Achieving End-to-End Fire Security in High-Rise Buildings
The Key Challenges, Current Trends and Security Technologies Building Operators Need to Know in 2018
In 2017, a fire disaster in a European public housing development sounded a clear warning about the importance of fire security in high-rise buildings. The blaze in the 24-story high-rise could have been prevented: Although first responders arrived on the scene within six minutes of the emergency call, their efforts were hindered by the fact that the building lacked a central fire alarm system and evacuation protocol.
While stricter legislation regulating sprinklers, building materials, and fire alarm systems has greatly improved overall safety standards in high-rise buildings, incidents still occur. According to a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 40 people are killed and 520 are injured every year in high-rise building fires, mostly apartment buildings, in the United States. The report also noted that thanks to stricter security, only 4 percent of high rise fires spread from room to room, and only 2 percent to another floor. In low-rise buildings, these numbers are twice as high.
Compared to low-rises, achieving end-to-end fire security in high-rise buildings poses a unique set of challenges. The most significant is the risk to human lives, as 73 percent of all high-rise building fires occur in building types that contain large amounts of people: hotels, apartments or multi-family housing, dormitories, facilities that care for the sick, and office buildings (NFPA Report). What’s more, as the level of technology and automation in buildings increases, so does the potential for cable fires and other electrical fires.
As a result, security systems need to be able to detect and localize the source of a fire as fast as possible, while facilitating a coordinated evacuation approach to lead people on all floors to safety.
IP-Network Systems Lead the Way
With these requirements in mind, IP-based fire alarm systems are emerging as the way forward. Networked on digital infrastructure, addressable systems of panels and detectors provide fire detection at an early stage, plus exact localization of the fire source. They integrate with other key systems such as sprinklers, video surveillance and access control and can be combined with voice evacuation to direct people out of dangerous areas as quickly and precisely as possible.
Most of all, IP-based fire alarm systems are easily scalable and adjustable to changing customer demands, for instance in mixed-use buildings (see Current Trend).
Speaking of scale, high-rise buildings require alarm systems that can bridge large distances – not horizontally like a campus or factory building, but vertically. But from the standpoint of an IP-based system, there is no significant difference between vertical and horizontal distances: After all, these systems have been built for the very purpose of connecting panels, sensors, and controls over extended areas. Panels in modern IP fire systems like the Modular Fire Alarm Panel 5000 Series by German manufacturer Bosch can be placed 40 kilometres apart and allow for management in separate zones, also across tall buildings. A typical network can encompass 20 panels with up to 32,000 detection points. At the high-profile New Union Square in Warsaw (see System at Work), Bosch has provided an installation of 14,000 automatic fire detectors across the 23-story tower and connected facilities.
In modern-day high-rise buildings, fire alarm systems connect thousands of individual devices such as panels, detectors, repeaters, and sounders with rapid data transfer. For maximum reliability, IP-based systems support fully redundant networking via an IP and/or CAN connection between the panels, thus keeping the system operational in the event of an error. As a common operational backbone, IP-based fire alarm systems integrate within building management systems architecture such as the Bosch-developed Building Integration System (BIS) or a third-party solution to provide operators with a single view and real-time intelligence.
In day-to-day operations, IP-networked fire alarm systems provide integrated solutions for the five main challenges facing fire security in modern high-rise buildings:
Today’s high-rise buildings can contain over 100 floors and hold several thousand occupants at the same time. This calls for a carefully organized and focused approach to evacuation in order to avoid panic and prioritize evacuation of people near immediate danger zones. In this context, IP enablement is not simply a technical evolution, but a quantum leap in human safety. Fully integrated alarm and voice evacuation systems – for instance via the Bosch Safety Link (see 4. Interfacing) – operate in unison and allow dynamic, multi-stage evacuations in the event of emergency. Providing security personnel with a direct view of the location of a fire or danger source, IP-based systems ensure that safety responses are targeted logically, enabling those immediately affected to escape the building first. Next, those on adjacent floors above and below evacuate, and finally those at the top and bottom floors of the building, thereby freeing up escape stairwells for maximum flow and safety.
2. False Alarm Management
Large-sized hotels are in an especially peculiar situation when it comes to false fire alarms. On one hand, false alarms tarnish the guest experience and may lead guests to choose a different hotel provider on their next booking. On the other hand, security experts agree that more than three false alarms per year may undermine the credibility of the system and make guests perceive alarm evacuations as less serious. Not to forget that evacuation can prove cost-intensive by taking up human capital and response teams. As for what triggers false alarms, experts estimate that about 20 percent of today’s false alarms have an undetermined cause . Consensus exists about the fact that analogue systems are prone to false alarms from electromagnetic radiation. In that light, IP-based systems have proven highly resilient against false alarms due to their capacity for using multi-point verification of an actual fire.
In the event of an actual fire, the fire alarm system needs to be able to accommodate for loss of panels and cable infrastructure. The breakdown of cables will also cause erroneous signals from devices on the network that need to be filtered out. Plus, as multiple panels will signal fire alarms into the systems, the network will be subject to higher voltages and fluctuating currents. This calls for a distributed system, ideally IP-based, that can test its own integrity and offer built-in redundancy to deal with emergency situations. The Bosch-developed Modular Fire Panel 5000 Series ensures complete system reliability. It features detectors using the latest technologies to rapidly and accurately detect risks. System services include EN 54-certified, uninterruptible infrastructure systems and fire alerts in the event that supply lines have been destroyed. By providing these features in a future-proof and scalable package (see 5.) Bosch systems are especially suitable for ensuring reliable fire safety warnings in large areas with several buildings or in tall buildings with multiple zones.
For centralized building management, the fire system in a high-rise building needs to interface with other systems such as video surveillance, access control, and voice address for evacuation. The combination of fire alarm and voice evacuation systems has emerged as the status quo over the past few years across a wide range of sites, from hotels to shopping centres and airports. Legislation such as 2013’s full enactment of the Construction Products Regulation has been a major driver of this trend, placing high demands on both systems with the EN54 product standard. Studies have demonstrated that voice alarm with clear instructions significantly improves fire evacuation time compared to mere noise alarms and presents a significant time gain of up to 30 percent for emergency response teams.  Bosch’s Smart Safety Link achieves new levels of building safety by creating a single Internet Protocol (IP)-based interface (or multiple interfaces) between the company’s performance-proven fire alarm and voice evacuation systems. Fully customizable to client specifications, the scalable system supports a new generation of dynamic evacuation protocols (see 1. Evacuation). In the bigger picture, interfaces with smoke control and emergency lighting allow for an efficient response in the case of a fire, offering full information and control to monitoring staff in a centralized platform such as the Bosch Building Integrating System (BIS).
5. Future-Proofing and Scalability
Before making an investment in new fire safety systems, building operators are well advised to consider the future-proofing of their systems. Again, IT-based architectures emerge as the only way forward. Current legislature such as the 2015 edition of the International Fire Code already mandates addressable systems in which connected devices can signal their device type, location, and alert status; which is a built-in feature for IP-based networks. And on the subject of future-proofing, IT-based fire security systems can also seamlessly integrate the next generation of video-based fire detection devices that rely on machine learning algorithms to detect fire and smoke in less than 30 seconds. At the same time, operators may want to integrate and customize their own solutions into their Building Management Systems, which can be facilitated via software development kits (SDKs) such as the Bosch Fire System Interface (FSI) or open IT standards like OPC. Next to this level of future-proof integration, IP-based solutions scale up easily to accommodate for expansions within the same building or multi-building installations to allow customers to grow their fire safety applications alongside their business.
IP-based Fire Alarm System at Work in the Polish Capital
Completed in May 2014, the New Union Square in Warsaw raises the bar for state-of-the-art architecture in the Polish capital. It features a 23-story tower with two seven-story bars in a triangular alignment and contains a shopping centre, offices and a large garage. The fully IP-based fire alarm system has a modular architecture with eight networked Modular Fire Panels 5000 Series, which support more than 14,000 fire detectors, controls and external devices. In the event of an alarm, evacuation instructions can be distributed to different zones and to any of the system’s 3,200 loudspeakers via Bosch’s Praesideo digital public address and voice evacuation system. This system is also used to broadcast music and advertisements in the shopping centre during business hours. Completely based on Bosch technology, the local partner installed fire detection, access control, video surveillance and voice evacuation systems, all networked and integrated through the IP protocol and the Bosch Building Integration System (BIS).
Current Trend: Multi-Purpose Buildings
The process of digital transformation is re-shaping the business landscape and changing the previous separation between spaces designated for living, working, and shopping. As a result, office buildings of the future are no longer merely single-use building types, but accommodate a variety of activities under one roof. Similarly, large hotels are trending towards integration with shopping centers and entertainment venues, thereby placing high demands on the flexibility of end-to-end security systems.
From the standpoint of fire security, the trend towards multi-purpose buildings has two consequences: First, the overall building management system needs to be able to communicate with the specific systems of individual businesses and venues in the same building. That’s why future-proof Building Management Systems are designed to integrate into a variety of building management systems, including Bosch’s BIS or third-party solutions.
Second, the fact that many spaces in multi-purpose buildings are only leased for limited periods of time requires systems to be easily programmable and adjustable to the requirements of new tenants. This holds true, both on a physical level with walls being moved and floor layouts rearranged – necessitating the rewiring of detectors and panels – as well as on a software level to realign the security architecture as needed.
As a direct response, Bosch’s addressable fire alarm panels are highly flexible using a modular concept. The system adapts to the nature and size of the facility and user-specific applications, and provides the unique opportunity to configure a system tailored to the security needs of each tenant. In case of future extensions (also see 5. Future-Proofing), the investment is safe, because of the existing backwards compatibility between all components. And with the trend of IoT solutions and “smart building” technologies making great strides, IP-based fire systems thanks to their ease of integration once again emerge as the way forward in multi-purpose high-rise buildings.
Looking ahead, high-rise buildings are at the forefront in the evolution of urban working and living environments. They assemble large amounts of people and a broad range of activities under one roof and are subject to the most stringent safety standards in the built environment. As we speak, investments in fire safety systems are at an all-time high: Experts at Grand View Research expect the market to increase from US$52.19 billion in 2016 to US$ 93.46 billion by 2022, at a compound annual growth rate of 9.7% between 2017 and 2022. 
When making investments into fire protection systems for high-rise buildings, buyers should focus on overall integration into building management systems while aiming for centralized control over fire emergency response and evacuation. IP-based systems are emerging as the only logical way forward, also thanks to their capability for interfacing fire alarm and voice address systems for rapid and structured evacuation in the case of a fire or emergency, no matter how tall the building.
 BRE-Study, “The causes of false fire alarms in buildings”, 2014.
 David Canter, “Fire and human behaviour”, 2013.
 Grand View Research, “Fire Protection Systems Market by Product (Fire Detection (Sensors & Detectors (Flame, Smoke Detectors), RFID), Fire Suppression (Fire Sprinklers, Fire Extinguishers), Fire Analysis, Fire Response), Service, Vertical - Global Forecast to 2022”, 2017.