrivalled expertise and equally flexible response in tailoring the fire safety solution to meet each individual set of needs, the result is a highly cost-effective response which delivers beyond expectations in creating a safe environment in which to work and shop."