By Thomas P. Hammerberg | Dec 15, 2011
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The 2009 Life Safety Code underwent significant changes from past versions, especially in Section 9.6 and the requirements regarding voice messages. The International Building Code (IBC) and NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code (LSC), differ in how they handle the delivery of emergency messages. The IBC always calls for the use of an emergency voice alarm communications system when voice messages are required, while the LSC allows the use of public address systems in many cases. In past editions, there were no requirements to verify the reliability of public address (PA) systems.

It was often said that, since these PA systems are used all the time, if there was a problem, someone would notify staff about it. Since this practice is not particularly reliable, the 2009 version of the LSC added requirements for standby power. For example, if you are installing a fire alarm system in a shopping mall, the new secondary power requirement may be a factor. While it may not be a major issue in many cases, it is best to ensure the public address system can accept a standby power system. Annex material for states that this standby requirement does not have to be the same as required by NFPA 72, but it is expected that the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), before approving the system, would have reasonable assurance that the public address system would work when needed. Emergency signals would also have to be able to take precedence over other types of signals.

A change in Section 9.6 that affects malls is that visible fire alarm signals (strobe lights) are not required provided that another means of visible signaling, such as message boards, is approved by the AHJ. Remember that Section 9.6 applies only where specifically required by another section of this code. It also would apply to large assembly venues, such as an arena or stadium; however, it only applies to the open or seating areas in arenas or stadiums and in the general mall area, not everywhere in the buildings. Strobe lights would still be required in public restrooms, service corridors and concession areas. This requirement will probably be more beneficial in the large assembly areas rather than malls because of considerations regarding the alternative type of visual signaling to be used, the cost and the placement of the equipment. It is always best to check with your local AHJ before making a decision.

There also were changes in 2009 regarding the protection of the fire alarm system. In addition to installing a smoke detector over a fire alarm control unit, the LSC requires protection of notification appliance expander panels and supervising station transmitting equipment. This change was made to match the requirements of NFPA 72. An exception is allowed for a fully sprinklered building in Section 9.6, although most of the occupancy chapters do not allow use of the exception. It was removed in the 2012 edition of NFPA 101 to match its deletion in the NFPA 72 2010.

Although the 2009 LSC and the 2009 IBC both would reference the NFPA 72 2007, many jurisdictions are adopting the 2010 edition because of its new requirements for mass notification systems. It is being adopted faster than previous editions. Make sure you know which edition your jurisdiction has adopted.

The updated version of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is something else that warrants consideration. Between Sept. 12, 2011, and March 1, 2012, you can either continue using the 2004 version or use the new 2010 version of the ADA and its guidelines (ADAAG). Many have anxiously awaited this change for some time since references to 75 candela strobes and mounting heights are no longer there. Now, it simply says to install fire alarm equipment in accordance with either the 2002 or 2007 edition of NFPA 72. This will eliminate a lot of interpretation issues that have come up in the past, especially regarding ceiling mounting of strobe lights. You can view these new requirements by going to

One last thing to consider is carbon monoxide (CO) alarms or detectors. The reference for the installation of CO detection is NFPA 720. It now includes requirements for commercial occupancies as well as residential occupancies. Requirements for CO detection were added to the 2012 IBC and 2012 LSC where there are sleeping facilities (primarily Group I and R) in buildings with fuel-fired equipment or where there is an attached enclosed garage.

To remain competitive, it is important to stay informed of the changes in codes and standards that can affect your business as well as your local or state adoption plans.

HAMMERBERG is the president/executive director of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association Inc. headquartered in Jasper, Ga. He serves on a number of NFPA committees, including the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee and the Protected Premises Technical Committee. He can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author

HAMMERBERG, SET, CFPS, is an independent fire alarm presenter and consultant in The Villages, Fla. He can be reached at [email protected]

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