To protect today’s public spaces, integration of systems is more important than ever. And in light of recent catastrophic events, the pluses of integrated fire and life safety communications have become perfectly clear. For the first time, the 2007 NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, includes new information for using fire alarm systems with mass notification systems. Most of the information will be annex material. It is there for guidance but does not establish requirements for these systems.

Mass notification systems inform people of potential emergencies, such as terrorist attacks, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. These systems may be used in a single building or to provide information for a larger area,

Coming soon

In the 2010 NFPA 72, there will be a separate chapter for mass notification systems, and requirements for interfacing with fire alarm systems will be established. Since these systems still are relatively new, research must be done. For example, there is discussion now for using different color strobe lights when the mass notification system is activated. Other forms of notification may include visual text displays similar to the Amber Alert signs on the highway, sending messages to groups of individuals via e-mail, mobile phone messaging or voice messages, either live or recorded.

Although there is a lot of talk about integrated fire alarm systems today, this is not a new concept. I installed my first one back in 1984. Of course, today’s advanced technology allows more integration with other types of systems than ever before.

Fire alarms can interface with many other systems, but the most common is integration with burglar alarms/intrusion detection. This is common in homes and small businesses. These systems must be listed for both uses—intrusion and life safety—and fire alarms always takes the highest priority for communications signaling and transmission. The only exception to this is with mass notification systems, and these signals may take a higher priority in certain situations. With higher security concerns, fire alarm systems may be logically interconnected with access control or surveillance cameras. Newer technology now allows manufacturers to provide access-control functions over the same signaling line circuits, connecting the fire alarm devices using the same power supplies.

Another new product is a video smoke detector. These systems can analyze areas for smoke and fire as well as intrusion.

Inherently integrated

Even at their very core, most fire alarm systems are integrated to a certain extent. They monitor sprinkler systems, shut down air handlers, close smoke doors, recall elevators, monitor elevator shunt trip breaker power and control smoke dampers. They may be used as part of a pre-action sprinkler system. Some fire alarms are cross-listed to be used as suppression systems in locations such as computer rooms.

NFPA 72, in paragraph 6.8.2.1 states, “Fire alarm systems shall be permitted to be either integrated systems combining all detection, notification and auxiliary functions in a single system or a combination of component subsystems. Fire alarm system components shall be permitted to share control equipment or shall be able to operate as stand-alone subsystems, but, in any case, they shall be arranged to function as a single system.”

Fire alarm systems also can be interconnected with other controls. When doing so, you can connect them by using either relay contacts or data communications gateways. NFPA 72 also allows “other listed methods” to allow for future technologies. All the interconnection wiring must be monitored for integrity and be installed per the National Electrical Code (NEC). Each interconnected control unit must be separately monitored for alarm, supervisory and trouble signals. In addition, the other systems cannot interfere with the operation of the fire alarm and any fault on the other system cannot affect the required operation of the fire alarm system, including the monitoring for integrity of the fire alarm circuits.

NFPA 72 also allows fire alarm speakers to be used for nonemergency purposes under certain conditions. One of the more common applications is to allow the fire alarm voice communications systems to be used for paging purposes. The fire alarm speakers can be used for other nonemergency purposes, such as background music, provided that “the speakers and associated audio equipment are installed or located with safeguards to prevent tampering or misadjustment of those components essential to intended operation for fire.” In addition, the speaker wiring has to remain monitored for integrity while the nonemergency system is in use. Of course, you are allowed to use fire alarm speakers for other purposes only if the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) allows it.

Life safety on the big screen

Although it has been in practice for some time, the 2002 NFPA 72 has information about shutting off interfering sounds and turning lights on in case of emergency. A good example where this is essential is in a movie theatre. If the fire alarm activates during a movie, the projector will be turned off, and the house lights will be turned up so occupants can hear the messages and find the nearest exit.

In today’s competitive market, customers prefer to have one contractor do all the low-voltage work rather than having multiple individuals doing each job. This not only saves money, but may foster more reliable operation of these systems by providing a single design solution. Some AHJs still prefer having a separate fire alarm system, but technology has advanced to a level that integrated systems actually provide a higher level of life safety for the facility.

The code sets the requirements for all wiring. Article 760 is used for fire alarm wiring and includes requirements for what other conductors’ fire alarm circuits can be installed with. Article 725 is used for many other related circuits, such as security wiring and building fire safety function wiring. Article 760 does not allow power-limited fire alarm circuits, which include most of the fire alarm circuits installed, to be installed with power and light wiring or non-power-limited wiring. You can install security circuits with fire alarm circuits as long as the security wiring at least meets the requirements of the fire alarm wiring. You also can install communications conductors with a power-limited fire alarm.

Don’t forget the battery calculations. NFPA 72 stated that any device that still receives its power from the control unit while the system is running on standby power must be included in the battery calculations. This is important to ensure the fire alarm system will operate for its required standby time of 24 hours and alarm time of five minutes.

When testing integrated systems, you must ensure everything works as intended. If multiple types of systems use a common control, the non-fire alarm devices must be tested to make sure the fire alarm has the highest priority and should not interfere with the life safety system operation. NFPA 72 Chapter 10 addresses testing and inspection requirements of the fire alarm components and fire safety function interfaces, but it has no jurisdiction over non-fire alarm components.

Integrating systems also means installers and service personnel must be more qualified than ever before. They must be adept at fire alarm system operation and programming and everything that is part of the integrated system design. NFPA 72 sets guidelines for qualifications for designers, installers and service personnel. Training on equipment is essential, as well as having a broad brushstroke of knowledge on the codes. For example, installers need to become familiar with more building and fire codes. Unfortunately, not all of these requirements are found in the same places as fire alarms, so additional training on the codes is essential. A lack of knowledge of code requirements is never an excuse for an improper installation or poor maintenance.

NFPA now has two new security documents in addition to the building, fire, fire alarm and mechanical codes. NFPA 730 is the Guide for Premises Security and addresses construction, protection and occupancy features from residential dwellings to large industrial complexes. NFPA 731 is the Standard for Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems and covers requirements for installation of all types of security systems. If you do not have your copies yet, they are available at www.nfpa.org.

Regardless of the type of system you plan to install, make sure you know the code requirements and that your designers are well-trained and qualified. The bottom line is, with your help, these systems save lives.

HAMMERBERG is president/executive director of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association Inc. headquartered in Lake Mary, Fla. He is on the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating, Protected Premises and Testing and Maintenance committees and is editor of the Testing & Maintenance chapter of the NFPA 72 Handbook, NFPA 90A, NFPA 101/5000 Building Services & Fire Protection Equipment Committee and the ICC Industry Advisory Committee. He can be reached at TomHammerberg@afaa.org.