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NFPA Impact on Emergency Communications Is a Model for Industry Change

NFPA 72’s signaling code shift that allows the overriding of the fire alarm control panel in the event of a non-fire emergency represents the potential for innovation in the industry.

NFPA Impact on Emergency Communications Is a Model for Industry Change

Recognition of a market need is not as simple as it sounds. Moreover, changing the status quo can be extremely difficult. So how do we breed innovation in an industry? The May issue of SSI is all about innovation, with its focus on how robotics is impacting the security industry. But for a different perspective let’s take a look at the fire alarm industry, which is a terrific example of innovation and evolution.

Certain sectors in particular have been beneficiaries of such industry changes. For instance, did you know that, according to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) records, there hasn’t been a child death from a school fire in the U.S. since 1958? The association reviews its NFPA 72, “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code,” every three years.

In 2010, the NFPA updated this code to include “signaling,” which then included requirements for mass notification and emergency communications. The NFPA recognized the concern for delivering audible and visual notifications in the event of a fire-, weather- or human-related emergency.

To address the more extensive reach of NFPA 72, the market had a new need to better communicate and direct building occupants in the event of an emergency. NFPA 72 now includes 29 chapters, up from 11 prior to the 2010 edition.

Sociology professor Everett Rogers theorized more than 50 years ago on innovation diffusion, which identified segments of adopters as well as five stages of adoption: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation.

One of the most significant changes was the combination of the various communication platforms into a single “Emergency Communications System” description, which includes a new Chapter 24 that addresses the interrelationship between the various mass notification systems (MNS) and fire alarm systems.

Furthermore, this chapter addresses the priority, the control between communication systems and the ability to override a fire alarm control panel in the event of a nonfire emergency. Intelligibility also became a factor, with specific minimum levels of performance requirements, in order to properly direct occupants to safety.

Adoption of any innovative product, service or code takes time. As represented by the innovation curve (pictured above), commonly used to show Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory that was introduced more than 50 years ago, there is a progression of adoption by various types of individuals.

Furthermore, it takes a great effort to create awareness, interest, evaluation, eventually a trial and finally adoption of a new product, service or code. Fortunately, the alarm industry and associated stakeholders has seen widespread adoption of the 2010 edition of NFPA 72, along with its subsequent editions (and current work on proposed changes to the next edition) following that lead.

In essence, by simply tracing back to its addition of signaling to the NFPA 72 code, the association has disrupted the industry in a positive way. The NFPA has achieved two objectives with the addition of emergency communications: improved the ability to get life safety right; and provided a new means of adding communication devices to its members’ systems offerings.

One specific disruption that the NFPA is driving is the overriding of the fire alarm control panel in the event of a non-fire emergency. In this development, the organization put tremendous thought into the actions of human-related threats.

As an example, in both the 2013 Washington, D.C., Navy Yard shooting and the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shooting, the gunmen entered the building and pulled the fire alarm. This impacts that type of situation in two very negative and connected ways.

First, the pulling of the fire alarm releases all of the exit door locks, allowing others to enter the building. And second, it drives building occupants to exit hallways and puts a denser population in harm’s way.

Through signaling innovation, NFPA 72 has brought to the industry a new standard, allowing the fire alarm to be overridden and letting an emergency communications system to take control and communicate directions to safety.

Because the NFPA has raised the game on expectations within the code, there are new systems today that are now capable of overriding the fire alarm control panel. This sort of thinking pushes companies to further develop their technology and systems and ultimately drives innovation through an industry.


David Smith is Vice President of Marketing at Lencore.

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