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Université Laval upgrades fire protection systems

Established in 1852 in the City of Quebec, Canada, Université Laval was the first French-speaking university in North America. In 1950, construction began on its main campus in Sainte-Foy, which was then on the outskirts of the city. It has grown into what is now referred to as a city within a city.


September 1, 2010
By Peter Ebersold

The university’s statistics are impressive: the 300-acre campus has over 32 buildings, which are linked by 10 kilometers (6 miles) of underground pedestrian and service tunnels designed to cope with harsh Canadian winters. The Université Laval hosts a sizeable community of approximately 44,000 students and 8,000 employees within an urban/rural setting of dense woods, grasslands and sports fields covering more than half the campus.

Unified Solution
A few years ago, the university’s Board of Governors decided to allocate funds for a new state-of-the-art, code-compliant fire protection network spanning all 32 buildings campus-wide.

The old fire alarm systems were an aging conglomeration of different makes and models. Moving forward, the university sought bids for a standardized system from a single supplier for a true proprietary fire alarm solution. The ONYX Series addressable fire protection system manufactured by NOTIFIER won the bid, which involved replacing every alarm panel, detector and supervisory device.

“I’m from the insurance industry and I’ve never seen a system quite as big as this. It has 35 panels and more than 20,000 supervisory and detection devices,” says Pierre Paquin, Fire Prevention Coordinator for Université Laval.
The old systems presented a series of faults on a regular basis that could have resulted in serious problems. Moreover, the mixture of equipment throughout the campus made it difficult for the university’s security personnel to deal with all of the individual systems. “Each time someone new joined the staff they had to be trained in how to use all of the different panels. That’s one of the main reasons we decided to standardize,” says Paquin.

Network Management
Each building is protected by its own stand-alone fire alarm control panel, functioning as a node on the network. The campus’ network of 35 panels is a combination of AM-2020 and ONYX Series NFS-3030 panels connected via 42 kilometers (26 miles) of multi-mode fiber optic cable run in conduit installed throughout the school’s network of tunnels.

Each node on the system acts as a repeater to reshape and regenerate data signals. Therefore any damage incurred by one or more nodes, due to fire, tampering, etc., will not effect operations and communication among the surviving nodes.
For added redundancy, the university installed the network in a DCLC (Style 7) configuration in which the cable carrying all incoming and outgoing signals are looped through the system in separate conduits. According to Paquin, this type of integration helps to ensure a single line break does not interrupt the transmission of alarm communications.

“Since it’s a DCLC (Style 7) loop, I can lose one cable on the network and still be fully operational,” says Paquin.

The university’s new fire alarm performs as one solitary system supported by NOTI-FIRE-NET, a high-speed (312,500 BPS) data communications network. NOTI-FIRE-NET allows each control panel to maintain its own area of protection while providing monitoring and control capabilities for all other network nodes.

Two NCSs (Network Control Stations), one at the school’s main 911 command center and another at an emergency back-up location, provide immediate monitoring and control of the entire fire alarm network. The NCS is a rack-mounted computer customized with detailed, full-colour graphics of the university campus down to individual building floor plans.

During an event, the NCS automatically navigates to the area displaying the event and a text box simultaneously appears with a detailed description. With an operating environment similar to Windows, authorized personnel can navigate through the screens using simple mouse-clicks.

The NCS houses an unlimited history of system information, including operator logins, events and response data, all stamped with time and date. A dot matrix printer prints each event for a permanent record while an attached colour printer produces a detailed printout of the floor plans and reports. Ease of system maintenance is another NCS highlight. “One of the uses of the NCS is that it allows us to individually deactivate any detectors or supervisory devices, for renovation or testing. We can even deactivate the alarms in an entire building when we perform required testing on fire pumps or sprinkler systems,” says Paquin.

As a back-up to the NCS, a remote annunciator is also connected to the network. The Network Control Annunciator features an LCD display and operator keypad offering the university’s security and facilities staff an alternative means of monitoring and control functions for the entire network.


High Standards
Local building codes and standards set by the ULC (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada) dictated the majority of the university’s fire alarm design. Acting as its own AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction), the Université Laval decided to exceed these requirements in certain areas.

For example, many of the classrooms have now been wired for students to plug-in laptops, which raised concern that this would increase the probability of electrical fires. Although code only requires rate-of-rise heat detectors in classrooms, the university decided to install the more expensive combination heat and smoke detectors to provide more thorough detection and faster response.

“We also went beyond code minimums by installing detectors in areas that are protected by sprinklers,” says Paquin. Although detectors are not required in most locations protected by sprinklers, Paquin’s team decided to install detectors anyway, considering the detectors would respond more quickly than the sprinklers. These added precautions not only increased the level of protection, but also enabled the school to receive more favorable terms from its insurance carrier.

Test and Tune-Up
Paquin indicates the insurance industry typically pays more attention to sprinklers and not detectors because they are usually poorly maintained. To assist in the regular maintenance and testing of detectors, the school’s ONYX Series system’s detectors and supervisory devices are simple plug-in appliances with built-in dials for easy addressability – no software interventions are necessary. “It is so easy even I can do it,” jokes Paquin.

His experience in the insurance industry has convinced Paquin of the importance of proper and regular maintenance. In fact maintaining and testing every one of the network’s 20,000 devices keeps his staff busy 42 of the 52 weeks during the year. The university emphasizes that all smoke detectors are tested annually using the prescribed methods for this process.

Protection Evolution

The Université Laval soon plans to migrate from the NCS to NOTIFIER’s latest graphic workstation, ONYXWorks. This desktop system will provide the school’s security and facilities personnel with a single point of control for the entire fire alarm network as well as security, access control and video systems. ONYXWorks can also support live voice paging for mass notification.

To upgrade its fire alarm network to also serve as a mass notification system, the university will add DVC (Digital Voice Command) to each NFS-3030 control panel. The DVC can deliver prerecorded, event-driven messages as well as live-voice paging by microphone to specific areas or the entire campus.

“When it’s installed to code and well-maintained, there is nothing better than a fire alarm system to ensure the public safety within your campus,” states Paquin. “We want to expand our fire alarm system to also make it a mass notification system, not just for fires, but for any other emergencies.”

The university is part of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). “Although our crime rate in Quebec City is virtually nil, we know something could happen. There could be dangerous snowstorms, hazardous waste spills and campus-wide lockdowns. We also have to consider that we have students and faculty from over 90 different countries around the world. A mass notification system would make a vital contribution to our life safety,” Paquin says.


Peter Ebersold is director of marketing for Notifier.