4 FM quick reads on NFPA
1. Coordinated Fire System Testing Offers Savings
Testing life safety equipment is a necessary step, but the costs associated with these protocols can add up. Costs come in the form of hiring a third party to do the testing, the cost of a security escort to accompany the individual through sensitive facilities like healthcare, and the cost of facility downtime. While it is impossible to completely eradicate the cost of system testing, in an article in the January/February issue of NFPA Journal, Wayne D. Moore goes over some strategies to use to help minimize the impact of costs associated with fire life safety system testing.
The first is figuring out what life safety systems in your facilities need what kind of testing with what frequency, according the various codes and standards that govern them. By charting out each system and what testing and maintenance is required with what frequency, facility managers will start to see the overlap between some systems. Perhaps a facility manager will see that the testing for the same system is being done at different times across multiple facilities and could gain some efficiencies by synchronizing the testing across the campus. At the very least, combining testing times for multiple systems will minimize the potential for downtime impacting end users. In a related way, facility mangers can see if the same testing company can perform tests on multiple systems and maybe save a little bit of money that way.
Sometimes code will also offer ways to save money on testing, Hughes says. For example, if the fire alarm system electronically monitors fire extinguishers, code gives facility managers a pass on the monthly testing requirement, according to Hughes.
Read the full article here.
2. Custom Design For Emergency Communication Systems
Unlike the fire alarm systems they might run alongside, emergency communication systems don't have prescriptive requirements for components or features. Each emergency communication system should be a built-to-suit creation that fills the particular needs and overcomes the specific challenges of its unique facility.
The design of the emergency communication system is closely tied to the emergency response plan. The latter will uncover and address the risk factors the emergency communication system will have to accommodate. If a facility does not have an emergency response plan in place, NFPA 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs, is a good place to start developing one, says Ray Grill, principal with Arup, in the September 2013 issue of Building Operating Management.
Though the particulars of emergency communication systems will differ system to system, in general they will feature a head end to control the system and then an assortment of notification appliances, tailored to suit the end audience. These can include speakers, strobes, text displays, and on. Other systems can be integrated into the emergency communication system, so long as they don't interfere with its operation. These can include phone and computer systems, CCTV systems and other building automation systems.
The whole point of an emergency communication system is to convey a message, so a fair bit of consideration has to be given to how easily and well the message is being received by the facility's population. If there are voice messages, can these be heard and understood? We have all experienced a situation where a voice message is loud enough to be heard but ambient noise completely garbles how well the message can be understood. Grill points to Annex D in NFPA 72 for guidance on quantitative measurements for ensuring intelligibility.
Ensuring an alert tone or voice message can be heard is a little more straightforward. A general rule of thumb is that the sound has to be 15dB above ambient sound pressure levels, Grill says. In very loud spaces (more than 105dB) and/or to accommodate the hearing impaired, text and visual alerts can be incorporated into an emergency communication system. Again, considerations of placement come into play.
3. Code Guidelines on Mass Notification Available, Not Required
Fire safety considerations are often interwoven with mass communication or emergency communication considerations. However, at this time, emergency communication systems are not a requirement of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Rather, it provides the design, installation, and maintenance requirements and guidelines for systems if they are required by local codes or other governing authorities or if an owner decides to voluntarily implement an emergency communication system within a building or area, says Ray Grill, a principal with Arup, in an article in the September 2013 issue of Building Operating Management.
"There are currently no known requirements in the building or fire codes mandating mass notification," he says. That said, building and fire codes establish when a fire alarm system is required in a facility and what it needs to be able to do. Sometimes, that includes a communications component, such as in high-rise buildings, large assembly and schools. While the systems in those situations would not be mass notification systems per se, they could be designed to function as such.
There are many communications tools available for communicating emergency information to a large number of people that still wouldn't be defined as emergency communications systems in NFPA 72. For example, automated text message generated by a computer alert or phone communications are not considered part of an emergency communication system, though they can certainly serve to augment one.
In addition to listing under NFPA, mass notification equipment is listed under the Underwriters Laboratories standard UL 2572: Control Equipment for Mass Notification Systems. The standard covers control units, communication units, distributed recipient mass notification control units and dedicated targeted individual receiving equipment, high power speaker arrays, transport products which manipulate the data packets, and accessories for mass notification systems to be employed in accordance with NFPA 72.
4. Fire Alarm Systems Requirements For Use In Emergency Communications
Fire safety covers many different building systems and concepts. One of them is the need for effective emergency communications in the event of a fire, and other emergency situations. Fairly recently, codes have recognized that fire alarm systems can be used for emergency communications beyond fire events. This use is governed by NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and the 2010 edition of this code is the first to allow the use of fire alarm systems for emergency mass communications in non-fire events.
To note, existing fire alarm systems with voice capability can be used for emergency communication, but existing mass notification systems can not be also used for fire, unless they were originally designed for that purpose, says Ray Grill in an article in the September 2013 issue of Building Operating Management. Also if a system will provide both fire alarm and emergency communication, the fire alarm requirements are more restrictive, he says.
Once you move out of just using the fire alarm system for fire events, there is a wide range of events that it could be used to address. For this reason, NFPA 72 requires a risk analysis be performed to investigate the types of events the system will be asked to address, the nature of the hazards, occupancy characteristics and facility characteristics. This will ensure that the application of the mass notification system is specific and appropriate to the anticipated risk.
The risk analysis will also need to cover the number of people that will need to be notified in each type of event, occupant attributes such as whether they are resident population or public that just moves through the facility, management and staff capabilities and who are the first responders for each type of event.
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