Fire Side Chat: Integrating Mass Notification With EVAC

Mass notification, a relatively new development in life safety, can be defined as “a technology that provides real-time information to groups of individuals within large buildings, campus settings, geographic regions, or entire nations.” The overall purpose of a mass notification system (MNS) involves an integrated effort to save lives and minimize injuries during emergency situations, such as natural catastrophes and terrorist attacks.

The types of facilities that most commonly incorporate MNS technology today include college campuses, universities, public schools, military bases and key manufacturing plants. The scope of MNS includes electronic texting, facsimile, prerecorded voice messages involving cell and landline telephone use, E-mail blasts, computer desktop notifications and facility-wide public address (PA) messages.

Because of recent natural events and terrorist acts, the life-safety industry has witnessed an increase in the use of emergency voice/alarm communications (EVAC). This often includes smaller buildings that historically would never incorporate EVAC in the past. Although a lot of this push comes from government projects, there is a growing body of evidence that local and regional authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) are beginning to mandate EVAC use in applications where none would have previously been required.

Chapter 24 of the new NFPA 72, 2010 Edition, addresses the nature and use of MNS technology, as well as placement and integration. This includes an in-depth review of EVAC technology and how integration between the two is to take place. This month, we’ll take a look at MNS technology, how it integrates with a common fire alarm EVAC platform and how the two are supposed to work together for the good of all.

Origin of MNS Standards

The MNS concept actually came from the U.S. armed forces. It was after the Khobar Tower disaster in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, during 1996 that the Department of Defense (DoD) decided more had to be done to safeguard people from terrorist attacks.

One way is to supply large numbers of people with accurate instructions during emergency situations. The intent of military planners then, as it is now, was to minimize the number and severity of injuries as well as deaths by giving masses of people accurate, lifesaving information.

The actual culmination of military requirements regarding MNS came on the heels of a collaborative effort between the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of Quincy, Mass. NFPA was asked to assist USAF in writing a standard that provides for both the successful design and implementation of MNS where it involves DoD installations.

USAF came to realize that the ordinary fire alarm platform possesses the desired qualities for MNS. In 2003 USAF asked NFPA to provide direction in the integration of fire alarm systems and MNS technology. Later that year, the NFPA Standards Council assigned the task of reviewing USAF’s request to its Signaling Systems Project. The outcome of this collaborative effort was document UFC 4-021-1, titled, “Design and O&M: Mass Notification Systems.”

UFC 4-021-1 is part of a much broader effort by DoD to provide construction criteria related to risk reduction where it applies to terrorism. This mission has culminated with a series of documents called the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC), one of which NFPA was active in creating.

UFC is said to provide “planning, design, construction, sustainment, restoration, and modernization criteria, and applies to the Military Departments, the Defense Agencies, and the DoD Field Activities in accordance with USD (AT&L) Memorandum dated 29 May 2002.”

Emergency Communications

When most of us in the fire alarm industry think of MNS we think one-way communications. The truth of the matter is, under NFPA 72, 2010, and in real practice, there are two types of emergency communications systems (ECS): one- and two-way.

One-way systems usually involve the use of audible/visual notification means, such as horn/strobes, strobe-only or speakers. MNS also includes textual displays (e.g. LCD text board) where messages can display the status of critical systems as well as provide important MNS commands.

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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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