NFPA 72® – 2010 Chapter 24: Emergency Communications Systems

Throughout this decade, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has strived to keep its codes current and applicable with the rapid advances in technology. Additionally, the discoveries of communication gaps uncovered by tragic events have introduced new concerns in terms of life safety. After years of attempting to fit new technologies and responsibilities in the existing chapters of NFPA 72® (National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code), the NFPA has completely remade this code for its 2010 edition. As one of the most referenced codes in the NFPA library, the impact of these changes impacts a broad spectrum of industries. This article focuses on one of those changes: the addition of Chapter 24, Emergency Communications Systems.

In the late 20th century, emergency communication methods were as varied as the technologies that could carry them. Pagers, television, radio and public address systems were all used to transmit specific information about specific events. There was very little coordination between communication mediums as the technology was still developing. Other than for national defense, the commercial demand for real time mass communication was negligible and viewed as a tool of convenience. The events of 9/11, Columbine High School and Virginia Tech were catalyst events that changed all that. The ability to reliably communicate to a large group of people in real time is now viewed as essential, rather than convenient, to campus and high rise administrators.

In its 2002 and 2007 editions, NFPA 72® addressed the communication issue by putting mass notification installation guidelines in its annex material. However, these were informational guidelines, not enforceable by merely requiring NFPA 72® installation standards. With the 2010 edition, an enforceable chapter 24: Emergency Communications Systems was created by:

  • Moving annex material into the code body.
  •  Relocating and consolidating related material from other chapters
  •  Incorporation of elements from United Facilities Criteria 4-021-01
  •  Inclusion of NFPA 72® committee members input

What, exactly, is an emergency communication system (ECS)? An ECS is comprised of a supervised, code regulated emergency alarm/voice communication system (EVACS) and an unsupervised, mass notification system (MNS). The EVACS is typically the firefighter’s command center found at the entrance of a building. The MNS is typically a building’s public address system, but also includes scrolling signs, text messaging, emails and outdoor speaker systems. Previously, the two systems were not allowed to be combined into a single system. One could trigger another, but unsupervised circuitry was not allowed to reside on the EVACS. Chapter 24 now spells out the criteria of combining the EVACS with the MNS.

If one is designing an emergency communication system (ECS) in a newly constructed facility, several questions must be answered before a proper design can emerge:

  • Does the owner have an Emergency Management program? If not, suggest a joint review of NFPA’s recommended practice code in order to establish one.
  • Has a risk assessment been performed? Answer: If so, review with owner to highlight key concerns. If not, emphasize the value of identifying conditions and matching them up with syctations. Utilize NFPA’s risk assessment code to ensure a complete review.
  • What are the local code requirements regarding ancillary use of the EVACS? Some jurisdictions have concerns about using the EVACS as a pubic address system as well. They should be addressed up front with municipal code enforcement officials to accommodate their concerns.
  • Who is generating the messaging? What is the simplest way to accomplish that?

It is also important to remember what the intended use of the ECS is. It is intended to communicate information about emergencies including, but not limited to, fire, human-caused events (accidental and intentional), other dangerous situations, accidents, and natural disasters. Real time, accurate information can mean the difference between life and death, so the information provided must be relevant and provide enough time for the occupants to take the correct action. Many high rise emergency management plans focus on personnel actions and relocation efforts without considering information dissemination. The ECS should be an integral component of the emergency management plan that must be regularly tested to be effective.

If the project decision makers are reluctant to implement an ECS as opposed to separate EVACS and MNS systems, two advantages may be pointed out to help with the decision.

1. With an ECS, security personnel that operate the equipment will deal with one system, one procedure and one microphone. The system is only as good as its performance. A confident user will get the correct message out in a timely manner.

2. Perhaps the most important end user consideration is the cost factor. Using one system for both functions will save thousands of dollars in material cost and labor, not the mention the infrastructure footprint, both visible and above ceiling.

Be sure to look for our next newsletter that will continue to keep you abreast of life safety industry changes and code explanations, as well as opportunities to increase design efficiencies. For additional information on this and many other life safety topics, contact Gene Rowe at Affiliated Customer Service, Inc., at generowe@affiliatedinc.com or (630) 434-7900.

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About Gene Rowe

Gene Rowe serves as the Director of Business Development for Affiliated Customer Service. He brings twenty three years of fire alarm and emergency voice systems experience to the table with both an operational and marketing viewpoint. A US Army veteran, NICET certified, an executive board member of the IL-AFAA and a member of the NFPA, he began his career establishing operational expertise as a technician, developed graphic skills with CAD design as a general engineer, gained a ‘big picture’ mindset by moving to project management and finally a marketing perspective directing business development efforts. By interfacing with a broad range of diverse organizations such as the AFAA, CAA, AIA, CEA and the IFIA, he combines concerns of the owner, designer of record, contractor, distributor and approving authority to bring a unique perspective to Affiliated.

An avid marathon runner, he resides in west suburban Chicago with his wife and two sons. He's served the community as a Cub Scout Leader, as well as coaching multiple levels of travel and park district basketball and baseball teams. Professionally, he serves as the Treasurer and is on the Board of Directors for the Illinois chapter of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (IL-AFAA).

Comments

  1. Hello Gene,

    Good distinction between ECS and MNS.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks, Frank. I appreciate your comment! Let me know if I can assist you with any technical questions you may have.

      Gene

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