Seeing the Light with Connected Emergency Luminaires

Connected emergency luminaires are finding a new role in smart building automation and providing an ideal platform for a building’s wireless infrastructure. Alvaro Garcia, senior Director of Product Management at Fulham Co., Inc., discusses how modern safety lighting solutions are not only making buildings safer, but also simplifying emergency systems installation, maintenance, and management.

The critical role played by emergency lighting to support the safe evacuation of buildings during emergency incidents cannot be underestimated, and today’s electrical contractors are under increasing pressure to ensure solutions not only meet building requirements but are also in line with the latest emergency lighting standards. In North America, for instance, emergency lighting must comply with a range of standards including; UL 924 and CSA 860 safety and performance standards , NFPA 101 Life Safety Code , International Building Code and CSA C22.2 NO. 141, to name a few.

While its importance is clear, for General Managers and Project Managers the challenge has always been how to deploy intelligent emergency LED components and connectivity strategies across large buildings, while at the same time keeping installation costs under control.

Retrofitting Emergency Lighting

Wiring intelligent luminaires together into a common building network is certainly a viable approach for new construction. However, considering that just 12% of commercial buildings in the U.S. (comprising 14% of commercial floorspace) were built since 2003, with around half of all buildings constructed before 1980, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) , retrofitting cabling to connect luminaires isn’t cost-effective.

As a result, commercial building owners are seeking new ways to reduce operating overheads, and LED retrofit components with wireless capacity have quickly emerged as an attractive approach for connecting smart solid-state luminaires in order to create a wireless, building-wide management system. Indeed, wireless communications offer the most feasible approach when transitioning from legacy to modern lighting systems. Bluetooth© mesh, in particular, is proving an increasing popular protocol for linking LED luminaires. Luminaires with smart LED drivers with wireless Bluetooth© mesh capabilities integrated, can serve as a node for a scalable network of controlled lighting.

By connecting devices via the readily scalable and open Bluetooth© mesh architecture, the fitting and maintenance of emergency lighting systems becomes much simpler, as the need to add additional physical wire for intelligent lighting communication is eliminated. What’s more, devices can be added or removed from the mesh without disruption to the wider infrastructure. In addition, the very nature of being wireless allows for a simple installation and a hassle free, remote system commissioning process in any environment – significantly reducing unnecessary operational downtime and ultimately saving money. Once installed, updates can be commissioned remotely from a central console.

By building a connected network of intelligent emergency LED lighting components, you can handle broader sensor data from other systems including HVAC, security and building automation systems (BAS) to facilitate a new level of building controls that makes facilities safer and easier to manage.

Standing the Test of Time

Of course, the trials and tribulations of retrofitting emergency lighting into existing buildings simply do not end once the luminaires are installed. Indeed, in order to comply with the latest safety standards, which require all emergency lighting systems to be tested monthly, and ensure occupant safety, building owners must regularly schedule maintenance checks to test the emergency lighting systems installed. For large multi-site estates, this can often be a laborious and time-consuming task.

Even with built-in safety indicators, safety regulations require monthly testing and logging of emergency luminaires’ status, including verifying battery operations. As part of annual testing, emergency luminaires also have to be tested to simulate a real emergency, including operating emergency lights for the full three-hour duration to ensure the system and batteries are working properly.

The latest generation of emergency LED fixtures and drivers integrate onboard intelligence by including built-in diagnostics and self-testing features. Automating the end-to-end process eradicates the necessity to walk the building, manually testing each individual emergency light and every emergency battery system, and logging the results. This in turn, makes it simpler to perform self-testing, diagnostics and full-cycle testing, as well as monitoring and logging the results, limiting maintenance costs and reducing the possibility of fines for non-compliance.

While automating remote testing and diagnostics for regulatory compliance may not be sufficient incentive to retrofit emergency luminaires, users should consider the added value that creating a ready-made communications infrastructure for other uses can bring. For example, by building a connected network of intelligent emergency LED lighting components, you can handle broader sensor data from other systems including HVAC, security and building automation systems (BAS) to facilitate a new level of building controls that makes facilities safer and easier to manage.

The Future of Emergency Luminaires

Today’s connected luminaires are fully programmable. The embedded intelligence in the LED engine’s microcontroller can be programmed to change lighting characteristics including brightness, hue, color temperature, operating temperature, and even energy consumption, but the scope of programmability for other functions has the potential to be much broader.

In fact, the programmable intelligence and wireless connectivity of today’s smart luminaires has the potential to deliver much more. This could include everything from the ability to remotely test systems from anywhere, anytime, to real time remote monitoring and maintenance alerts and full integration with other emergency and building automation systems in place, plus much more.

Sensors tied to a building’s lighting components can be used to automate routine building administration tasks as well. They can detect environmental conditions, issuing data to control HVAC and room lighting. For example, sensors can instruct luminaires to adjust room lighting based on ambient light, or instruct connected blinds to open or close depending how much sunlight is coming into the room.

Emergency luminaires located at exit points can potentially be used to manage building security. Visitors can be issued a digital building access key on their
smartphone or handheld device and the sensors in emergency luminaires can instruct doors to unlock for authorized visitors; a much easier approach than key cards.

Strategically placed emergency lights could also serve as localized sensors programmed to detect fire, smoke, noxious gases, and even sounds such as gunshots – anything that signals a potential hazard. Data from the sensors is continuously fed to a central console that applies machine learning to analyze incoming information to detect a hazard. Once a potential hazard is detected, instructions are sent in response, such as commands to activate emergency lighting.