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Fire Side Chat: Decoding NFPA Code Requirements

A Q&A session addresses code compliance challenges associated with projected beam smoke detectors, annunciators and keypads.

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Here is my answer:

Code is clear in this regard. According to Section, titled Annunciator Access and Location, “All required annunciation means shall be readily accessible to responding personnel and shall be located as required to the authority having jurisdiction to facilitate an efficient response to the fire situation.” (NFPA 72, 2007). (Section 10.16.3 in the new 2010 code book.)

The bottom line is, just as I tell my clients and technicians, the AHJ has the final, lasting word. If the AHJ wants the “annunciation means” to be placed in a specific location in a public area, you will have to comply, unless you can provide an agreeable alternative.

One solution I suggested was to install two keypads instead of one. The function should be stripped from the public keypad in programming if possible so the function buttons cannot be inadvertently used.

If this is not possible, most equipment manufacturers make a point-indicator annunciator that operates using addressable relay modules. In some cases, such as DSC of Concord, Ontario, Canada, an overlay of the facility that shows each detector, manual fire box and other sensors, can be placed over the point-indicator assembly to essentially form a relatively inexpensive form of graphic annunciator.

Al Colombo is an award-winning writer who has covered electronic security and life safety since 1986. Visit his Web site at, and check out his Security Sense blog.

Making Keypads Better

Keypads and annunciators continue to pose problems for end users. Alarm equipment manufacturers continue to work on new and advanced forms of user interfaces that allow clients to more easily interact with their fire and burglar alarm systems. Not only does this reduce the incidence of false alarms, but it also provides them with more meaningful information.

One of the problems is a general inability to read the typical small alphanumeric readout that accompanies most keypad interfaces. Thus some alarm equipment manufacturers, such as Home Automation Inc. (HAI) of New Orleans and Digital Monitoring Controls (DMP) of Springfield, Mo., offer an expanded version.

In most cases these expanded keypads contain a much larger screen, which allows for more information, icon graphics and even video camera images from local cameras. Using touch-screen technology, some of them also allow user interaction. By pressing buttons, icons and other assorted items on the readout itself the client can easily invoke a variety of functions.

In Search of a Better Interface

Microsoft recently purchased Canesta, a small company in Silicon Valley that specializes in what is commonly called gesture-recognition technology.

“Canesta makes chips that, when coupled with a digital camera, give all manner of devices a sense of depth perception for the world around them, letting them ‘see’ in three dimensions,” says Ashlee Vance, writer with The New York Times.

What this may mean for alarm users one day is that by using gestures they may be able to send commands to their alarm system from a distance. This would or could be a great advantage in certain circumstances, such as when carrying groceries into the house. “One wink means disarm, two winks means duress,” for example. 

The keypad that uses this technology would likely be equipped with a small camera enabling it to view the room in which it resides. Couple this technology with facial recognition and now we have a powerful means of command and control that does not require a great deal of human-to-machine interaction.

There’s no way to tell if and when such a marriage between human and alarm will take place, but the one thing we know is that alarm equipment manufacturers are hard at it in their search for new and improved ways to interface end users with their alarm systems.

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Article Topics
Fire/Life Safety · Systems Integration · Other · Fire/Life Safety 2 · Annunciators · Biometrics · code compliance · Fire Side Chat · Fire Side Chat with Al Colombo · Keypads · All Topics

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Annunciators, Biometrics, code compliance, Fire Side Chat, Fire Side Chat with Al Colombo, Keypads, NFPA 72

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