How Well Do You Know NFPA 1221?

While NFPA 1221 is not a Standard that is generally thought of within the fire alarm industry, all practitioners should have an understating of the document.

This month’s article will be a brief review of NFPA 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems, 2019 edition. This is the Standard that is used by 911 centers.

Some of these centers may also be directly receiving alarm transmissions from either auxiliary systems or from those that may be transmitting via a means that traditionally is transmitted to either a supervising or remote station.

While 911 call centers are now located throughout the United States, those that received signals from an auxiliary system are primarily located in the Northeast or New England states. These systems may also be found on a number of governmental facilities and may be receiving signals from intrusion detection systems. There are also a number of jurisdictions within the Chicagoland area that are receiving signals directly from the protected premises.

NFPA 1221 is divided into 14 chapters and three annexes. The first three chapters are the same that are found within all NFPA documents: Administration, Referenced Publications and Definitions. The core chapters after these three cover the construction and wiring of the center, the operation of the center, staffing of the center, automation systems for dispatching, testing and records, and security. The annexes cover explanatory material, cybersecurity and informational references.

A 911 call center is generally referred to as a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). The PSAP is located within the communications center. The room within the center in which the calls are acted upon is referred to within the Standard as the operations room. Chapter 4 provides the detailed requirements for the communications center. This includes exposure hazards, construction, climate control, fire protection, security, power and lighting. Lightning protection is also covered.

Chapter 5 covers communications and signal wiring. Topics addressed include circuit construction and arrangement, circuit conductors, underground and aerial cables, inside wiring, circuit protection, fuses, and grounding. In some areas, the requirements are more robust than for a supervising or remote station. Chapter 6 is for emergency response facilities, which I am not covering in this article.

Chapter 7 details the requirement for the operations of the center. The staffing requirements are that a minimum of two dispatchers must be on duty at all times. If there is a significate incident that is occurring, the incident commander may request that there be a dedicated dispatcher available for that incident. When this does occur, the center would need to bring in additional staff as may be required.

This chapter also details the priority of how calls are to be handled. Medical calls have priority over all other calls, as these deal with an imminent threat to life. The second tier are those calls in which significant property loss or damage is likely to occur.

This standard is formatted for a call center that is only for fire and medical (EMS) responses. It does not address in the first two tiers calls that would be coming in for law enforcement. Exempted from these two tiers are calls related to joint responses with law enforcement involving weapons, hazardous materials incidents and technical rescues.

Chapter 8 provides the requirements for telephones, both how the numbers for the center are to be placed within a phone book or other means of providing this information, and on the telephone system and lines coming into the center.

There is an allowance for the receipt of automated voice alarms, with the approval of the AHJ. There must be at least two 911 call delivery paths so that a single incident does not interrupt the center. These paths must be on diverse routes.

Chapters 9 and 10 cover dispatching systems and computer-aided-dispatching (CAD) systems. Chapter 10 also has requirements for the mobile terminals that are now common in the response units.

The requirements for testing are located within Chapter 11. This covers both the equipment that is located within the center as well as the communication lines that feed into and out of the center. Phone circuits are to be tested daily. There is also a requirement for the testing of a fire alarm system that may be installed within the center, but there is no specific requirements for the inspection and testing of a sprinkler suppression system that may have been installed.

Chapter 12 has the requirements for the retention of records, both for the equipment within the center and on the calls that have been received and acted upon by the center. Call and dispatch performance statistics are to be retained for two years. Call detail records are to be retained for 100 days.

Chapter 13 as well as Annex B covers how the data that is maintained by a center is kept secure from attack and compromise. The suggested recommendations for cybersecurity within 1221 are similar to what will be in the annex for the 2022 edition of NFPA 72.

While NFPA 1221 is not a Standard that is generally thought of within the fire alarm industry, all practitioners should have an understating of the document.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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