Author(s): Wayne Moore. Published on September 1, 2019.

In Compliance | NFPA 72

Fire alarm systems and the Internet of Things


If you ask your voice-controlled personal assistant to give you a report on your fire detection setup—“Alexa, what is the status of my fire alarm system?”—you likely won’t receive an answer. But that may change soon—it won’t be long before fire alarm systems become a part of the Internet of Things (IoT), that vast web of devices that is connected to the Internet, collecting and sharing data. When fire alarm and other detection systems join the IoT, amazing possibilities will quickly open up.

We already live surrounded by the Internet of Things. We ask Alexa the weather forecast in the morning. We ask Google Home to start a timer as we get breakfast started. When we head out for our morning jog, every step is tracked by Fitbit. The Internet of Things has become a vital part of our daily routine.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation recognizes that the 2022 edition of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, will need to adapt to IoT concepts and has established a task group to evaluate related emerging technologies such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), a smart system that carries electrical power over a building’s network of Ethernet cables. The task group will establish proposals to allow the code to accept both PoE and any other new technologies that may emerge to serve our fire alarm system and communication needs.

In the past, the smart building concept has struggled to gain a foothold in the building community. Now, through IoT, this concept has become a stronger and more effective way to decrease capital costs and greatly reduce operating costs through the integration of multiple manufacturers’ equipment. With new technology using the IoT, building owners can reduce management costs by monitoring the ongoing health of the fire protection systems. Such reports will help reduce false alarms, limit unscheduled emergency repairs, and reduce service costs by ensuring that technicians bring the right repair part to restore a system. Using the IoT, we will maximize efficiencies with all integrated systems. The use of predictive maintenance will ensure that our fire alarm systems maintain operational reliability at a high level.

Using PoE to reduce connected cabling and associated costs, developers can use the IoT concept to create unique applications that will increase design flexibility, thus reducing system installation costs. The PoE concept alone will revolutionize the way designers and installers perform their work, especially for emergency communications systems.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation’s task group has already developed a draft of the IoT & PoE Product and Service Development Guidelines for those in the fire alarm industry who want to develop products to serve the industry’s needs. It has also developed Guidelines for AHJs for Systems Utilizing Power over Ethernet (PoE) in Accordance with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®. The current edition of NFPA 72 addresses Class N circuits that allow the use of Ethernet within a building to interconnect fire alarm devices.

Real challenges present themselves as we embrace the IoT concept, and among the biggest challenges are those associated with cybersecurity. Underwriters Laboratories has tackled this issue in its new standard, UL 2900-1-2017 Software Cybersecurity.

Technology changes at warp speed, but with the help of the Fire Protection Research Foundation and NFPA’s technical committees, we can keep up. 

Wayne D. Moore is vice president at Jensen Hughes. NFPA members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 72 at