St. Clair College upgrade marries PA and fire alarm systems FeaturedWritten by Linda Johnson 09 November 2011
A Windsor college has learned how to send emergency security alerts to thousands of students spread over four campuses in two cities by tying the PA to the fire alarm system.
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St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology has three campuses in Windsor and a fourth on the other side of Lake St. Clair, in Chatham-Kent. While growth has been a feature of the school since its founding in 1966, expansion really took off in 2007, when the school began to renovate, build new buildings and even buy old ones.
But all that growth left the college’s various campuses with vastly different fire alarm systems, ranging from the completely obsolete to the most up-to-date — five years ago, they did a major upgrade to the alarm system in the main, or south, campus. The new system, Honeywell’s NOTIFIER, gave them the ability to pinpoint the location of an alarm and to broadcast emergency messages throughout the campus’s buildings.
Since then, they have been working on the other campuses, replacing alarm systems in the older buildings, installing them in the new ones and then integrating them into the existing network.
“Every time we upgrade, we have go out for a quote on it. And when we do that, NOTIFIER has got the job because it has the capabilities we want,” said Rebecca Demchuk, manager of occupational health and safety, a position that includes security.
The centre of the system is the ONYXWorks workstation, a monitor that displays the exact location of an emergency. Detailed maps of every building are stored in the station. When there’s an event, a panel displays in text form where it’s happening, while the screen pulls up a map indicating where on the layout the alarm is coming from.
“Let’s say it‘s coming from a pull station in a corridor,” Demchuk explains. “Well, this is a huge facility, and that’s difficult to find unless you know exactly where it is. So, the screen will show you the layout, and then you can see exactly which corridor it’s in and what room it’s near. There’s no guesswork involved. And you know exactly what the fire condition is.”
With all buildings integrated into a single network, she can see the location of an alarm no matter where across the college it goes off. After the college’s Mediaplex, a former Salvation Army building, opened last year, complete with a new system, Demchuk, said, they had three different systems in three campuses. “And they didn’t talk to each other. Now it’s all one. They can talk to each, and I know what’s going on everywhere.”
A key feature of the new system is a digital voice communication capability. The old system used pre-recorded microchips, so staff were limited in what messages they could send, says Al Bastien, sales and service at Vipond, the Mississauga, Ont.-based supplier. They could, for example, page certain “blocks” (an entire, or wing of, a building), and they could evacuate some blocks. But the system did not give them the ability to give different directions to students in different blocks at the same time.
“With the network audio system, we’re able to say, ‘In this specific block, we want everybody out, but in the next block, we want everybody to barricade in place.’
So, it gives you great flexibility to control the movement of the students, or in a given situation, to handle how it’s going to happen,” he said.
Demchuk said the school can now broadcast all emergencies through the digital system — anything from severe weather alerts to bomb threats.
“So every building on this campus I can communicate with. That’s a huge benefit in announcing lockdown drills or tornadoes,” she said. “If we had an active shooter on site or somebody with a gun, that’s when we would announce that.”
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