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October 3, 2013 -
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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.