It is interesting to monitor how the biennial “Profile of the Electrical Contractor” research study has changed over the years. It shows how the EC evolves with the times, including adding communications work to their offerings. Those who responded to market shifts made the move to profit. 


The communications systems market continues to grow, and you should expand your expertise into it. NFPA 72 2013, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, addresses various emergency communications systems. Due to recent tragedies, the mass notification system (MNS) has captured the attention of K–12, college and university officials. 


From a systems point of view, emergency communications systems’ components and wiring are similar to other systems you have installed. But, each system has important aspects of design and installation that could prove detrimental to your profit margin if overlooked.


The first difference with MNSs is that you must fully understand the school or university’s emergency response plan. The MNS design must meet the communication needs outlined in the plan. Features such as the security of, or controlled access to, the MNS and its integration with other systems in the building are important. Researching the types and quality of the communications systems will help you avoid inadequate systems. Additionally, understanding the sound and communications concept of “intelligibility” will help to ensure that the MNS will transmit clear messages.


NFPA 72 2013 covers many of these concepts. However, to stay on top of these systems, you will need details that go beyond the code requirements; you will find these details elsewhere.


The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (www.nema.org) is one resource. Its manual SB 50 2008, Emergency Communications Audio Intelligibility Application Guide, provides guidance on the concepts and terminology used to enhance intelligibility for emergency voice paging systems. If you want to go beyond the basics, look at the various sound and communications companies that offer training or manuals for the proper layout and installation of these important systems.


Web-based programs often provide the best training. Synergistic Audio Concepts (www.synaudcon.com), known in the sound and communications trade as “SynAudCon,” offers training to help contractors understand audio concepts so they can comply with new codes. One of their introductory courses, “How Sound Systems Work,” has particularly helpful information.


As you have found before when you enter a new market, or wish to move to a higher level of sales in that market, you not only need to know how the systems work and how to install them, but you must know how to speak the language of that market. By learning the concepts of sound and communications, you will be able to intelligently speak to your customers and understand their communications systems needs.


Of course, an MNS installation must meet code requirements. One of the key concepts for code compliance is an acoustically distinguishable space (ADS). The code requires the system designer to determine the specific location of each ADS during the planning and design of all emergency communications systems. Within the ADS, voice communications systems must reproduce intelligible prerecorded, synthesized or live (e.g., microphone, telephone handset or radio) messages. The system needs to deliver intelligible information to all spaces. However, the inherent nature of a space or its occupancy may preclude some spaces from the need to verify the intelligibility. For example, the noise in a machine shop would preclude both audibility and intelligibility.


As the enforcing authorities begin to understand this concept, they can require you to submit all ADS assignments for review and approval. As the annex of the code advises, “In an ADS that is a non-acoustically challenging area, designing for audibility will typically result in an intelligible system provided minimum speaker guidelines are followed. Areas typically considered to be non-acoustically challenging include traditional office environments, hotel guest rooms, dwelling units, and spaces with carpeting and furnishings.


“Special attention must be given to acoustically challenging ADSs. Such areas might incorporate appreciable hard surfaces (e.g., glass, marble, tile, metal, etc.) or appreciably high ceilings (e.g., atriums, multiple ceiling heights). These conditions will require more stringent design guidelines to ensure intelligibility (e.g., a closer-than-normal speaker spacing with lower taps). This can help reduce the effect of excessive reverberation and result in better intelligibility.”


So, will you take advantage of the market shift toward more communications systems installations? If so, you must approach the market intelligently. Learn how to provide a system that meets code requirements. Develop a proper understanding of what it takes to meet the customer’s communications goals. The reward for your efforts will appear as you begin to enjoy a positive shift in profits.