CASCON for Naval Vessel Fire Monitoring

Naval vessels are often contained in drydocks located within Navy bases during periods of inactivity, maintenance, or personnel training. John Ermatinger is a Digitize engineer who assisted in the implementation of Digitize technology into drydocks. He was able to provide some insight into why drydocks required a custom fire protection solution.

naval destroyer vessel

Navy vessels must be monitored against fires when in drydock or otherwise offline for maintenance. An undetected fire is a huge life-safety risk and has historically been the cause of over $1 billion in physical damage.

"When a submarine enters the drydock, power is shut down throughout the vessel," he began. "For operations in the submarine control room to stay online, power needs to be provided externally from the shore. If you want different zones for more specific monitoring, you need to provide each unit with power by dispersing cables all throughout the watercraft."

On these drydocks, there is always a risk of fire. Fires on submarines undergoing maintenance can spread quickly due to the presence of flammable materials. With the long, narrow walkways typical of submarines, fires can go unnoticed until they have reached an unmanageable size. To prevent this, Naval vessels sometimes require a temporary alarm system while in a repair depot or undergoing a retrofit.

Outdated alarm systems were becoming a safety and security risk

The Casualty Control (CASCON) System is a portable alarm and communications system manufactured by The R.B. Allen Co. and made with the Digitize System 3505 Prism LX proprietary alarm monitoring system.

"The R.B. Allen Company is one of our biggest distributors. They’re a company based out of New Hampshire and they cover most of the New England territory. They, along with a company called Space Age Technologies, came up with a proposal for the Navy called the CASCON system," Ermatinger explained. "The CASCON system uses the Digitize System 3505 Prism LX head end unit, along with the Quick Multiplexer, or Q-Mux."

Prior to the successful integration of the CASCON system, most American Naval drydocks were merely equipped with unsophisticated mechanical fire alarm systems. Ermatinger went on to explain that not only was the previous system inefficient, it was potentially dangerous. "They were reliable," he recalled. "But very limited in how they could be accessed, how they reached emergency services, and how much information they could provide."

In the event of a fire, a physical central alarm located in the gangway had to be manually triggered via pull handle. This would then contact the closest fire department via telegraph communication.

"It worked," started Ematinger, "it just told us less. The new CASCON system contains many zones being monitored by a kiosk on or off the boat. CASCON works with the old, telegraph-coded system, but also has additional information. It is used in conjunction with a voice activation system. With the fire alarm activations, you can manually or automatically activate it and the system would use a Q-Mux system to activate several voice messages. The zone unit can manually be reported or automatically traced from the kiosk. A few vessels still notify the fire department manually. Many now automatically notify the fire department by coded telegraph or by radio systems."

cascon distributed circuit layout

This is a schematic of the CASCON system that protects naval vessels against fires when they are in drydock, sold by the R.B. Allen Company and including a Digitize System 3505 Prism LX and Q-Mux.

A watershed moment in national security

On May, 23 2012, a major fire occurred on the USS MIAMI, a submarine outfitted with the CASCON system, in drydock #2 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. This fire, which was eventually revealed to be intentionally set by a disgruntled civilian contractor, led to an extensive internal investigation.

CASCON protects both lives and billion-dollar naval vessels

The declassified investigation documents revealed that CASCON played a critical role in the suppression of this arson attack. Thanks to the CASCON system, the appropriate emergency services were able to extinguish the fire before any further harm could come to the vessel, facility or people occupying both at the time.

The CASCON was also able to identify the location of the fire, which led to the prosecution and successful arrest of the culprit. Most notably, this incident, along with the ensuing investigation, served as the impetus for a manual published by the Naval Sea Systems Command, the NAVSEA 8010 Standard.

This document mentions CASCON by name 38 times and states that "All personnel shall be trained to report all fires to the CASCON." The document continues that for every vessel undergoing maintenance, "There shall be a minimum of five (5) handheld radios fully compatible with the Region and/or Installation’s Fire Department communications, maintained, and prepositioned at the CASCON Station ... to use during a casualty to assure communications with the emergency dispatch center or fire department." and "The Casualty Control (CASCON) Station ... shall be manned at all times. The duties of this watch include ship fire safety."

The CASCON is explicitly mentioned in the "Emergency Response For a Shipboard Fire" section of the NAVSEA 8010 Standard, validating CASCON as an integral part of the modern Navy shipyard fire prevention system. This would go on to make the CASCON an industry standard.

CASCON is mandated for US submarine and surface vessels

Though initially intended for inactive submarines, CASCON has become required on both sub and surface vessels by the NAVSEA 8010 Standard. This requirement is mandated when the onboard life-safety systems or announcing system (1MC) is compromised. The R.B. Allen Company provides complete CASCON and Smoke/Heat Detection Systems that are NAVSEA 8010 compliant.

The Navy’s confidence in the CASCON’s capabilities is underscored later on in the NAVSEA 8010 Standard, with the proclamation that "A CASCON Station shall be located aboard or near and in sight of the ship, or at the SF Topside Watch Station. The CASCON Station location shall be approved by the FSC and may serve more than one ship provided individual ship’s information is clearly identified."

The CASCON has gone on to become an industry standard. Digitize monitoring systems can be found in the Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Puget Naval Shipyards as well as the Ship Repair Facility in Yokosuka, Japan and the Trident Refit Facility in the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. The Navy continuously finds ways to optimize its safety protocols, but since its introduction, the CASCON has remained a constant.

Ermatinger, understandably proud of his involvement in the successful proposal and sale of the CASCON system to Navy bases, conceded that "this [CASCON system] was made with naval submarines in mind. They started migrating this system to surface ships, which meant an expansion. By incorporating the Digitize Q-Mux Multiplex System, you can run up to 5,000 feet from the system to multiple zone units which are outfitted with our input modules."

He elaborated "the surface ships are much, much larger, so with the expansion, they still use the Q-mux, but they also now incorporate our VersAlarm Ethernet Monitoring System, which can control the Q-Mux. That is one of the most recent successful accomplishments with Digitize and the Navy."

Give us a call to discuss the CASCON system for your project

Digitize represents one significant part of the CASCON system designed and sold by R.B. Allen. Since we're quite familiar with CASCON, we're happy to have you call us to discuss your project.

Give us a call at 1-800-523-7232 or email us at