The benefits of building systems integration
The benefits of building systems integration

Oct 1, 2000 12:00 PM
Keith Henson

So, you are considering the integration of all systems within your building or campus? Just what can you expect to be able to accomplish? Let's look at what can be done.

Typically, all communications are performed over a common medium such as a fiber-optic or coaxial backbone. Communications protocols vary depending on the vendor and systems to be interconnected. Hopefully, within this decade, an internationally accepted, open systems network protocol will be agreed upon. Currently, there are more systems available with proprietary protocols than open ones, so you'll probably have to purchase from one manufacturer.

The most common stand-alone system types that can be integrated include:

- security/access control

- fire

- energy management

- communications

- maintenance, and

- manufacturing/process.

Often, these systems work as individual subsystems that can communicate over the same backbone. Usually they share the same fiber cable, but use individual fibers within this cable. Even with different protocols, data can often be exchanged among these systems by the use of gateways. Ultimately, these multiple subsystems will be able to communicate over a common network or cable using an internationally accepted protocol.

The generic building systems integration diagram (at right) shows features that can be shared when the multiple subsystems can be made to communicate.

A centralized control and monitoring station can be shared among all subsystems in a building operations center, significantly reducing monitoring costs. It is especially true between similar subsystems such as safety and security or energy management and maintenance. Staffing costs can be reduced significantly and coordination among all system alarm responses can be improved. By consolidating all subsystem controls into a single building operations center, the cost of physically hardening and providing a redundant backup can be more readily justified. If all systems are integrated to the point where common displays are shared, fewer console displays are needed and maintenance parts will be minimized. Operator training will be simplified with common, similar controls and procedures.

Segments of data gathered by the building operations center can be routed to other specific locations for immediate response. For example, maintenance alarms will be simultaneously routed to a maintenance shop for automatic work order preparation and repairman dispatch. Fire alarms will be remotely annunciated to a prepared fire response team. Security alarms can be automatically routed via radio to a patrolling security officer.

Benefits from the actual sharing of data among systems are almost limitless. A motion sensor, for example, can be used to detect an intruder during the times that no one is scheduled in an area. During regular work hours, the same sensor can detect the presence or absence of occupants and direct the energy management system to adjust the HVAC and light settings. When logically arranged, the same sensor can assist an emergency responder in detecting the direction of evacuation flow or location of a victim.

Why are multiple building alarm signaling devices required? When integrated, the proper, single signaling device can provide fire annunciation, weather warning, process warnings and simple convenience paging. More intelligent systems can be configured to dynamically adjust alarm messages and directions to occupants to route them to safety via the best route away from the threat location. Custom instructions can further direct evacuators in what to do upon exiting a building. By interfacing fire alarm systems and HVAC controls, the building ventilation system can automatically control smoke flow or restrict air availability to a fire. When signaling devices are shared among multiple systems and perform multiple functions, codes will require that safety-related functions (especially fire alarm) take precedence over other uses, such as convenience paging. Also, signaling devices must be U.L.-listed for fire alarm if used for that function.

When integrated into multiple systems, CCTV cameras used to assess security alarms can also be used to assess process actions or equipment failures. The same cameras can be used to record activities in and around critical operations for event assessment after the fact. Motion detection and personnel recognition are not beyond the current capability of computers connected to cameras.

Let's examine how an identifying credential can be used in addition to providing building access. The information database to which this credential can link is quite extensive. Only limited parts of this database need to be made available to each subsystem. For personnel privacy, access to segments of information must be made available only on an as-needed basis and to those with the authority for access. This common, shared database ensures that only one record must be maintained and will not conflict with other duplicate databases.

With each credential, a level of user authorization is assigned. In addition to general building access, an assigned credential can be used for elevator control. Depending on the holder's level of authorization, he may have access to only certain floors. This same credential can be used for access to conference rooms, offices, equipment rooms and other restricted areas. For a plant floor, the same credential can be used to identify a process operator and measure productivity or enable critical adjustments. If required, the credential can provide traceability of historical actions. The requirements for presentation of credentials of two persons can enhance restriction of decisions or access.

The medium of authorization is referred to here as a "credential." Usually, this is a card of some type. Enhanced security can be realized with the addition of a personal identification number (PIN) or biometric element. Technology advancements will continue to make biometrics more passive, more dependable, and less costly. Full accountability of building occupants will be possible at low cost.

I have not addressed all of the possibilities of integrating multiple building systems. Imagine, however, the following scenario using components demonstrated at recent access control shows:

As you approach the entrance to your building parking lot, you or your car is automatically recognized and given access without your having to slow down. You enter the building lobby and a local camera compares your image to an established image in the human resources database. You are electronically "signed in" as being in the office. Other systems are advised of your presence. The elevator knows that your office is on the fifth floor and takes you there. You exit the elevator and walk into an office that is properly illuminated and with air tempered to your preference. Your computer comes to life with a video teleconference link to Mr. Spacely in your New York office.

It's here. It's becoming more cost effective. It's not too early to begin planning.

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