Detention facilities in Johnson County, Kansas, are defined by their level of security. One located in the city of Gardner is a minimum/medium security facility. The other is an older detention center in downtown Olathe that provides medium security.

The levels of security define the varying profile of the 260-plus inmates who reside at each facility. However, no such distinction is drawn in the level of fire protection. According to Capt. Wayne White, “maximum” is the only acceptable level when the issue is inmate safety.

The system already installed in the Gardner facility was also specified for the Olathe unit. At the heart of the Olathe system are four Onyx 640 panels that are part of the Notifier system from Honeywell’s fire group.

Flash-Scan technology, a new signaling line circuit (SLC) protocol with increased loop capacity of up to 318 devices, is designed to speed the panel’s polling capability and shorten response time.

In this installation, FlashScan was an important technology because it allows 159 devices per circuit. A total of 600 to 700 devices are located throughout the buildings. Remote monitoring of the networked fire alarm control panels can be achieved through a Noti•Fire•Net (NFN) Web server.

Sensing devices are situated in areas that the inmates are unable to access. Detectors for individual cells are in return air ducts covered by impenetrable security grills. Devices mounted on the ceiling are well out of inmates’ reach and are protected by security covers.

The front-end equipment panels are in a maximum security point in the administration building and can be accessed only by sworn officers. Additionally, the system is automated so the only personnel able to program or maintain the system are dedicated security electronics technicians or White.

Operators use a secure password and user access record and are connected immediately to a network of fire alarm panels or a single fire alarm control panel with a network module. The NFN Web server provides a “snapshot” of the data on the entire network.

The system allows facility managers to access information on their panels directly from their computers. This means they can obtain and analyze data needed to make decisions in the event of a trouble or condition alarm.

Significant cost and time savings were realized from the start, reported Herb Farnsworth of TED Systems, the engineered systems distributor.

“We used the existing conventional fire alarm wire from the original installation for the new addressable analog system,” Farnsworth pointed out. “Reusing the existing wiring saved time and money, as well as minimized disruption to the inmates.”

Because such detention facilities are constructed mostly of concrete and steel, the typical problem in them is smoke emanating from a fire generally started by an inmate or an electrical malfunction. In the event of smoke in a certain zone, inmates are moved out of the affected area and escorted into a safe zone within the facility.

Because all detention facilities in Johnson County are clean-air facilities, theoretically no fires can be started by inmates smoking. Although an inmate may smuggle in tobacco and create smoke, sensitivity levels on the various devices can be set to detect it. With two cells for each addressable device, smoke can be pinpointed to a two-cell group. In such a scenario, the cells can be searched quickly and the culprit identified.

“With our old system, we had false alarms due to dust and debris,” White remembered. “Since the sensitivity levels were preset, we couldn’t compensate for the heads getting dirty. The new system has gone a long way towards minimizing or even eliminating false alarms.

“This has helped improve how our personnel react to emergency situations,” he reported. “With the virtual elimination of false alarms, we know that our people will react properly when an alarm actually occurs.

“Plus, we have a fire and safety officer check every security device once a month, ensuring that all parts are fully functional, testing the devices and providing written reports of the results,” White stressed. “This helps ensure that the system continues to perform up to our standards.”

The cost-effectiveness of the system was of utmost importance to White. “Because we are a government entity and are spending taxpayer dollars, we are particularly conscious of cost,” he emphasized. “The new system’s ability to provide us with a highly cost-competitive product ties in well with our frugal approach.”