When you hear a fire alarm, it means that it’s time to get out of the building as quickly as possible. But have you ever wondered how these alarms interact with access control systems, which typically limit ingress and egress?
Luckily, security experts have thought about this potentially risky clash, and the solution is to integrate fire alarms with access control so that, in an emergency, these doors can automatically respond by unlocking for evacuation. This can save lives in emergencies, so it’s very important that your physical access control is integrated with your fire alarms.
Let’s take a closer look at how fire alarms function and how you can integrate your existing fire alarms with your existing access control system.
How Do Fire Alarms Work?
Unlike other security measures, fire alarms don’t rely on cameras or motion sensors to detect fire. Both of these would in fact be unable to accurately detect flames. Instead, fire alarms register either elevated levels of heat or smoke.
Temperature sensors are easy to install and connect to a smart access control system. Once they are mounted in your server room, records room, or office, you can set the software to alert you if the temperature rises above a certain threshold.
Smoke detectors, the second type of fire sensor, are more sensitive to environmental changes and thus more widely used. Temperature sensors are useful in cool places like server rooms, but may not alert you to a problem until it is too late, since it can take some time for a fire to heat up a room enough to register an alert.
But smoke detectors are able to detect even trace amounts of smoke in the air, providing early warning for any kind of fire. And they also detect carbon monoxide, which is an invisible, silent, and deadly gas that can accumulate in rooms and cause illness or death by replacing the oxygen in your lungs with itself.
In either case, fire or carbon monoxide, we can agree that fire alarms are a good thing–and they are an even better thing when fire alarms are integrated with access control.
Fire Alarms and Access Control
Let’s talk about two ways that your access control can be adapted to respond to fire alarms: emergency door release through software, or a power supply controller.
For the purposes of this section, it’s important to know that commercial fire alarms are generally all wired into a central hub known as a FACU, or fire alarm control panel.
Emergency Door Release Software
The electronic IP readers and locks you already have on your doors are more than likely able to do this with the right configuration.
Here, the software in your access control equipment recognizes an alarm trigger and responds by sending an “unlock” command to all the IP doors in its system. The same pathway can also be used in the case of an emergency lockdown alarm to lock all the doors in response to a trigger.
This system is generally easy to implement. All you (or your security system installer) needs to do is connect the FACU to the nearest IP reader, usually with a hard wire, and then configure the software of each system to communicate with each other.
Power Supply Controller
Door access readers need a power supply to work, which is usually supplied through relays within a central power control box. That power control box can be wired to the FACU and programmed using an adapter kit to respond to an emergency signal.
When a fire alarm triggers and the FACU is alerted, it then sends another signal to the power control box to cut the power. When the flow of power is interrupted, the locks will disengage and the doors will automatically be open.
Please note that this will only work if the locks themselves are configured to the “Fail Safe” mode, which prompts doors to unlock when the power is cut. The opposite of this is the “Fail Secure” mode, which directs doors to lock when power is cut–not what you want when you’re trying to evacuate during a fire!
Fire Alarms and Mag Locks
Not every building has an IP-based access control system, and may instead rely on doors with mag locks to secure doors. Thankfully, there are options here as well, just more manual ones.
Emergency crash bars are easy to use in a fire situation, so they are commonly used with mag locks. When someone pushes on the bar, it sends an override signal to the lock that allows the door to be opened.
Similarly, a clearly marked EXIT button located to the side of the door can be pushed in order to override the lock and release the door to open.
Next Generation Fire Alarm Integration with Access Control
The information in this article generally applies to adapting legacy fire alarms into newer access control systems.
New builds or renovations can take advantage of the full-suite offerings of companies like Kisi and Honeywell, whose alarms, locks, readers, and cameras are designed to all integrate seamlessly. The basic elements of these newer systems will be similar to what we’ve talked about here, but are easier to configure and can often be purchased as a set.
Whichever option you choose, it’s also important to check in with your local fire regulations so that you know how many fire alarms and how many emergency exits that the square footage of your facility requires.