Ramping Up Fire Safety at VA Hospitals

Multiple VA hospital case studies show how advanced fire/life-safety systems are providing safe haven for veterans.
Published: February 8, 2012

There are 152 Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals across the country, providing everything from routine health services to critical care for the men and women who served their country from World War II through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While it’s the physicians and support staff who are most conspicuous in attending to vets’ well-being, behind the scenes fire alarm and emergency communications systems are also keeping them safe.

In particular, three hospitals — the Albany (N.Y.) Stratton VA Medical Center, Grand Junction (Colo.) VA Medical Center and Dallas VA Medical Center — recently underwent fire protection upgrades. The projects not only safeguard existing structures and areas but also allow for future expansion.

As the case studies that follow illustrate, the systems integrators for these three sites reported similar fire protection demands for each. Chief among them were retrofit installation and networking flexibility, ease of use, expandability, and precision monitoring and control. The ability to utilize the same system to transmit emergency communications to a complete campus or parts of a building was also a recurring theme.<p>Grand Juncition VA Medical Center</p>

Grand Junction VA Features Flexible Alerting

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The Grand Junction VA Medical Center is a large campus of 17 buildings, serving approximately 37,000 veterans a year. Commercial Specialists, a local NOTIFIER engineered systems distributor (ESD), was contracted to replace the hospital’s antiquated protection with a new system that serves as both a fire alarm and emergency communications system. The elaborate project took a little more than a year to complete.

Performing an upgrade required the existing system to remain active while a NOTIFIER system was installed. That system’s flexible local area network (LAN) architecture, running on fiber-optic cable, allowed fire alarm control panels (FACPs) to be easily added one-by-one.

The specs called for the capability to disseminate emergency notifications throughout the entire campus, inside and outside. And they wanted the messages to be customizable, as well. For example, if there’s a fire alarm in Building 9, an individualized, prerecorded message in that building would instruct an evacuation, while patients and staff in the other 16 buildings would not be bothered. At the same time, the VA wanted the ability to all-page the entire campus as needed.

“We put intelligent panels with digital voice control [DVC] in every building; that flexibility really allowed us to tailor the voice messages they wanted and gave the ability for mass notification,” says Jason Porter, president of Commercial Specialists. “The DVC is a real flexible, unique voice evac system. You can pretty much do anything to meet the needs of the customer.”

Each building has an NFS2-3030 FACP integrated with DVC. All panels are tied to an ONYXWorks workstation that is staffed 24/7. The entire network of panels and devices, along with 3D layouts of every building, are graphically detailed on the workstation. This gives the VA system status information in real-time and pinpoint accuracy on the location and details of all events.

“They wanted to be able to get campus-wide information at one location, not to have to go to each building and see what’s going on with that system,” says Porter.<p>All panels are tied to an ONYXWorks workstation that is staffed 24/7.  Personnel can receive system status information in real-time and  pinpoint accuracy on the location and details of<br />all events.</p>

As is the case with many medical facilities, additions are always being made to keep up with new health-care offerings and growing populations. The Grand Junction VA is no different. “They just built a new surgery center at the hospital and we’re already expanding its system,” says Porter.

Addressability Answers Albany Stratton VA’s False Alarms

New York’s Albany Stratton VA Medical Center was a similar retrofit of a 20-year-old system that was rife with false alarms. The main hospital is 16 floors connected with a number of nearby ancillary buildings, all networked together. About 32,000 vets use the hospital each year.

Originally protected by a zoned system, operators had a hard time identifying the exact location of alarms. Brad Nelson, project engineer and senior technician with Alarm & Suppression Inc., provided an addressable network from NOTIFIER, offering absolute control over the entire system’s fire-safety data.

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