UL Sets Guidelines to Address Working From Home

UL is in the process of making revisions to UL 827, Standard for Central-Station Alarm Services, to address central station employees working from home.

UL Sets Guidelines to Address Working From Home

This article is dedicated to the memory of Penny Lynne Westphal, who passed away last month. She was the wife of Roger Westphal, former CEO of Bay Alarm Co. and the mother of Tim Westphal, COO of Bay Alarm.

This has been a strange year to state the least. Normally for this month’s article I would be writing on some of the new technology that was on display at the NFPA Annual Meeting and Expo. This meeting, as well as every other meeting and expo related to the fire alarm industry this year, has been canceled due to COVID-19. I trust that in 2021 the trade shows will be able to resume.

Working from home has become the “new normal.” While I have returned to some work in the office and field, most work since the middle of March has been from my home office. What could not have been imagined at the start of this year would be having alarm signals monitored and acted upon from the homes of supervising station operators.

UL is in the process of making revisions to UL 827, Standard for Central-Station Alarm Services. When the COVID pandemic began, UL released a set of guidelines for the monitoring of systems from a home. These guidelines were put into place as a temporary solution to what was thought at that time to be only required for a short time until the pandemic faded. These temporary guidelines were promulgated as a number of supervising stations had to address social distancing, essential travel and shelter in place orders.

As it became evident that COVID-19 was not going to go away softly in the evening, a task group was formed by UL to move the guidelines that used the word “should” to language that used the word “shall.” The formal name of the task group is UL/ULC Joint Virtual Workplace Task Group. The work of this task group is for supervising central stations in both the United States and Canada.

At the time that this article is being written the proposed language has concluded a public review and the task group will be meeting virtually to take action on the comments received. This article will not cover the comments, but will provide a brief synopsis of the provisions that are being proposed to be added to UL 827.

  1. The provisions for off-site monitoring shall be permitted when there is a regional or national disruption event.

While COVID-19 was the seed for these proposed changes to UL 827, the language was structured so as to allow for other events, such as severe weather or civil unrest.

  1. Operations must return to normal operation within fourteen (14) days of the disruption event being declared over.

The language still permits the requirements for social distance to allow stations to operate with remote operations.

  1. There shall still be staff at the supervising and central station so that equipment can be maintained and supported, such as receivers, automation systems, emergency generators and so forth.
  2. The connections between the station and the remote sites shall be through a secure pathway, such as a virtual private network that uses a minimum of 256-bit AES encryption.
  3. There shall be a form of multi-factor authentication in order to gain access to the stations network and automation system.
  4. The remote operator workstations shall not be used for personal use and shall be the property of the monitoring company
  5. The location of the remote operators’ station shall be set aside within the home so that there would be no unauthorized viewing of the information on the screen and that the operator would not be distracted during the work period.
  6. There shall be a means of continuous communications between the remote sites and on-duty managers.

There still needs a resolution to unresolved questions such as standby power, wired verses wireless connectivity within the remote monitoring site and the acceptance of AHJs that signals are not being handled within the four walls of a supervising or central station.

NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code will in time also have to provide language so as to permit these operations. These operations are taking place at this time, as COVID-19 did not hold until a NFPA or UL cycle on a standard was completed and adopted. UL, ULC and the various affected users of the standard are to be commended for their quick action on this. The task group that was formed produced the initial language within three weeks. These are unique times.

About the Author

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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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