NFPA’s Robert Solomon Shares 2012 Predictions for Fire/Life-Safety Industry

What does 2012 hold in store for your business and the industry? Find out with the many insights offered in SSI‘s annual Industry Forecast, which is featured in our January issue. This year, more than 25 of the industry’s most prominent research firms, trade associations, business and finance specialists, systems integrators, manufacturers, consultants, and alarm companies rendered a deep and sweeping portrait of the impending security landscape. The participants addressed the most significant changes, challenges and opportunities they anticipate taking place during the next 12 months in seven critical areas. They are: security technology; security markets; security industry; business and operations; politics and legislation; risks and threats; and ongoing challenges. With the boundaries of print being too constrained to present all of the fascinating and valuable assessments, each of the respondents’ complete, edited interviews are being offered exclusively online. Happy New Year!

Robert Solomon, PE
Division Manager for Building and Life Safety Codes
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Fire/Life-Safety Technology

Robert Solomon: All of the built-in safety systems to communicate with one another — integration of fire alarm system components with security systems components, interface of these systems with brand new concepts like elevator evacuation systems for the building occupants in high-rise buildings. These are long discussed “theories” that are now becoming mainstream and NFPA codes must be adaptable to these issues.

Fire/Life-Safety Markets

Solomon: There is an active push to get state and local jurisdictions to adopt the residential sprinkler requirements that are now mandated in all of the national codes in the U.S. Some jurisdictions have opted out of that provision yet the home is where our fatal fire problem continues to be focused on. The societal push to include green and sustainable design technologies into materials, construction components and building configurations must be carefully weighed against the need to provide safe buildings. Broader use of solar photovoltaic panels, something that is regulated by the NEC [National Electrical Code] is great example of this. In all cases, however, we must be vigilant to ensure that sustainability never trumps the safety part of the fire, life-safety and building code equation.

Fire/Life-Safety Industry

Solomon: Compatibility is an issue. If Manufacturer A makes a device that controls a motorized damper for the HVAC system as part of the heating and cooling cycle, it is important to make sure that device can also be used to control that same motorized damper if it is used as part of a smoke control system that includes components from Manufacturer B for the building. Integration of systems and testing of those systems to make sure they operate across the full range of the building environment are an important concept that must be verified given the complex realm of computers, processors and control units that manage the various systems. A variety of companies are working on developing materials or systems that they want to brand as “green” and that is fine. But those same companies must also make sure that their new idea also meets all of the appropriate fire test protocols or system requirements of the applicable codes and standards. Green is good, but just being green isn’t good enough.

Politics and Legislation

Solomon: In many cases, state legislative bodies have the authority to adopt newer versions of codes but they also have the authority to amend those adoptions. Such is the case with the residential sprinkler criteria in new one- and two-family dwellings. Some legislative bodies have seen fit to remove that particular provision. Budget cuts and decreases in tax revenues can threaten public safety. It can also affect participation in the code development process that NFPA utilizes. The input and contribution of the enforcer community — the authorities having jurisdiction — are crucial to our process. These budget cuts can naturally affect the available travel funds and NFPA is trying to figure out the best way to manage that aspect.    

Ongoing Challenges

Solomon: Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, NFPA has worked to address the more than 40 recommendations that NIST issued in 2005 and 2007 on the collapses of WTC 1, 2 and 7. Some issues still need more work and better solutions like the first-responder communication issues in high-rise buildings. Other ideas like elevators for occupant-controlled evacuation prior to Phase I Emergency Recall Operation are now recognized in the NFPA codes. An important component of that technology, however, is the messaging strategy for the building occupants. For about 100 years, we have been instructed or have seen the signs that say, “In case of fire, use stairs, not the elevator.” Now we must develop a communication strategy that says it’s OK to use the elevator in some newly designed buildings. What I say, how I say it, how often I say it in terms of the elevator status and when it might arrive at my floor are all important concepts that need more work. The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), an affiliate of NFPA, is working on this part of the problem and we expect to have some solutions on the table in early 2012.

Projecting 2012

Solomon: If new buildings aren’t being built or if existing buildings aren’t being renovated, then that is likely to impact the overall safety industry. For companies that operate in the Middle East and Asia where NFPA sees fairly extensive use of our codes and standards, those markets seem to have lots of life and activity.

Final Thoughts

Solomon: The aging population in the U.S. is an important concern. We have more state and local programs emerging to keep older residents in their home for a longer period of time. Home medical care is advancing and monitoring, diagnostic status and maintenance of that equipment is an important aspect that can’t be overlooked. Designs for long-term care facilities are undergoing a remarkable transformation. These facilities are being designed to provide a more homelike environment. The 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code has included some new provisions to address and accommodate these new care models. In March 2012, NFPA and FPRF will be hosting a one-day Health Care Summit in Baltimore to further address these issues as we look ahead to the 2015 edition of the code.    



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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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