Fire Market Report – Trends Spark Mass Notification Awareness

Mass notification was the most notable trend in the fire/life safety industry in 2009, according to SSI‘s 2009 Fire Market Report. The report delves into MNS technologies and codes, and also takes a look at sprinkler monitoring, video fire detection and multiple-sensor fire detection.

Advances in life safety technology are most often made through financial loss, injury, death and personal pain. Because of accidents and manmade and natural disasters, new codes and standards are created that demand fundamental changes in how we protect society. The advent of global terrorism has also played a major part in how life safety systems are made and installed.

Every year, SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION publishes a brief account of life safety activities so you’ll better understand the needs, trends and technologies that drive the markets. This year we’ll take a look at sprinkler monitoring, video fire detection, multiple-sensor fire detection and mass notification technology, which represent the most notable trends now in motion in our industry today.

Emergence of Mass Notification Technologies and Codes

When a natural or man-made emergency is about to occur, there’s often little time to act. Failure to do so in a timely, effective manner can, and often does result in the injury and death of hundreds, even thousands of people, not to mention the destruction of personal and public property. Structural fires, wildfires, massive floods, hurricanes and tornadoes are only a few examples of things that often threaten unsuspecting people.

Most of the time lives are lost because of poor planning or delayed response, largely due to an inadequate emergency notification infrastructure. Specific examples include Hurricane Katrina (2005); the World Trade Center bombing (1993); the Enschede fireworks disaster (2000) in the Netherlands where 22 died, 947 were injured and more than 1,500 homes were destroyed or damaged; and the World Trade Center disaster (2001).

“As a result of the tragedy of Khobar Tower in Dhahran [in Saudi Arabia], the Department of Defense (DOD) decided they needed a method of supplying large groups quickly in an effort to save lives and minimize damage,” says Marvin Gunderson, chief-fire and emergency services at Fort Knox, Ky. “This led authorities to create the United Facilities Code (UFC) and the DOD mass notification system requirements.”

It was in 2003 that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) decided that the fire alarm platform would make a good starting point for the design of an effective mass notification system (MNS). Fire alarm systems possess many of the qualities that the USAF and civilian experts want in an ideal MNS (see next section for more details).

Because of this, USAF asked NFPA to participate in the development of a code set that would support the equipment and installation standards necessary for MNS. In November of the same year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards Council assigned the task of reviewing and implementing USAF’s request.

NFPA eventually became involved in writing the Unified Facilities Code (UFC), which is published and enforced by the DOD within installations abroad and in the continental United States. NFPA consequently included MNS technology in Annex E of the 2007 Edition of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code.

In the upcoming 2010 Edition, NFPA will roll MNS technology into the main body of the code. Here it will do the most good because while the Annexes provide good ancillary information, the body of the code is gospel. It is hoped that communities will adopt it as they move forward with their own anti-terrorism and natural disaster plans. It’s important to know and understand what mass notification is, what the technologies are that fall under it’s preview, and how MNS is to be implemented.

The Mechanics Behind MNS

Mass notification is defined by UFC 4-021-01 as “… the capability to provide real-time information to all building occupants or personnel in the immediate vicinity of a building during emergency situations. To reduce the risk of mass casualties, there must be a timely means to notify building occupants of threats and what should be done in response to those threats. Pre-recorded and live voice emergency messages are required by this UFC to provide this capability.”

In order to make this happen, the UFC provides the information that architects, electrical engineers, and other qualified parties need in order to design and install an effective MNS. Not only does this document cover the when and where with regard to DOD usage, but also the manner in which the technology is to be applied. The technological considerations contained therein can be applied to the private sector as well.

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing [email protected], call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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