Protecting Public Spaces

For many reasons, public spaces can prove difficult to protect with security systems as well as with fire detection and alarm systems. In many cases, historic buildings present an array of specific design and installation issues. These include the importance of not allowing the installation of the fire alarm or security system to destroy the historic fabric of the building.

In a library, for example, these issues include where to place notification appliances, specifically strobes, in the book stack areas. Many public spaces occupy unique structures with high, ornate ceilings. This geometry presents difficult detection decisions.

In addition to the building code requirements; the requirements of NFPA 72 2010, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code; and the requirements of NFPA 731 2008, the Standard for the Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems, you should also take note of NFPA 909 2010, the Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties—Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship.

Because NFPA 909 contains much stricter requirements than one typically finds in the building codes, building managers for museums, libraries or places of worship will want to comply with those stricter requirements in addition to complying with the minimum building code requirements. NFPA 909 establishes protection goals and objectives for each of these public occupancies. These goals include matters such as collection preservation, building preservation and continuity of operations. The collection preservation goal of NFPA 909 seeks to “provide a reasonable level of protection for collections against conditions or physical situations with the potential to cause damage or loss, including, but not limited to, fire, products of combustion, and fire suppression agents and activities; deliberate actions of third parties, staff, or visitors; or natural disasters.”

The building preservation goal intends “to provide a reasonable level of protection for buildings, their unique characteristics, and their fabric against conditions or physical situations with the potential to cause damage or loss, including, but not limited to, fire, products of combustion, and fire suppression agents and activities; deliberate actions of third parties, staff, or visitors; or natural disasters.”

And finally, the continuity of operations goal of NFPA 909 provides “a -reasonable level of protection against disruption of facility operations consistent with the organization’s mission and protection goals.”

The objectives facilitate reaching the goals and require that the design, approval, implementation and maintenance of protection features, systems and programs safeguard and preserve the original qualities of the collection contained in a museum, library or place of worship. Additionally, the design, approval, installation and maintenance of protection features, systems and programs must preserve the original qualities or character of a building, structure, site or environment. And, the systems and their installation must minimize disruption of operations consistent with the cultural resource property’s mission and protection goals.

NFPA 909 requires that new construction incorporates fire protection and electronic premises security systems in accordance with the cultural resource property’s protection plan. All buildings must have protection from automatic sprinkler systems or alternative fire suppression systems. This, of course, means the building will need a fire alarm system to monitor those other fire protection systems and interconnect them with off-premises signaling equipment.

All fire alarm systems must comply with the requirements of NFPA 72. Where the system must include detection, the installation must use smoke detectors wherever ambient conditions permit.

Where ambient conditions will adversely affect the performance, reliability or normal operation of smoke detectors, the fire alarm system may use other forms of detection technology, such as heat detectors.

NFPA 909 also requires that electronic premises security systems comply with the requirements of NFPA 731. In addition to requiring the installation of both fire alarm and premises security systems in all museums, libraries and places of worship, NFPA 909 requires that these systems transmit alarm, supervisory and trouble signals to an approved monitoring facility. Of course, the monitoring facility and the communications methods used for fire alarm signal transmission must comply with the requirements of NFPA 72.

One of the unique aspects of NFPA 909 includes its allowance of a performance--based option to meet the intent of prescriptive-based minimum code requirements. The code also provides requirements for the evaluation of a performance-based protection design. While the performance option of NFPA 909 does contain goals, objectives and performance criteria necessary to provide an acceptable level of risk to culturally significant collections and building features, it does not describe how to meet those goals, objectives and performance criteria. A design and engineering analysis must develop solutions that meet the provisions of the performance-based option. The SFPE Engineering Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection Analysis and Design of Buildings provides a framework for these assessments.

A person with qualifications acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) must prepare the performance-based design. And, the AHJ has the permissive option to require review and evaluation of the proposed design by an approved, independent third party. Ultimately, the AHJ must make the final determination as to whether the design has met the performance objectives.

What does this mean to the contractor? It means the systems installed in order to pursue approval of a performance-based option may need more detection and physical protection and may possibly include the survivability of all circuits above and beyond the minimum building code requirements.And, of course, the performance-based protection features, systems, and operations necessary to achieve the goals outlined in NFPA 909 must remain effective, maintained and operational for the life of the building.

This brings us to the inspection, testing and maintenance of all of the protection systems required by NFPA 909. NFPA 909 requires the building owner to test, inspect and maintain all fire protection systems in full compliance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and with the requirements of the applicable installation standards or codes. The applicable codes and standards will include NFPA 72 and NFPA 731 as well as the codes and standards for the various other fire protection systems. In general, the building owner must implement inspection, testing and maintenance in accordance with procedures that meet or exceed those established for the type of fire protection system installed and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

NFPA 909 requires that the building owner must also compare all test results with the original specifications for the system being tested. And, the owner must compare the current results with the results from the original acceptance test (if available) and with the results of the most recent test. Then, the owner must document any variances in the performance of the system and any corrections made to bring system performance to an acceptable level.

NFPA 909 intends to ensure that the performance of all maintenance will keep all fire protection and security systems operable, with the necessary repairs made as the issues arise.

As with most fire protection systems in any building, when an emergency or a preplanned activity takes any system out of operational service, the building owner must take measures during the impairment to minimize increased risks and limit the duration of the impairment. And when the building owner places fire protection systems—such as sprinkler systems, fire pumps and fire detection and alarm systems—out of service for four hours or more, the building’s fire safety manager must notify the fire department and post a firewatch acceptable to the fire department. The firewatch must have a means to communicate with the fire department to ensure notification in the event of a fire incident.

Given all of the additional requirements imposed on such public buildings, the astute contractor will help to ensure that the managers of these facilities know about NFPA 909. When the building managers understand the requirements contained with NFPA 909, electrical contractors will benefit from the additional work.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates, Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist
Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He c...

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