Staying Trendy

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” In this quote, Wayne Gretzky makes an important point. With all of the knowledge you need to remain competitive in the fire alarm systems installation market, the future is often the furthest thing from your mind. But to be great, you need to know what’s new or what is about to be new.


The Internet of Things, which networks physical objects using electronic connectivity, affects fire alarm system design, installation and use. NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, recognizes the use of Ethernet for fire alarm system connectivity. This edition has added a new circuit classification labeled “Class N,” which could lead to lower installation costs and ease system updates during a building’s life cycle.


If you intend to employ a network to ensure security and signal throughput, plan to dedicate your fire alarm system networks to that purpose. The code, however, permits sharing networks with other building systems.


Ethernet use requires careful analysis, well-planned installation and prudent maintenance. The code does not allow you to install a fire alarm system on general communication networks within a building. Remember that it is a daunting task to protect the security of a network that is exposed to the outside world.


Sharing ordinary business networks with other systems, and connecting them to the outside world, exposes connected fire alarm systems to new risks. When a customer decides that using ordinary business networks for fire alarm systems, and possibly integrating other systems on the same network, is a cost-effective solution, you should thoroughly explain the disadvantages of doing so. Also, make this notification before submitting the bid.


Other developing trends involve communications systems, specifically fire emergency voice/alarm communications systems (EVACS) and mass notification systems (MNS). The trends include current changes to NFPA 72 2016 and proposed changes to the International Building Code (IBC) and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.


The IBC currently requires EVACS in K–12 schools, which will generate more voice systems demand. One of the first relevant changes in NFPA 72 2016 allows the use of unlisted speakers to accommodate challenging acoustic environments. Given the intelligibility requirements, this change gives contractors a broader choice of equipment to meet challenging performance goals.


Specifically, Section 24.3.1.2 states: “Where no listed loudspeaker exists to achieve the intelligibility requirements of the Code for a notification zone, non-listed loudspeakers shall be permitted to be installed to achieve the intelligibility for that notification zone.”


The NFPA Technical Committee wanted code users to understand that, when two requirements conflict, system performance should take precedence. Note that this change contemplates the use of nonlisted speakers only in acoustically challenging spaces where listed speakers cannot provide intelligible communications. The fire alarm system designer would have to demonstrate the need to use these nonlisted speakers.


Another issue affecting intelligibility occurs with existing fire EVACS when salespeople offer the customer an “upgrade” that is actually a new system from the same manufacturer. 


When this happens, the upgraded system will invariably fail the code’s intelligibility requirements. It is even more inappropriate when a contractor upgrades an existing nonvoice system simply by replacing the original audible notification appliances with speakers. It is nearly impossible to ensure intelligibility this way. Remember that customers look to you as their resource for fire alarm system installations and expect you to get it right the first time.


Finally, the next editions of the Life Safety Code and IBC have proposals to require a qualified person to perform a risk analysis prior to installing an MNS. These requirements would help define and analyze the natural and human-caused dangers to individuals, businesses and government agencies. It examines the probability that a given threat will actually exploit a given vulnerability and cause harm. The analysis must include a review of the extent to which occupants and personnel receive notification, based on the potential hazard. Also, it will form the basis for the facility emergency response plan’s emergency communications systems provisions development. 


All of the proposals will affect almost all occupancies and, of course, will reference NFPA 72. Note that NFPA 72 2016 requires risk analysis documentation and the annex to Section 7.3.6 includes a “risk analysis checklist.”


These emerging trends point to yet another that will affect you directly: the need for more qualified technical talent. Stay aware of the marketplace trends, and you will continue to grow your business as a profitable enterprise.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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