Evolving NFPA 72 for homeland security
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2004
The July 2002 release of President Bush's National Strategy for Homeland Security states that "an informed and proactive citizenry is an invaluable asset for our country in times of war and peace. Volunteers enhance community coordination and action, whether at the national or local level. This coordination will prove critical as we work to build the communication and delivery systems indispensable to our national effort to detect, prevent, and, if need be, respond to terrorist attack."
NFPA is and always has been the best example of volunteerism and professional service. And as such, the Association is poised to add our established codes and standards to the United States' security infrastructure.
Part of the vision outlined in the National Strategy for Homeland Security is to "create a fully integrated national emergency response system…." NFPA is playing a part in this system by coordinating the requirements of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm Code®, with the nation's security requirements in the area of mass notification.
In December 2002, the Department of Defense (DoD) developed uniform facilities criteria (UFCs), published as DoD Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings. In this UFC is the mass notification requirement, intended to provide a "timely means to notify [building] occupants of threats and instruct them what to do in response to those threats."
Myron Anderson, acting director of Technical Support for the Department of the Air Force, recently reported on the development of another UFC, "Design and O&M: Mass Notification Systems." According to Anderson, this document was designed to provide performance specifications to comply with the DoD UFC, and it intentionally included requirements similar to those of NFPA 72 to take advantage of available technologies and manufacturers.
In developing this UFC, however, the Air Force found that it "could not use any currently approved fire alarm system for mass notification while remaining in full compliance with NFPA 72. The mass notification system has an antiterrorism purpose that is sometimes in conflict with the basic functions of the building fire alarm system. Examples of these conflicts include: evacuation from the building may not be the appropriate choice for the occupants even if the fire alarm system has been activated; and temporary silencing of the fire alarm system might be necessary to provide directions and guidance to building occupants in a terrorism emergency."
As a result, the Air Force asked NFPA in June 2003 to develop standards for mass notification systems. Anderson believed that it might be possible to include in NFPA 72 requirements for mass notification and integration with building fire alarm systems. Some of the newer mass notification solutions apparently use equipment and methods NFPA 72 doesn't now address, and Anderson feels that it's essential that these systems interface with building fire alarm systems if they are to be effective.
In November 2003, the NFPA Standards Council considered the Air Force's request and voted to assign the work to the Signaling Systems Project.
In the wake of the Standards Council's decision, the Technical Correlating Committee (TCC) of NFPA 72 established a task group to ensure that the code meets the nation's security needs, as well as its fire-safety needs.
NFPA 72 Chapter 7, "Notification Appliances for Fire Alarm Systems," already contains requirements for the performance of notification-system appliances, including minimum sound levels for audible signaling and guidance to ensure voice intelligibility. Chapter 6, "Protected Premises Fire Alarm Systems," includes extensive system-level requirements for the operation and performance of emergency voice/alarm communication systems, as well as system-level requirements for combination systems that interface other systems. Finally, the common requirements of Chapter 4, "Fundamentals of Fire Alarm Systems," ensure reliable system performance and availability, while those of Chapter 10, "Inspection, Testing and Maintenance," are key to ensuring their ongoing performance.
The growth of integrated systems in general continues to be a driving force in the evolution of NFPA 72, and the inclusion of requirements for mass notification is the next logical step in the process.
Wayne D. Moore is chair of the National Fire Alarm Code Technical Correlating Committee.
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