Northern Territory Fire Alarm System Transmission (NTFAST)

An innovative fire alarm monitoring system developed by the Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS) known as Northern Territory Fire Alarm System Transmission (NTFAST) has been recognised as leading edge technology as a result of recent awards.

NTFAST
ICT awards
Citect excellence award
Australian Information Insutry Association

Awards

NTFAST won the IBM Enabling Technology Award in the 2004 Northern Territory Information and Communications Awards and was a finalist in the prestigious 2005 Australian Information Industry Association (iAwards) in two categories:

  • E-Government and services
    NTFAST was a finalist as one of the most innovative nominations for developing ICT solutions that support electronic government initiatives and service delivery to the community. This included any application of software and/or hardware that enables transformation of internal and external government processes toward customer-centricity, providing service delivery opportunities to better fulfill the purposes of government to provide efficiency and effectiveness, as well as fairness and equitability.
  • Communications applications
    NTFAST was a finalist as one of the most innovative nominations for developing outstanding communications technologies or for developing ICT solutions that make creative use of communications technologies. This included any application of software and/or hardware that is related to the transmission of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, voice, video, data, or intelligence of any nature by digital or analog, electromagnetic or electronic signals through existing and emerging media (e.g. radio, telephone, television, facsimile, SMS, MMS, GPRS, Internet, WiFi, WiMax).

NTFAST won the 2005 Best Practice in Innovation Award for demonstrating innovative techniques and processes in the implementation and deployment of a Citect solution across an organisation, e.g. innovative use of CitectSCADA in an automation application, or of CitectIIM to improve production processes.

About NTFAST

NTFAST is a real-time mission critical application developed specifically by the NTFRS and serves to ensure protected buildings are monitored on a 24 hour a day basis. It provides significant enhancement to firefighter safety through detailed knowledge on each site monitored and provides ease of reporting through mobile data terminal usage into the Fire Service Reporting System (AIRS).

By using remote radio telemetry as a medium, NTFAST does not succumb to the extreme weather, especially lightning strikes that played havoc with the copper hard-wired systems. The system has improved industry servicing of vital fire protection in buildings by ensuring that required standards are met and maintained through enhanced data logging and reporting process.

System availability and reliability has been increased and costs have been significantly reduced to clients by eliminating the previous third party involvement with the removal of reliance on hard wired systems between the building being monitored and the relevant fire station required to respond.

Government's commitment to community safety programs and well being of Territorians continues to be exceeded and maintained as a focal point through the auspices of NTFAST as a life safety medium.

There is no doubt that the NTFRS has moved fire alarm monitoring and emergency response systems into the 21st Century by utilising radio telemetry and data acquisition systems as an operating platform for the first time in Australia and quite possibly the whole of the southern hemisphere.

From suppression to prevention (extract from NTFRS strategic issues document)

A key issue for fire services both nationally and internationally is to become more proactive rather than reactive. This means a greater focus on preventive activities rather than dealing with incidents after they have occurred.

Information technology

Information technology will play a greater and greater role in the day to day business of fire and rescue. The Northern Territory (NT) covers 1.3 million square kilometres or one-sixth of the Australian continent. This creates considerable communication difficulties. The technology exists today for an incident commander anywhere in the NT to have at their fingertips computer access to critical information from anywhere in the world as well as programs like Chemwatch, Pre-fire Plans, Standard Operating Procedures and emergency contacts.

It is therefore essential to ensure that the NTFRS takes advantage of technological advances in all forms of communication to ensure timely dissemination of critical information. We must embrace the introduction of this technology not only for emergencies, but also in our day to day business.

System/Transmission overview

FIP monitoring

NTFAST is a distributed alarm acquisition, monitoring and reporting system which is a collection of radio telemetry devices connected to local Fire Indicator Panels (FIPs) transmitting FIP status to a master base station telemetry device.

The master base station is connected to a PC-based NTFAST alarm server. The alarm server's function is to scan the information collected from the local Remote Telemetry Units (RTU) and report the relevant alarm information. An RTU which interfaces with the existing fire alarm panel is installed at the building site, along with an antenna placed on the building signalling back to a repeater which then sends the signal back to the relevant monitoring centre.

In simple terms, a customer/building owner (subscriber) has the FIP connected via radio telemetry to the appropriate fire station, e.g. Alice Springs, Darwin, etc, therefore there is no reliance on normal terrestrial links to alert the fire station. When an FIP alarm is raised, NTFRS members in the Emergency Response Area (ERA) are notified. Other FIP status information such as standby, isolate and test signals are reported to the responsible bodies.

The NTFAST system is distributed throughout the NT in a hierarchical structure and each local centre (Yulara, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Nhulunbuy, Jabiru and Darwin ) operates independently from the other. The system is connected to the NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services (NTPFES) WAN and the local NTFAST alarm servers are monitored by the communications centre NTFAST global client workstation in the Peter McAulay Centre in Berrimah. During the course of monitoring and reporting events the NTFAST alarm server interfaces with various databases, mobile data terminals, Public Address (PA) systems, radio system and printers.

Clients, building owners and Fire Alarm Contractors also receive an enhanced level of service through the systems advanced reporting abilities thus leading to reduced levels of false alarms and fire alarm system faults.

Innovation

In terms of efficiencies for the NTFRS, the data provided to firefighters via mobile data terminals and the printed data sheets allows the fire officer to have in advance, knowledge of hydrant location, hazards in buildings and a floor plan which will save considerable time in dealing with the emergency.

Operational features of the automated dispatching on activation of an alarm include:

  • voice-over on the PA system at the relevant fire station announcing the site in alarm and the address
  • roller doors automatically raising and closing at the fire station
  • engine room lights go on and off after a specified period of time
  • traffic lights activate where installed
  • a high-speed printer prints off a data sheet showing street map and building layout, along with all the particular site response details

By maintaining control over the monitoring system, the NTFRS has now attained significant enhancement in servicing.

In terms of system (i.e. local and central monitoring) and local alarm server redundancy, the operations of the local NTFAST alarm servers are continuously monitored by the communications centre NTFAST global client workstation in the Peter McAulay Centre. Built-in system diagnostic and maintenance features such as server, radio repeater, RTU and FIP error reporting (via fax and email) to relevant government and private service providers are automated processes.

NTFAST has provided major advancement in reporting systems which in turn has enabled emergency management professionals' access to details and information previously not available.

Graphics display system

All FIP data collected is represented graphically on the graphics display system . This is based on the Human Machine Interface (HMI) software package Citect (Version 5.20). There are several different types of graphics pages used and the map overview is detailed below.

Screen types

The NTFAST screens are divided into six main categories: ERA maps, FIP mimics, site status, control, menu and alarms.

ERA maps

ERA maps are geographic layouts of an NTFRS ERA. Each site is displayed as an icon located on the ERA map.

The map screens consist of a background bitmap map of the NTFAST response area. The background bitmap is overlaid with dynamic icons which represent an FIP- RTU site installed in the NTFAST response area. The icons are animated using a Cicode function.

Different colours display the icon status.

System layout

All the NTFAST systems have the same basic system configuration as shown. There are differences at the Darwin sites only at the interface between the AD2000 Master and the NTFAST Citect HMI system PCs. The AD2000 data is written to a PLC then to the PCs whereas in the remote site track stations the data is written directly to the PC, i.e. there is no PLC between the PC and the master AD2000 at the fire station.

Click on image to enlarge.

Citect - NTPFES LAN/WAN network

The link between the Citect Alarm server and the NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services (NTPFES) network is used to transmit alarm and status information from the rural NTFAST workstations to the JESCC NTFAST workstation, AIRS and other logging data to the AIRS SQL Server. The protocol is TCP/IP.

The typical system layouts are shown in the diagrams below (click on images to enlarge).

Mobile Data Terminals

Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) were purchased to suit NTFAST. The units are an integral part of the system and are installed in each fire appliance (truck or fire vehicle) to carry data from NTFAST into the vehicles providing necessary operational information for fire crews such as building name, location, map references, hazchem and general information. The MDT has a series of buttons (F1 - F8) which identify the particular vehicle and its status i.e. F1 mobile, F2 arrived, F3 stop/under control, F4 returning/available to respond etc.

When a function key is pressed in a fire appliance, the action is automatically logged in the NTFAST database with a date/time. Therefore after each function key is pressed, accurate reporting can occur on the length of time between each activity.

When the NTFAST system detects a Full Code Fire alarm (Automatic Fire Alarm - AFA) the subscriber information is transmitted to the MDT mounted in each of the fire station's appliances.

The MDT job screen on NTFAST displays the current fire alarm job as sent to MDT. There is a separate job sent to each vehicle for a single AFA call, that is if there are four nominated vehicles there will be four MDT jobs sent. The MDT communications status is also displayed on the top right hand corner of the page. "MDT Base Station Comms OK" is displayed if there is error free link to the BIU or "MDT Base Station Comms Failure" is displayed if the link has failed.

The information is transmitted as a 'job' from the Fire Station Alarm and MDT Server to the Memo Base Interface unit through a radio transmitter to the MDT. The current subscriber information is sourced from the FMS database.

The MDT communications is via a RS232 link from the MDT server communications port to a MDT Base Station Interface Unit (BIU) (manufactured by Memo Communications). The BUI is linked to a UHF radio to communicate to the MDT mounted in the Fire Station vehicles. The transmission uses a proprietary protocol developed by Memo Communications.

The MDT has a four line x 40 character LCD and uses scroll buttons to view messages longer than four lines long. A typical MDT message is as follows:

Features

Incident reporting enhanced

Not only does the system cater for automatic fire alarms but is utilised for dispatch to all other emergencies and on the completion of particular jobs, information is automatically transferred into AIRS. Information from AIRS is used in reporting to the Productivity Commission, identifying future planning issues and reporting against agreed departmental outcomes.

Mapping of incidents and identifying of hot spots as a wider benefit of NTFAST then provides management with higher levels of data in an emergency response environment to make timely and accurate decisions.

Occupational Health and Safety

The automated production of pre-fire plans and prior knowledge of potential hazards within structures has significantly enhanced firefighter safety.

Quality (technology, methodology, packaging and recognition)

NTFAST utilises a collection of technologies that are tried and proven in a range of industries over many years. Each of the applications is required to meet various industry standards as a stand alone application, e.g. the mobile data terminals are widely used in transport industries such as taxi and freight delivery companies and are widespread throughout the world. Similar remote telemetry units which interface with the building fire alarm panels have been used by the water industry in Australia and overseas for more than 20 years and are proven technology.

The operating platform and software is produced by a company which is a worldwide leader in industrial automation and information management systems. It is the world's largest independent supplier of SCADA, industrial automation and Industrial Information Management (IIM) solutions and has over 30 years of experience specialising in innovative, reliable and cost effective products. NTFAST has taken this wide range of existing technologies and applied them to develop a specific fire alarm monitoring and emergency response package that is unique in its field.

Market potential/Proof of concept /Value to public or government

Clients, building owners and fire alarm contractors have received an enhanced level of service through the systems advanced reporting abilities thus leading to reduced levels of false alarms and fire alarm system faults.

Further, by having reduced the number of carrier mediums by which the system had to be delivered through has seen cost reduced and response and repair times for a mission critical system strengthened to ensure national standards are met.

Traditional hard wired systems (opposed to proprietary radio based systems) require connection from the building site monitored to a carrier such as Telstra/Optus (which has associated costs) to a communications centre (which may be private or government operated) and forwarded to the fire service for action. NTFAST through the radio medium selected has:

  • reduced the range of mediums through which transmission of alarms is carried
  • seen subsequent costs of the carrier medium deleted
  • delivered enhanced services from fire industry contractors to clients
  • ensured national standards are met for alarm monitoring

Market potential for the system is significant. The NTFRS has had enquiries from a major US computer-aided dispatch company (Intergraph Public Safety) that is the primary dispatch platform used by the Victorian, NT and New Zealand governments in their respective communications centres.