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“You can never come into these
buildings with an attitude of,
‘Here’s your solution. What’s
your problem?’” he said, emphasizing that success will be based
on truly understanding the client and how they use their space.
“Some people completely fail,
because they don’t want to take the
time to understand the client.”
Understanding the options
The initial time taken to appreciate a museum’s space, collection and usage can make decisions regarding sensing, signaling
and suppression products and systems easier. However, one of
the most basic questions, whether to opt for smoke- or heat-based sensing, likely will be fairly obvious, according to Maria
Marks, national business development manager for fire products at Siemens Building Technologies, Washington, D.C.
“You’re probably going to be using a smoke sensor, as you
will want the earliest detection possible,” she said. “You’re
going to get smoke before you get heat.”
Today’s most advanced devices combine heat and smoke
detection in multicriteria designs that incorporate air sensors
that can pick up extremely small amounts of smoke or carbon
monoxide, along with thermal and photoelectric sensing to
either boost sensitivity or limit false alarms. Additionally, beam
detectors can be useful for spotting the presence of smoke in
wide-open spaces, such as the multistory atriums popular with
many leading museum architects. Aspirating products, which
draw air into a chamber for laser-based analysis and smoke
detection, are yet another high-tech option.
However, determining where these sophisticated devices
should be located in museum entries, galleries and other spaces
can require some work, along with a full understanding of the
range of uses a given space might be called on to serve.
For example, one of the primary requirements of many
museums is an ability to shape-shift as exhibits come and go.
So, walls may go up or down, and large sculptures might create
obstructions that fire-protection designers never considered in
their initial plans.
“Your design aesthetic is always a little more difficult in a
museum,” Marks said. “What happens if they decide to install
a large sculpture going up several levels, and you’re trying to
do beam detection?”
ECs should understand whether gallery space might be
reorganized for future exhibit changes. If so, fire-protection
wiring plans need to be accurate and clearly labeled to mini-
mize future confusion.
“Documentation is really key when it comes to museums,”
she said. “You need to know where the circuits are running and
how to get to them.”
Marks also noted the importance of flexibility in wiring
design, if temporary exhibits are a part of the client’s program. I S T
“You’re doing the building that’s on
the back of the nickel. I didn’t want
the ghost of Thomas Jefferson
coming back and yelling at me.”
—Nick Artim, Heritage Protection Group
“Think of it as a movie set or a room within a room,” she said.
Sensor placement is only the first step in the design process.
Similar attention also is required in determining appropriate
sensitivity settings for detection devices.
According to Rodger Reiswig, director of industry relations
for Tyco Fire Protection Products, Lansdale, Pa., museum sensors are generally set to be more sensitive than devices used in
a dormitory or near an office break room, where cooking might
occur. That sensitivity might be programmed to shift over the
course of a day.
“Museums become more likely to have a fire event after hours,
so I want to make sure I learn about it really quickly,” he said.
Similarly, high-value, low-occupancy vault areas might feature high-sensitivity sensors. Post-installation adjustments can
fine-tune sensor activity, as staff members learn how systems
will respond during day-to-day activity.
“We want to make them as sensitive as we can, without
causing false alarms,” Reiswig said.
Protecting history’s treasures for the future
Perhaps the most important differentiating factor of museums
is how distinct each can be from another. As a result, these projects require electrical contractors that are comfortable with
detail and open to team participation.
“We’re at one stage in world history. These properties will
be around for a long time,” Artim said.
He also noted the importance of all project members considering themselves as stakeholders in a community focused on
long-term preservation. This point was made especially clear
to him during work at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello,
in Charlottesville, Va.
“You’re doing the building that’s on the back of the nickel,”
he said. “I didn’t want the ghost of Thomas Jefferson coming
back and yelling at me.”
This recognition gave him pause and made him even more
vigilant as he considered the potentially paranormal conse-
quences of any fire-protection misstep.
RO SS is a freelance writer and editor who has covered building
and energy technologies for a range of industry publications and
websites for more than 25 years. He specializes in building and
energy technologies, along with electric-utility business issues.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.