Security Industry Effort to Overhaul MasterFormat Standard Lauded as Big Success

The revised standard rectifies gaping inadequacies in how electronic security and fire/life-safety products and systems are administered to organize project specifications.

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – The good many security and fire/life-safety specifiers and other stakeholders who have long forsaken MasterFormat, the standard for organizing specifications for large commercial and infrastructure-type construction projects in North America, will now want to give the guidelines a shot at redemption.

The newest edition of MasterFormat, released in April, contains a vastly overhauled section that rectifies gaping inadequacies in how electronic security and fire/life-safety products and systems are administered to organize project specifications. Where ambiguity and antiquated guidelines once frustrated security professionals to no end, modernized directives now provide a clear path to providing unified workable solutions.

“When this revision fully works its way through the system, specifications that will start to get issued will really make more sense in terms of the structure to be more uniformed,” says Ray Coulombe, founder and managing director of

MasterFormat is maintained under the auspices of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC). It provides a master list of topical divisions to organize information about a facility’s construction requirements. The standard is used throughout the construction industry primarily to format specs for contract documents.

Division 28 – which covers the various electronic security and fire/life-safety systems – had not been meaningfully updated since 2004. Technological advances, among other industry-altering dynamics, alone had reduced the division to near irrelevance.

So in May 2014, Coulombe huddled with the Security Industry Association (SIA) to propose a collaborative effort that would include security professionals from across the industry ecosystem in an effort to draft and propose compulsory changes to Division 28. (SSI first reported the proposed changes in July 2015; read the here.)

For the first time ever, MasterFormat now has cybersecurity procedures built into the standard.

SIA bought in wholeheartedly, and immediately the call went out for volunteers to take part in various working groups made up of representatives from manufacturers, consultants, specifiers and others with expertise in specific technology categories. In all more than 100 volunteers joined the cause. They were structured into 13 product and technology areas and charged with coming up with suggested changes for their specific category. The collective work led to an initial rough draft of recommendations, which was presented to CSI in February 2015.

Following critical review of the draft, CSI provided guidance that led to dropping some of the group’s recommendations, such as establishing a new division for fire-related disciplines and consolidating other top-level categories that had been identified. Continued feedback from CSI led to a second draft proposal. Then a third and final iteration was submitted in April 2015.

After a lengthy review, CSI approved and incorporated essentially all of the industry group’s sweeping recommendations, which were published in MasterFormat 2016. Division 28 categories have been realigned to reflect the major elements of security – access control, video surveillance, intrusion detection and alarm monitoring. Fire/life-safety was consolidated into a single category. A “specialized systems” category was created to encompass information management.

“One of the biggest positives to come out of this is the new relationship with CSI,” says Ron Hawkins, SIA manager of special projects and partnerships. “This was key to keeping the group’s work on the right track, and it will be equally important moving forward, since, while this started out as an ad hoc group, we’re going to keep it active.”

Beyond the extensive benefits that will be reaped by security and life-safety professionals, the overhaul to Division 28 is expected to introduce potentially major advantages to other industries and practitioners as well. Consider: For the first time ever, MasterFormat now has cybersecurity procedures built into the standard. The new category, Cybersecurity Requirements for Electronic Safety and Security, could potentially be included in other divisions that contain network-based communications.

“There is a very good chance these changes will affect more folks than just the security industry group who proposed them,” says CSI Director of Technical Services Greg Ceton. “It may likely have broader consequences than they would have initially intended. And that is all good.”

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add sales to your bottom line.

A free subscription to the #1 resource for the residential and commercial security industry will prove to be invaluable. Subscribe today!

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters