What Goes Into Creating and Approving Industry Standards? More Than You Think
Since standards dictate how you do installations and where systems are monitored, it’s extremely important to understand how they come into being. TMA President Morgan Hertel shares the behind-the-scenes process.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about a number of issues facing our industry — permanent work-from-home additions to the UL 827 standard that allows central station agents to work from home; TMA AVS-01, which is a scoring standard that allows central stations the ability to “score” an alarm event; and even NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code — have all had recent changes or additions made to them or have been newly created.
These and other standards dictate how we do installations and how and where we monitor systems, so it’s extremely important that we understand how they come into being.
As President of The Monitoring Association (TMA), I frequently hear from people in our industry about how they don’t like this or that and that they can’t imagine how “this or that” could possibly have been approved by UL, FM, ETL, NFPA, etc. There is a lot of passion around some of these topics, and, in some cases, it results in heated and lively conversations.
But, in almost every case, when I ask some pointed questions it becomes obvious that any confusion boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding of how standards are created and then modified or changed.
Today, all the industry “standards” that affect us such at UL, FM, NFPA, SIA and TMA are developed under what is called “consensus-based standards development,” or in other words, those stakeholders that are in the group (more about them below) will decide what to do and how to do it, and even the public gets to participate in the process.
While it seems a simple process to do standards work, in reality it’s not. It’s incredibly detailed work that takes about ten times longer than you might think it should, and for most in the industry, it’s a very unfamiliar or unknown area of work. Standards creation is actually very structured, and for most standards in the U.S., the process is overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
ANSI has a very defined way of not only creating standards but also maintaining them with the sole intent to make sure the process is fair and just for all stakeholders and the public at large. For those of you that want to really dig in and get educated, click the American National Standards tab at ansi.org.
For this column, however, I am going to shorten this down to basic blocks and steps in order to give readers some sense of the process. In addition to the ANSI requirements, many of the pertinent organizations have their own processes that still meet the ANSI requirements.
TMA is just finishing up the AVS-01 standard, so let me describe that process, which, by the way, took a little more than two years to complete. All standards or modifications to a standard start out with a need. This need could be presented to a standards writing body such as UL or TMA as either a new standard or as a modification to an existing one.
Assuming the need is validated, if it’s a new standard there will be a public request for participants, or in the case of an existing standard, there is typically a standing committee or group responsible for the standard. UL is a very good example as, for each standard, they have a standing standards technical panel that is made up of stakeholders from the industry.
The committees have to represent all the stakeholders in order to be valid, so in the case of the AVS-01 there were installation companies, monitoring companies, consultants, automation providers, public safety staff, law enforcement, 911 systems providers and others representing other associations. The idea is always to have a very balanced group; the TMA group started with more than 60 people in it.
During the actual creation of the standards, it’s not uncommon to break groups up into smaller task or working groups that then bring back work products for the entire group. In the end, the entire content has to be approved by consensus in order to proceed to the next steps.
Typically, there is a cadence where groups are meeting weekly, biweekly and monthly to keep the process going. Attendance and participation are also tracked for the members, and if they don’t attend enough of the meetings, they will lose their voting rights. ANSI has a lot of rules relevant to this entire process in order to make sure that all the stakeholders are fairly represented.
Once the standard is done, it’s ready to be shown to the public. There are a couple of approaches to accomplish this: release it for public comments or have a limited release to get some early feedback from a smaller group before the final public comment period starts.
Once it’s out for public comments, there is a predefined time that ANYONE can comment on the standard. Comments cannot just be opinions but instead must be an attempt to actually write the proposed new language. If a problem is cited, a solution must be proposed.
Each comment is logged and reviewed by the committee, and each commenter will receive a response to their comments. There is also a defined appeals process, so that if the answer is deemed insufficient by those submitting comments, they have some additional options.
There is a lot of detail that goes into this, but after the initial public comments period, if there are only minor changes, the standard is adopted. However, if there are fundamental changes, it must then go through another public comment period until such time as the changes are minimal.
All of this is just the beginning because all standards must be maintained and reviewed from time to time. Some standards, like NFPA 72, have predefined cycles; others are done “when needed” and then periodic reviews, but, in all cases, anyone can submit a change to any standard, and that request must be addressed formally and not simply ignored.
This is where I get up on my soapbox: when people complain about a standard, I always ask, “What did you do to contribute to its success?” Invariably, I get the glassy-eyed stare or silence on the other end of the line. However, to be fair, it’s not because they are lazy or bad people; they just didn’t know how the process works or how to become a participant in the process, or in many cases didn’t even know they could be part of the process.
Many people I know just thought that UL has a bunch of people that write all this stuff and just tell the industry this is how it works, when in reality it’s just the opposite: the stakeholders, for the most part, write the actual standard and UL governs the process.
My message to everyone in the industry is to get involved with the various groups. UL and NFPA have online tools to enroll and apply to the various organizations, even to the point where if a standard is up for changes, you get alerts. Just about everyone is looking for volunteers to help with standards work. I am the first to admit that most of it is like watching paint dry, but this is how it’s done.
I also encourage you that if you don’t like a standard to start submitting proposals to change it; it’s just that easy. If you have an idea for a new standard, then start to put some words down on paper, and get it to the appropriate people. Just last year, I was approached by several industry people to do something about the antiquated ways alarms report. This year, I am proud to announce that TMA is working with SIA in this area.
It all starts with an idea and goes from there, and nothing is off the table to discuss. I challenge everyone to stop complaining and start doing.
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