What to Do When You Encounter Abandoned Cable

Everywhere I go instructors, educators and fire authorities seem intent on having cable pullers remove all unused wire in retrofit situations. I got to thinking, “Wonder if one day an inspector tells one of my own installers to remove some unused cable without any regard to the building owner. What will happen if he had plans to use it sometime in the future?”

Like most professionals that work in the life-safety field, I made the assumption that if a cable is unused, then it has to go. Because one of my men had taken it upon himself to remove some abandoned security wiring in a retrofit situation without inquiring of myself or the owner, I decided it was time to find the exact code references that 1) define what an abandoned cable is, and 2) determine what code tells us to do about it, and 3) come up with a procedure to follow when we encounter this situation.

To do this we must turn to National Electric Code (NEC, NFPA 70) to find out the exact definition of an “abandoned cable.”

In Article 640.2, 2008 Edition, titled Audio Signal Processing, Amplification, and Reproduction Equipment, it says, “Installed audio distribution cable that is not terminated at equipment and not identified for future use with a tag.“

The actual instructions on how to deal with this is contained in Article 640.6(c), 2008 Edition, “Abandoned Audio Distribution Cables,” where it says, “The accessible portion of abandoned audio distribution cables shall be removed.”

Then, in Article 640(d), 2008 Edition, “Installed Audio Distribution Cable Identified for Future Use,” in subpart 1 it says, “Cables identified for future use shall be marked with a tag of sufficient durability to withstand the environment involved.”

So the same technician asked me, “If we’re supposed to tag those cables that our customers intend to use sometime in the future, exactly what should the tag say?” Now, that was a good question.

In subpart 2 under Article 640(d), it gives us the answer. It says, “Cable tags shall have the following information: (1) Date cable was identified for future use, (2) Date of intended use, and (3) Information related to the intended future use of cable.”

That’s a lot of stuff to put on a single tag, but this is what code requires.

What about fire alarm systems? In Article 760.2, 2008 Edition, titled Definitions, “Abandoned Fire Alarm Cable,” it says, “Installed fire alarm cable that is not terminated at equipment other than a connector and not identified for future use with a tag.”

Just as with communication cables, in Article 760.25, 2008 Edition, it says, “The accessible portion of abandoned fire alarm cables shall be removed. Where cables are identified for future use with a tag, the tag shall be of sufficient durability to withstand the environment involved.”

After reviewing all of this and discussing it with one of my field technicians, we decided that the best procedure to take is as follows:

1.      Add a clause in my proposals/bids that essentially says that abandoned cable must be removed and that tagging and removal of the same shall be performed an additional fee.

2.      When one of our technicians realizes there’s abandoned cables present, they shall notify either me or the front office.

3.      It will be my job to inquire of the owner whether he/she would like to use any portion of the unused cables now in his/her facility.

4.      If the answer is yes, we’ll tag only those cables the owner intends to use, removing all others per code.

If you have a story to share or a question regarding abandoned cables, please contact me.

Al Colombo

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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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