Opponents of a proposal to change NFPA 730 from a best-practices guideline to a code argue it would make installing security contractors, property owners and others vulnerable to liability litigation. Photography ©istockphoto.com
QUINCY, Mass — In mid-March, the various stakeholders that comprise the National Fire Protection Association Technical Committee on Premises Security will reconvene to continue contentious deliberations over a proposal to issue the latest revision to NFPA 730 as a code rather than a best-practices guide.
Opponents contend adopting NFPA 730 (Guide for Premises Security) as a code — thereby making it subject to enforcement — would greatly expose installing security contractors, property owners and others to liability.
“It would be like opening Pandora’s Box,” says Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), who represents the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) on the technical committee. “This particular guideline covers a lot of specific recommendations. It gets into all kinds of details about reducing security vulnerabilities, details that are not relevant, especially to a lot of the smaller and medium-sized installation companies. When you put that much detail into something it opens up hundreds of doors for an attorney to pick you apart.”
The first-draft proposal to designate NFPA 730 as a code includes a sample ordinance, which could very easily be implemented by a municipality, explains Joe Gittens, director of standards for the Security Industry Association (SIA). Last October, SIA urged its member companies to submit objections to the proposal during the NFPA’s public comment period, which concluded Nov. 16.
“Security companies, integrators and designers could be held liable for not being up to code, even if that ordinance is put into effect after the installation,” Gittens says. “For example, a crime or accident on a protected premise that has a security system not installed to this fire organization code may leave all parties — the installer, service provider, equipment provider and the premise’s owner — open to legal responsibility.”
Wayne Moore, PE, Hughes Associates Inc., and chair of the technical committee, says in his opinion the security industry may be more concerned about the proposal than the circumstances warrant. He would instead prefer stakeholders specify which minimum requirements they are in disagreement with rather than oppose the entire document.
“They are addressing issues that in some cases are nonexistent at this point and may never exist in the future, but they are not looking at the minimum requirements and saying ‘that’s too strong of a requirement,’” he says. “Certainly they could have valid comments on a proposed requirement and those are the kind of comments you normally get on a code or standard.”
The controversy has roots dating back to the early 1990s when the insurance industry began lobbying NFPA to develop security codes. After several years of deliberation, amid accusations NFPA was overstepping its bounds by developing security standards, in June 2005 the organization voted to approve NFPA 730 as well as the accompanying NFPA 731 (Standard for the Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems). In a nutshell, 731 provides specifications for installing electronic security systems and devices, and is not opposed by CSAA or the Electronic Security Association (ESA), says Shane Clary, vice president, codes and standards compliance, of Pacheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.
Discussions to revise NFPA 730 as a code will next be held March 12-14 when the 30-member NFPA Technical Committee on Premises Security assembles in Tampa, Fla. The committee will consider the more than 280 public comments that were submitted by numerous security industry interests, many of which oppose the code adoption. If the proposal makes it through the committee process, the draft could ultimately be debated further and put up for a vote at NFPA’s annual meeting in June 2014.
It promises to be a “spirited three-day meeting in Tampa,” says Clary, SSI’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist, who serves as an alternate technical committee member for CSAA. As an expert witness for life-safety related court cases, Clary says he has observed a few attempts by lawyers to invoke NFPA 730 in support of liability allegations.
“Luckily until now I have been able to diffuse it by saying it’s a guide. The word ‘should’ is used [for recommendations in the document], not the word ‘shall.’ In those cases the judges agreed and 730 went away. Once you insert the word ‘shall’ it is not going to go away,” he says. “If 730 becomes a code, the litigators are going to have a field day.”