Security Industry Seeks Update to Unruly Spec Standard

A group of electronic security industry stakeholders have proposed massive revisions to the security and life safety-related facets of the MasterFormat guidelines.

WASHINGTON – Most installing security contractors are likely not familiar with the name MasterFormat, the standard for organizing specifications for large commercial and infrastructure-type construction projects in the United States and Canada. But show them a security job spec prepared using the guidelines and you’ll likely hear, “We’ve seen this before.”

What they’ve seen before may soon be changing for the better. Spearheaded by Ray Coulombe, founder of, and the Security Industry Association (SIA), a group of industry stakeholders have proposed massive revisions to the security and life safety-related facets of the guidelines.

“[The proposed revisions would] affect the organization of the plans and specifications. Hopefully it will lead to a much more logical breakdown of what it is systems integrators have to bid,” Coulombe says.

MasterFormat is the brainchild of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). 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. What makes MasterFormat powerful, Coulombe explains, is that it’s not just a list of products, but of common “work results.” A work result is based on traditional construction practices and reflects a component or subsystem of a project that is generally designed, built and maintained as a segment of the work.

Information encompassed in MasterFormat is organized in an outline format within 50 divisions. Physical security and life-safety systems and related wares primarily fall under Division 28 (Electronic Safety and Security). There are four topical areas in the division: Electronic Access Control & Intrusion Detection; Electronic Surveillance & Electronic Personal Protection Systems; Electronic Detection & Alarm; and, Electronic Monitoring & Control.

“That’s really not a great break out from the industry’s perspective of how – if you had clean sheet of paper – you would start out and organize things,” Coulombe says. “There has to be a better way.” So in late 2014 SIA and Coulombe put out a call for volunteers to help overhaul Division 28, along with amending Division 8 (Openings) and Division 27 (Communications). The response was impressive. Over the course of several months a working group of about 90 individuals from across the industry spectrum were divided into sub-groups, each focusing on different technology areas. The group officially submitted its recommendations to CSI on April 17.

Five, newly revised classifications were proposed: Access Control; Video Surveillance; Security Detection, Alarm & Monitoring; Life Safety; and, Specialized Systems (e.g. PSIM). The working group also proposed a number of new common work results that apply to all the other categories, including: Security Communications; Servers, Storage & Work Stations; Systems Integration; Power Sources; and Cybersecurity Requirements.

Some product categories within an individual division have been defined where none existed before. Notably, the addition of cybersecurity measures would be the first such inclusion to the MasterFormat guidelines. “Hopefully it will eventually drive project specifications that have cyber requirements on security equipment,” Coulombe says. “Maybe [nonsecurity] people looking at other divisions will look at that and say, ‘That is a good idea. We ought to add that to our area as well.'”

Industry veteran Jim Henry, executive vice president of Kratos Public Safety & Security Solutions, says conflicts between plans and specifications in request for proposals (RFPs) have been a problem for integrators for as long as he can remember. RFPs often state the integrator is responsible to “comply with all codes,” he says. That too is problematic given there are regulatory codes that contain conflicts within different sections of the same code.

“Subjective ambiguity in code compliance is further exacerbated by the fact that many technologies, products and associated terminology for electronic systems commonly deployed today did not exist when many codes were written or last revised,” says Henry, who applauds the working group’s efforts.

Not since 2004 has there been any meaningful interaction from the security industry to overhaul Division 28. CSI is scheduled to render its decision on the recommendations in the fourth quarter. MasterFormat 2016 will be published in the first quarter of 2016, reflecting whichever of the industry’s proposals CSI approves. No matter the outcome the process has been fruitful for the industry, says Ron Hawkins, SIA manager of special projects and partnerships.

“The working group began as an ad hoc thing, focused on coming up with just these recommendations for this one MasterFormat update,” he says. “Frankly, it has been so successful we are keeping the group going on a standing basis for future updates.”

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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.

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