Where is Smart?

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For half a century centralised control rooms have reacted to signals from equipment installed in the field. Fire and intruder alarms have wasted millions of responder-hours with false detection. Pointless data sent, and here I use the term literally and metaphorically, we send data that just says, "there is an alarm at this or that building". Even with protocols developed in the 1980's that were meant to provide sequential feeds to control rooms we still carry on bastardising the data feed so that the control room simply gets a message that provides no further data about the 'points' of detection and their current state.


This lack of detection point sequencing makes the control room blind, unable to use the data that undoubtedly exists to enforce the responder's view of what they are about to encounter.


It's true. Disasters have gotten less and less, but boy, when they do occur they are bigger, more horrific and much more dangerous to human life. 


Intruders get away with more because the alarm panels lock out after sending just one 'point' of data (or sometimes two) and the responders, dumb to what they are responding do not have the time to investigate every possible point of entry. 


Fires get bigger quicker because we make it easier for the monster to catch hold. Responders get data that says, "there is a fire alarm activating here", the human brain says, "we have been to this place many times before with the same information, it's bound to be the same", laws are changed to allow fewer responders sent in the first response. With no thought to the consequence should this time, God forbid, it's a real one.


But why not improve this process? It's time for control rooms to step up, to be smarter, for data analysed in real time. 


Imagine a different world, one where the ideas of the 1980's are released. By now the control room should be examining every piece of data available about a building. Every detection point monitored in real time. 


Responders would know that detectors have triggered multiple times, and are continuing to detect. We have all played the game where we try and get the LED on a PIR to light as we walk across a room. How about that 'game' at the control room? How about that data from multiple detectors, in real time, imagine that. The software would 'see' the intruder and map their path. It's what SIA protocol was designed for all those years ago. Instead, it was held back by the large alarm companies and dumb software writers who often still believe that it's the responder's job to get it right. 


And what about that fire alarm? Years ago Fire Services across the World looked for systems that pre-alerted people, made decisions on fire spread way before the responders could do the same. Years ago, 1991 to be exact, software demonstrated that it was possible to call people to tell them when it was their turn to evacuate, giving firefighters clearer pathways to the seat of the fire and managing exits routes, so they do not become clogged with a mass of people all trying to escape. Floor by floor, risk by increasing threat people told when and where to leave their safe zones. The software applying modelling rules that every firefighter knows in his head. 


It's time for regulators to put less emphasis on whether or not a control room has a concrete ceiling, blast-proof windows and metal lining. That is not how a bad guy is going to knock out a control room in the 21st century, none ever have and none ever will.


It is time for regulators to look at the systems employed, firewalls, penetration tests and the speed at which data arrives at the control room. To define what the control room should be receiving and how they react to that information. It is time to check that the information a dispatcher sends to the responder gives them a better idea of what they are about to encounter and it is time for people to be told what they can do to save themselves.




Because it is for the greater good and it is long overdue. It's what the industry accepted it must do in the 1980's, forty years ago.


Here is the smart, not lost, just forgotten.