QUINCY, Mass. — New standards for emergency communications detailed in 2010 NFPA 72 are expected to bring new business opportunities for fire installers, physical security integrators and other contractors that have the proficiency to install appliances used in mass notification systems (MNS).
Also known as the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, 2010 NFPA 72 introduces the inclusion of assorted rules and guidelines surrounding the use of MNS such as requirements for achieving and testing voice intelligibility.
For the first time in the history of NFPA 72 a mass notification control unit can take priority over a fire alarm system during an emergency. Accordingly, voice announcements in new construction will be expected to supersede the fire alarm to allow for intelligible emergency voice announcements and other types of communications.
“This is a huge paradigm shift. We’ve never been able to override the fire alarm system in order to give audible and intelligible messages,” says Chuck Wilson, executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA). “Now the code requires intelligibility of all voice messages.”
The new code requirements for MNS are included in chapter 24 of 2010 NFPA 72. Titled “Emergency Communication Systems (ECS),” the chapter focuses on four major technology categories: one-way communication (loudspeakers, alarms, scrolling-text screens, video displays and other similar systems); two-way communication (radios and related systems); systems design; and command and control.
“From everything I have read and studied and the meetings I have been to, it looks like the code changes will absolutely create business for installing contractors,” says Bill Bozeman, CEO of PSA Security Network.
Yet to be determined, however, is which installing contractor is better suited to win ECS-related projects that will ultimately reach across such market niches as education, health care, government, military and others.
“The fascinating part in all this is who is best positioned to get the business. At this time we honestly don’t know,” Bozeman says. “Is it the commercial sound integrator? Or is it the HVAC guy? Or is it the life-safety guy? The physical security guy? Is it a combination of all the above or can one guy do it all?”
Bozeman says physical security integrators will be in stiff competition with fire alarm contractors especially because of their intimate familiarity with life-safety regulations, among other necessary skill sets. Likewise, sound contractors have expertise in designing intelligible sound systems and related laws and regulations.
Providing interoperability between life-safety, audio and visual notification appliances, and other communications devices for both fire alarm and mass notification solutions has pushed manufacturers to engineer more open systems. That in itself represents a sea change in an otherwise historically proprietary marketplace, says Ted Milburn, vice president of marketing for Cooper Notification.
“We have to write software for integrators now because at the end of the day this is an integration issue. It’s all about disparate systems talking together in some way,” Milburn says.
Despite the code changes necessitating open standards, a difficult road still lies ahead to perfect solutions envisioned by 2010 NFPA 72, says Milburn. “Especially when you talk about life-safety systems. Because inherently the reason that those are closed systems is they are very life-safety centric and you would not want them damaged by other subsystems.”
While a turf battle among manufacturers from the fire alarm and audio industries has been waged for years, efforts to revise the code has fostered a working relationship among stakeholders, says Wilson, who led NSCA’s years-long efforts to implement changes to ECS code requirements.
“We spent a number of years and a ton of resources having subject matter experts prove to code-making officials that we can as an industry — audio, fire and security — create a system to start adding on things like IP cameras, digital signage and other ancillary systems,” Wilson says. “When we know that there is trouble in a particular area we can not only see what’s going on, now we will communicate better messages to save lives.”