The recent spate of earthquakes near Wellington in July and August has highlighted the critical importance of the New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) automatic fire alarm system. The system has been developed and supported by Unisys, for quick assessment and response to fire alarms.
The NZFS’ national automatic fire alarm system monitors over 20,000 fire alarms in more than 6,000 commercial and industrial buildings across New Zealand. When alarms are triggered, the system transmits messages to the NZFS communications centres to deploy first responders.
Kate Giles, sales manager, technology consulting integration services, Unisys NZ said that working with NZFS is the ultimate test of mission-critical systems. “There’s no room for errors in emergency services, which is why we conducted extensive system testing, staff training and workshops, and continue to maintain and support the new application software and hardware platforms.”
Unisys has supported the NZFS automatic fire alarm system since 1996. Unisys worked with the NZFS to develop the Signal Transport System Message Handling System (STSMHS), a bespoke IP-based alarm monitoring and messaging solution that is the back-end architecture for the overall NZFS automated fire alarm system.
The STSMHS was installed in the Unisys Kapiti data centre (near Wellington) and went live in 2006. In 2011 Unisys refreshed the system hardware and implemented a second data centre in Auckland to increase resilience and business continuity, deploying a scalable distributed operations environment in the process.
All servers at both Unisys data centres receive and process every alarm message from fire alarms connected via the automatic fire alarm service providers to the STSMHS. If a server fails to issue a response to an alarm message within three seconds, the response is automatically issued by another server from either data centre.
When a fire alarm is triggered, it immediately sends a message to the STSMHS, alerting the NZFS to the location of the incident and whether the alarm is from a fire or a fault. The system immediately routes fire messages to the NZFS’ communication centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, notified and displayed on alarm terminals and the NZFS/NZ Police computer-aided dispatch system.
The STSMHS handles about 60 incidences of fire and about 40,000 message transactions per day. It automatically categorises these messages by order of importance, presenting critical fire-related messages before alarm error messages.
“The STSMHS is extremely fast, reliable and enables us to respond immediately to fires to help reduce loss of life and property,” said Stuart Waring, ICT manager – data and intelligence at NZFS.
“We’re able to exceed our response requirements, ensuring the safety of New Zealanders and property. And the system has significantly reduced the costs of maintaining and managing our alarm response.
“Our national automatic fire alarm system isn’t just mission-critical for the NZFS, it’s life-critical for New Zealand citizens. A fire can double in size every 30 seconds which is why it’s essential that our fire alarm system is always on and doesn’t fail. Unisys implemented a highly available and resilient system,” said Waring.
Through extended alarm protocols and alarm intelligence, the STSMHS will also enable the NZFS to receive and analyse a wide variety of alarm and sensor information to identify the status of the buildings, where alarms are located and the stage of fire involvement, whether buildings may have collapsed, whether they are still able to be occupied and whether the fire alarm is still online.
The NZFS operates approximately 440 fire stations across New Zealand with more than 10,000 personnel, including 8,000 volunteers.
In 2012 the NZFS responded to almost 70,000 incidents, including 11,463 fires, 5,996 requests for medical assistance, 5,906 rescues, and 909 incidents involving natural disasters.