Strange but true WIFI and Fire alarms?
A couple of years ago I got a call from a tech named Shane in Houston Texas area. Everything is big in Texas…(had to say it). Anyway, this tech calls me for everything that is out of the ordinary and might be a result of brownouts, blackouts, generator issues, surges or lightning.
This one particular day, was most unusual, in fact his issue I thought at first stumped me. For the past four or five years this fire alarm panel….(Honeywell)….did quite well. No false alarms, no blowouts and in Houston, that is remarkable. Then all of a sudden, the panel started acting up. It would go into trouble, not just once or twice a day, but all the time except after hours. It even acted up on the weekends…. Oh yes did I mention this place was a Baptist Church? Anyway the church was not in a forgiving mood. You see the tech tried everything to solve this problem including replacing the PC board, but nothing worked. So this tech and his company got fired. The church hired another fire alarm company……and they worked on it too…only to end up with the same thing…could not solve the problem. So the Baptist church, contacted Shane again, and Shane called me right away.
I told him, chances are that this problem, most likely I don’t have anything that will resolve it. However it is important to me that I use my Engineering skills to help solve this problem. First we implement the SLI rule. Only the old techs know this rule: Sectionalize, localize and isolate the problem, usually at component level. Here we are doing it to trouble shoot an entire system.
Questions I asked him,
1. Is there any kind of AC voltage on the loop line…..no he said?
2. Any elevators? Yes, but the only time they use them is during church service.
3. Any new lighting systems? No
4. New Sound system maybe? No
5. Any Construction going on outside? No
6. Any Radio Station towers outside? No
7. A new CCTV system? Nope
8. What is different about this church in the last six months, example what did the Church change or add that is high tech? His answer, they added a new WIFI system all over the church. They never had one, but they have needed a new WIFI system for a long time. My Answer….Really.
9. How close is one of the repeaters to your SLC loop line. Answer: he had no idea, but would get back to me on this in a couple of days or sooner with the answer. Fine I said and we hung up. Everything takes time like fine wine…if you want to do it right.
10. He called me back up the next day and we continued. He told me that the repeater is sitting directly above his SLC loop line. My answer, move the repeater. He said, I already suggested that, and the Church computer expert told me that is impossible. Well we won’t dispute that but that WIFI needs to move. Tell you what, tell them to turn it off for a day and see what happens. So off to the IT Administrator he went. At first, the IT guy said no… but relented because he too was interested. So they shut it off, including all the repeaters.
11. The fire alarms set silent, not a peep out of it, no disturbance of any kind, not even a chirp. No WIFI for 24 hours.
12. My tech called me back the next day….no problems, and the minute they turned on the WIFI system, all hell broke loose again. The worst part, (like the Indian in the TP joke) they still didn’t want to move the repeater. They told Shane, to figure it out. I told him; at least we now know what the problem is. Nothing I have will solve this problem, but I think you might have something that will. Go in the kitchen and grab the tin foil they have and wrap the SLC loop line wire with it as much as you can near that repeater without tearing the foil and wrap as much of that wire possible. Then, wrap a piece of ground wire on the tail end of the foil and attach it to the outlet case ground. See what happens.
13. The next day, Shane called me back on the phone and tells me……”it works”! It has been quite for the past 24 hours. So what did he do? He built himself a Faraday Cage to deflect the signal. The bottom line, everybody was happy. The sad part about this whole thing, I did not make a dime with all my invested time, but, he still calls me and every now and then again he orders stuff from me. So the moral of this story is…sometimes you have to give a lot and not make anything to gain the loyalty and respect from your customer to continue calling you and your bound to sell something. I am not perfect by far, and with fire alarms, I have not failed yet, but someone out there is going to test me to my limit….this one almost did.
So if you got something out there right now that is making it difficult for you….maybe I can help with a little lip service, and maybe I got something for you. 727-823-6100 x 1. The best case is we saved you a lot of time and money and you are able to keep the customer, and the worst case is…we failed, but at least we tried. Keep in mind, technology is changing every day, and we know that fire alarms are getting more difficult to deal with as the PC boards shrink. When other things in the real world can affect the fire alarm it is hard to see it especially since you don’t have all the answers to the questions. I hope this issue helped someone else out there that is having a similar problem like this.
For those of you that think…I am blatantly marketing myself….your right, but for those of you that glean something here and have learned something new, that is the important thing.