The 2010 edition of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, established a new and separate chapter for emergency communication systems (ECS), which continues to evolve. The code changes result from new technology and develop based on field experience during the design and installation of these important systems.

Professional contractors, such as yourselves, are problem-solvers. As you experience issues during an installation, you pursue ways to rectify them quickly, efficiently and economically. The most productive way to approach an ECS comes from knowing as much as possible about code-compliant installation and operational requirements before encountering a problem.

You can anticipate some issues. First, of course, thoroughly review the plans and the ECS design. If you think the design provides incomplete speaker coverage, you know it will affect intelligibility. Of course, any design inadequacies will ultimately affect the approval of the system by the authority having jurisdiction. This may, in turn, delay occupancy—something for which you do not want be responsible.

On a positive note, discovering any inadequacy of the speaker coverage and addressing that issue before having to rework the circuits and install additional speakers shows the client that you solve problems and do your work properly.

In reality, you will experience more profitable projects through planning. That planning process includes understanding what constitutes a complete ECS design and installation. Your job does not simply involve pulling wire and installing electrical boxes. You must thoroughly understand how any system you install works.

Numerous code requirements will affect an installation. Some of these also impact costs and may delay occupancy. These requirements include ECS intelligibility, whether you must provide circuit survivability, and what other systems you must interface for operation during an emergency event, such as fire or an active shooter on the premises. In other words, you need to understand the bigger operational picture.

A chance exists that, if the ECS you install will not notify occupants of a fire and does not intend to provide emergency voice/alarm communication system (EVACS), you may not need to provide survivability of the notification appliance circuits. Knowing that before the final bid process could be an advantage when you don’t have to include two-hour-rated cable in your quote.

When dealing with a proposed ECS installation, you need to ask questions. You must find out whether the client has performed a risk analysis and whether that analysis requires something unusual for an ECS installation. Ensuring that the designer has provided a matrix of operation will go a long way toward ensuring on-time building occupancy. The matrix represents an extremely important document that will dictate how the system is programmed.

As you well know, the systems for almost any size project include controls that require extensive programming to work properly. Surveys have shown that more systems fail acceptance tests due to incorrect programming than any other physical component of the installation. You may not perform the programming, but the vendor you hire when you buy the system equipment must fully understand the programming needs before inspection and testing occurs.

If you delegate this phase of the installation to a vendor, ensure that the vendor has reliable and competent programmers. You will also want to ask the vendor if the company has any other large projects with the same due date as yours. Unfortunately, due to high training costs, many vendors have too few experienced programmers. This becomes your problem if the vendor does not have a programmer available for your project when you need completion.

In general, ECSs will not prove complicated. However, if you do not fully understand their expected operation and know what constitutes a competent design, you put yourself at a disadvantage in the bidding and installation processes. At the end of the day, knowing the code and operational requirements of an ECS will prove extremely important to your ability to serve this growing market.