A tourist Odyssey

Published:  23 March, 2016

How do you protect a site that ranges over several kilometres and which includes four palaces, four parks, an equestrian centre, a convent and even a castle? João Paulo Ajami presents a unique Portuguese challenge.

The conservation organisation Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua was established in 2000 with the aim of restoring and managing a number of national buildings, parks and monuments located in different locations within Lisbon’s metropolitan area. These include the UNESCO-listed Sintra National Park; the Palacio da Pena, which is the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism architecture in Portugal; the National Palace of Sintra, which dates back to the birth of Portugal; and the Palace of Queluz, originally a royal family Summer residence built in the 18th century.

As the only Portuguese manufacturer of fire detection systems with an international presence, Global Fire Equipment, based in São Brás de Alportel, south Portugal was contacted back in 2009 to oversee the renewal and expansion of all existing fire detection and alarm systems during restoration work.

The iconic locations and their immeasurable cultural heritage called for an integrated fire prevention approach that, from the very beginning of the project, was supported by Parques de Sintra’s technical manager André Mingote and security manager Cristina Pais.

Our challenge was first to establish a single integrated platform over a distance of several kilometres – or half an hour’s drive away – and connecting all systems to the centralised management system located within a security room in Palacio da Pena, via TCP/IP.

We knew that the proprietary protocol of our graphics display and alarm management system Odyssey was capable of completely controlling each fire alarm system, with a negligible time lag even when using public communications infrastructure. Nevertheless, Parques de Sintra was very much a test case for us, and it put our protocol and communication hardware through its paces. Although initially we had thought that such integration would only be possible using our high-end fire alarm panel range Juno Net, we opted for a medium-range system, the Junior v4 addressable control panel, which has all the programming features of our expandable range but at a more competitive cost.

The Odyssey alarm management system is the central platform connecting all Parques de Sintra-Monte's sites.

The installation of fire detection and the connection to Odyssey is an ongoing process that moves in parallel with the restoration work being carried out by Parques de Sintra.

Today, the total network comprises 14 systems distributed over 20 panels that are configured as masters, slaves or repeaters, with around 60 circuits connecting over one thousand field devices. The Odyssey system that is already in place can actually take much more – in fact the maximum supervisory capacity is 768,000 devices, more than enough for further expansion that is planned this year, when two more buildings will be connected to Odyssey.

Protecting buildings that are several centuries old has definitely required a different approach to the traditional, fully-cabled installation.

Infra-red beam and aspiration detection had to be used in many sensitive locations such as Monserrate Palace. Credit: PSL.

Local environmental conditions also had to be considered. Many sites are located in the mountainous, forested Serra de Sintra near the sea in northwest Lisbon, which brought into the equation very high humidity levels and salt spray mist. As it is well known, these conditions can cause instability in some field devices such as optical detectors as well as a higher degree of corrosion in cabling connections and metal cabinets. Fortunately, due to our extensive experience of similar conditions in Brazil, all our June Net enclosures are made of aluminium.

Due to the climate constraints above, there is a higher-than-usual predominance of heat detectors throughout the sites located in the natural park of Serra de Sintra. At the other end of the scale, given that thermal technology isn’t as responsive as optical technology, plus the fact that architectural constraints restricted the number of devices that could be installed in certain buildings, infra-red beam detectors and aspiration detection have been the only viable solutions in several locations. The integration between our addressable analogue loops and these specialty detectors has been achieved using loop-powered modules – which have also reduced the cabling needs. It should be pointed out that although a wireless solution could have been the answer for many of the locations, we had to consider that the Portuguese Fire Protection Authority favours wired solutions 99.99% of the time.

For us, the Parque de Sintra programme proved that a project that starts with a shared vision, adequate planning and a spirit of cooperation can overcome the most demanding of difficulties. We are proud to have participated in the protection of such a prestigious assortment of historical buildings that form a prime asset for the attraction of cultural and historical tourism.

João Paulo Ajami is commercial director at Global Fire Equipment in Portugal.

  • Operation Florian

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