Communication—A Key Concept! Explaining EVACS and MNS to stakeholders

By Wayne D. Moore | May 15, 2023
How well do you communicate to your employees or customers? When you tell an employee to follow “the code,” do they understand what you mean? 

The late Zig Ziglar, one of my favorite motivational speakers, once wrote, “That which can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.” This gem of a resolution passed by the Board of Councilmen in Canton, Miss., in the mid-1800s highlights the truth of that old saying: “Number one: Resolved by the Council that we build a new jail. Number two: Resolved that the new jail be built out of the materials of the old jail. Resolved that the old jail be used until the new jail is finished.”

The first thought that comes to mind when reading this resolution is that I have heard and, unfortunately, given instructions equally as unclear when discussing fire alarm system installations.

How well do you communicate to your employees or customers? When you tell an employee to follow “the code,” do they understand what you mean? Do you thoroughly explain the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code requirements surrounding the specific installation? Are you aware there are many new requirements pertaining to in-building emergency voice/alarm communications systems (EVACS) and mass notification systems (MNS)? Do you know the NFPA Technical Committee has included some important changes in the new ECS chapter and its associated Annex A that will affect how you design and install a system?

Installing an MNS

You should take note that code-­compliant ECS systems will have more loudspeakers than most, if not all, previous system installations. Because the code does not explain how to require, sell or purchase an MNS, as a system installer, you should understand the reasons these systems have such importance in strengthening the principles of life safety protection. Unlike fire EVACS, no building code or the Life Safety Code requires an MNS. That means you must understand why a facility may need an MNS and what challenges you will encounter if you sell or are required to install one.

NFPA 72-2022 provides requirements, so when a facility owner decides to install an MNS, you will have the appropriate guidance at your fingertips.

An MNS can take many forms: a campus-­wide text message to student and staff cellphones, emails or voice broadcasts in open areas or buildings. As stated in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Unified Facilities Criteria, UFC 4-021-01, “Mass notification provides real-time information and instructions to people in a building, area, site, or installation using intelligible voice communications along with visible signals, text, and graphics, and possibly including tactile or other communication methods.” 

MNSs are intended to protect life by indicating the existence of an emergency and instructing people of the necessary protocol to react safely.

There are various “types” of MNS technology, usually labeled as “tiers.” They include the following:

  • Tier 1: immediate and intrusive, indoor/outdoor sirens, loudspeakers, fire voice evacuation, electronic signage and code-compliant
  • Tier 2: personal alerting, SMS text (cellphones), computer pop-ups, tone alert on radios, email broadcast and automated voice dialing and text messaging
  • Tier 3: public alerting, satellite/AM/FM radio broadcasts, satellite/off-air TV broadcasts, location-specific and text messages
  • Tier 4: locally relevant alerting, handheld bullhorns, radio cellphones and two-way radios

In most applications, you will find that tiers 1 and 2 are the most commonly used. Because a Tier 1 MNS functions independently of the devices carried by an individual or the activities performed, most applications favor this type as the primary means to inform the population. Tier 2 MNSs require that an individual carry a device or engage in a specific action. Typically, most Tier 2 solutions will act as a “safety net” to provide an extra layer of notification.

The overall solution will most likely employ a number of Tier 1 and Tier 2 systems that produce a reliable and robust solution to a facility’s MNS needs.

Communication is key

Your job as a designer and an installer involves “communicating” the systems’ differences to ensure that all the stakeholders clearly understand what the facility needs. This requires that you do more than provide the technological solution for the facility. The code addresses other issues, such as risk analysis, emergency action plans and message development. You, the facility owner, and the other stakeholders will need to understand these issues. Education, not the code, will always drive an MNS installation. Are you up to the task? / Maria Petrish

About The Author

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, was a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is president of the Fire Protection Alliance in Jamestown, R.I. Reach him at [email protected]





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