Emergency Lighting Improves Building Safety

Any commercial building has to conform to safety regulations, including the placement and maintenance of emergency lighting. Once installed, those emergency lights have to be tested regularly to ensure they are operating correctly and have sufficient battery power. However, by installing smart emergency luminaires you not only eliminate the need for manual testing but you lay the foundation for an intelligent emergency system that can increase building safety.

Consider the possibilities of having smart emergency luminaires strategically placed throughout any building. Sensors in these luminaires can be used to detect hazards such as smoke or noxious gases to trigger an alarm. And if you connect these luminaires into a single ecosystem you can consolidate access from a single location, making it easy to monitor and manage building conditions from a central dashboard.

To create an intelligent emergency lighting ecosystem you need two basic elements: onboard luminaire intelligence and connectivity. Since the new generation of emergency luminaires are made with solid-state technology, programmable intelligence is embedded in the LED semiconductors. All you need to do is create a two-way communications system for luminaire monitoring and to issue commands.

A Wireless Emergency Ecosystem

To connect luminaires together you can use either a cabled network systems or a wireless network.

With new construction, wiring luminaires into a single intelligent infrastructure is certainly an option. More luminaire vendors are experimenting with Power over Ethernet (PoE, IEEE 802.3) to deliver power and connectivity to luminaires. However, PoE has not yet gained widespread acceptance and it won’t work for luminaire retrofits, which is why more luminaire manufacturers are starting to add wireless networking capability to LED drivers.

There already are wireless standards for lighting communications. Zigbee (IEEE 802.15.4), for example, is 20-year-old low-power radio platform specifically for lighting controls, although it can’t handle other types of data traffic. To create a robust emergency lighting infrastructure you need a wireless approach that is scalable and that can handle different types of command and control data.

Bluetooth mesh is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for intelligent lighting communications. While Bluetooth has been around as an open, device-to-device communications standard for some time, Bluetooth mesh is relatively new, providing a peer-to-peer communications grid that is readily extensible. Since it is a mesh network, data traffic is broadcast to all the other Bluetooth mesh-enabled devices within range, creating redundant connections; nodes can be added or removed at will. The Bluetooth mesh grid is readily scalable since each node is a repeater, and it can handle two-way data traffic. And since it is a well-defined open standard, devices from different vendors are assured to be compatible.

With a mesh network of smart emergency luminaires in place you have a simpler means of testing emergency lighting and a foundation for smart building controls.

Programmed Emergency Response

By connecting emergency luminaires into a common ecosystem you dramatically simplify testing and logging of emergency lighting. Standards such as CSA C22.2 NO. 141 require testing and logging of emergency systems. Rather than manually inspecting each light you can use a central console to monitor emergency lights for readiness, run remote testing, and log the results.

You create new management and control possibilities by creating an ecosystem of programmable emergency luminaires, such as:

• Testing emergency systems from anywhere, anytime, including function and battery duration tests, failure alerts, and automatic logging;
• Real-time emergency monitoring;
• Remote maintenance including commissioning and firmware updates;
• Monitoring for unit failures and end-of-life for components;
• Intelligent emergency response, such as programmed evacuation procedures;
• Full integration with other security and emergency access systems;
• Data gathering to assess building traffic patterns, occupancy, and more.

Implementing an intelligent emergency lighting ecosystem also creates new possibilities for safer buildings. Sensors in emergency luminaires can be programmed to detect fire, smoke, carbon monoxide, or even the sound of a gunshot. Using preprogrammed responses those sensors can implement a response such as sounding an alarm, activating emergency lights, and alerting emergency services.

The connected ecosystem can use machine learning to provide proactive as well as reactive responses. For example, emergency luminaire sensors can detect the location of a fire or hazard. Based on incoming data the system can respond by lighting a path toward a safe exit, or detecting room occupancy to ensure the danger zone is clear. They can even trigger other systems such as locking and unlocking fire doors.

Since the ecosystem operates over Bluetooth mesh it can be accessed from any Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as a laptop or smart phone. Data also can be accessed over the Internet, which makes it easier to not only alert first responders but help them locate hot spots as well as locate building occupants who may be trapped.

The same intelligent ecosystem can be used for other applications. For example, Bluetooth sensors can control building access. Using Bluetooth tagging, individuals can be granted or denied access to specific areas based on the information on their badges. Visitors can be issued temporary passes with access credentials built in, and Bluetooth tagging can even be used for wayfinding, using Bluetooth beacons and mapping software that can run on your smartphone or tablet to guide you through the building or campus.

A Foundation for Building Automation

Once you have an intelligent ecosystem in place, you can extend it to support other applications beyond emergency response and building access. For example, the same emergency luminaire sensors can be used to monitor building environmental conditions, such as ambient temperature and available light. The ecosystem can be programmed to respond to changing light conditions, either dimming room lighting, automatically lowering or raising blinds, or turning off lights in unoccupied rooms. It also can be used to activate HVAC for consistent temperature and humidity.

In fact, this type of intelligent lighting system is an ideal skeleton for building automation for the Internet of Things (IoT), especially since Bluetooth mesh can handle any type of data traffic. For example, DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) is a common standard for light dimming controls, but HVAC uses a (building automation system (BAS) protocol such as BACnet. While the wireless infrastructure can handle different types of data traffic, you still need a common protocol, such as IoT, to make disparate systems interoperable. With IoT you have a foundation platform that can support multiple building automation protocols, providing a central access point to all building management systems as well as access via the web.

You can expect to see more smart LED drivers with Bluetooth mesh capability coming to market. Installing or retrofitting smart LED emergency luminaires will likely prove the simplest way to connect an entire building into an intelligent building management infrastructure.

By Jeremy Ludyjan

Jeremy Ludyjan LC, is Senior Director, Field Marketing, for Fulham, manufacturer of innovative and energy-efficient lighting sub-systems and components for lighting manufacturers worldwide.

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