NFPA Set to Approve Notification Chapter of 2010 Fire Code in June

QUINCY, Mass.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) could approve a national mass notification standard for the private sector, as early as June, at its safety conference in Chicago, Campus Safety Magazine has learned. The standard, which is known as Chapter 12, adds the category to the National Fire Alarm Code that was last updated in 2007. It would be the first time guidelines have been put in place for an emergency communication system (or ECS). The code would roll out for 2010.

An ECS is used to provide notification of emergency situations inside and outside buildings as well as throughout entire campuses. The system must provide pre-recorded messages, as well as real-time instructions, so the occupants of a building know what to do during an emergency, according to the most recent draft of Chapter 12. Perhaps the most notable element of the new chapter requires emergency communications systems be integrated with fire alarm systems as the primary notification system on school and hospital campuses. Once the emergency is over, this combination ECS/fire alarm system could provide independent fire alarm notification.

“In new construction, the best way to comply with NFPA 72, Chapter 12 code appears to be an integrated ECS/fire alarm systems approach,” according to Beth Welch, public relations manager at Honeywell Fire Systems. “When dealing with a retrofit application where a fire alarm system already exists, a separate ECS may be required.”

Campuses would also be required to provide “voice intelligibility” in messaging – any messages must be clear enough to be heard and understood. This requirement could trigger additional fire-alarm inspections, Welch added. Several suppliers produce commercially available metering devices to test the volume and clarity of the systems.

The updated version of NFPA 72 is scheduled to come before the association’s membership at the technical session that’s held in conjunction with the 2009 NFPA World Safety Conference and Exposition in Chicago. The proposed code update was circulated to the public in mid-2008 for review and comment. The NFPA’s Standards Council has been overseeing the update. The council created the Emergency Communication Systems (ECS) Committee, which is reviewing and updating documents on the risk analysis, design, application, installation and performance of emergency communication systems, which include mass notification systems and their components.

The addition of Chapter 12 (formerly known as Annex E) would address in-building communication systems, as well as wide-area signaling. Wide-area signaling, which was introduced in the 2007 edition of NFPA 72, is the process of providing alerts or information to people in exterior open spaces, such as campuses, neighborhood streets, cities, towns or communities.

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