What you need to know about the new NFPA-72 code and its implementation.
Audible fire alarms are no longer enough. Several highly publicized
incidents have taught safety officials how crucial it is to be able to tell people
exactly what they need to do in an emergency. For that reason, the National
Fire Protection Association has released a new fire alarm and signaling code,
the NFPA-72, 2010 Edition, which includes voice notification installation
requirements for use in various types of emergencies. This change will affect
nearly every large organization in the United States.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It is important to note that federal, state, and local
authorities, rather than the NFPA, set the legal
requirements for fire alarm and voice notification
systems. It may be that the authority under whose
jurisdiction you fall has not yet decided to require
emergency paging. Once they do, however, or once
you decide, on your own, to install such a system,
then the NFPA-72 2010 standard will apply.
That being said, we expect the new code to be
widely adopted within the next few years, so that virtually
every new or remodeled building, campus and
place of assembly that serves 300 people or more will
be required to meet these standards.
It’s also important to note that NFPA-72 now permits
“combination systems” that allow the transmission
of evacuation announcements via voice or public
address systems not specifically designed as fire alarms.
For those who are planning a new paging, alarm,
or sound system, the question becomes, “How can I
be sure that what I buy now will be compliant with
local codes in the future?” Those who plan to keep
using an existing system may ask, “How can I bring
my system into compliance?”
The Overland Park Soccer Complex is a 96-acre venue is equipped with emergency paging for all areas indoors and outdoors,
installed by CTI. The Field House, pictured here, includes sound systems indoors. Loudspeakers on the roof cover outdoor areas.
WHAT’S IN THE CODE?
The NFPA-72 2010 update is the most extensive fire
code revision in many years. It includes:
• An intelligibility standard with specific measurements
to ensure that voice communications are
not only audible but understandable.
• Monitoring. The system must constantly monitor
itself, so that if there is any failure of any component,
it will automatically notify an
administrator who can rectify the fault.
• Prioritization. The system
must establish levels of priority,
based on risk analysis, determining
which messages will get
through and which may be overridden
during an emergency.
• Non-auditory signaling. The
standard also requires visual transmission
of emergency messages for those with hearing
In addition, we expect the 2013 edition of the
code, to include additional safety guidelines around
system redundancy. System redundancy would state
that notification systems cannot have any single
point of system failure; specifically that if a given
component fails, the system must still be able to
deliver an emergency message.
HOW TO MEET THE
Today your best options to meet the
new voice notification standards
include building a custom
audio/video system or implementing
Biamp’s Vocia critical paging system.
Vocia is designed to be used in voice notification
systems in North America, as well as in
Europe where there are more stringent life safety standards.
We have worked on several of each of these
types of solution for Conference Technology clients.
The Vocia solution is unique in that no central
processing, control or routing unit is required to
create a critical paging system. Biamp calls this a
“distributed network” architecture, and they offer a
series of input units, output units, controllers,
amplifiers, and servers operate on standard
Ethernet infrastructure and interact with each
other. Because Biamp built the necessary logic and
processing into every Vocia component, you can
mix and match them as needed to create a custom
critical paging system. The system keeps running
even if one or more units fail—and then it notifies
the administrator so that the issue can be addressed.
Given that local requirements will vary somewhat, and that the code continues to evolve, it’s crucial that you work
with a knowledgeable contractor on your next project. Pictured is the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.
What would such a system look like? It might be helpful to look at a series of building-wide paging
systems we designed for a large national client.
We began two years ago in an office building in
Tempe, AZ, where we installed emergency paging in
lobbies, offices, restrooms, conference rooms plus a
number of areas not typically covered, including
stairwells and parking garages. We worked with
acoustical modeling software to ensure adequate
intelligibility and carefully measured it after installation.
Because we assumed that, in an emergency,
stairwells and certain other areas would be crowded,
we adjusted speaker volumes there to 15 to 20 dB
above the normal ambient sound level.
We set up a number of ways that users could
address the system: network paging stations, a digital
recorder with prerecorded messages, and the
ability to dial into the system, either from an internal
or external telephone. Pre-recorded messages
can be helpful in many situations because they
ensure that instructions are complete and delivered
in a calm, reassuring voice. One of the reasons we
added dial-in capability was that normally, in an evacuation, everyone would go to this client’s parking garage. Dial-in makes it
possible for safety officials to address the assembled staff from a cell phone.
We carried all paging signals using CobraNet components on two fiber
optic networks. If one network fails the other kicks in automatically. We used
UPS units to ensure that the system will continue to function even if the
building loses AC power. We addressed the monitoring requirement with very
simple devices at the end of each speaker run that detect a periodic electrical
pulse and return a confirming pulse. We addressed the non-audible requirement
by sending emergency messages to the client’s digital signage systems
and also to the projectors in their training rooms. In areas where there was
not already some kind of display, we installed LED crawlers to carry a textbased
version of the message they would be issuing through the PA system.
AN EASIER WAY
The biggest problem with these systems is that they had to be custom designed.
If Vocia had been available, we could have provided all of these capabilities more
quickly, at a lower cost and with an easier upgrade path should requirements
change in the future. It is also practical to use Vocia components for much smaller
paging systems. Vocia is easily scalable, very flexible and works well with more
standard audio equipment, so you have a lot of choices as to which components
you will install in which order.
For example, if you have a working paging
system but your amplifiers are aging, you may
decide to replace them with Vocia components
but keep your loudspeakers for now. Or
perhaps you’ll replace your paging headend
but hold off on amplifiers and monitoring. As
you replace more components, your system
will become more intelligent and closer to
full compliance with the new code.
Some clients opt to upgrade one department
or one building at a time, working toward
a goal of putting their entire campus on a single,
multi-zone emergency network. Whatever
your final requirements, we suggest you at least
consider the Biamp Vocia system to maximize
your reliability, scalability, and flexibility while
ensuring that you have a future-proof system.
Given that local requirements will vary
somewhat and that the code continues to
evolve, it’s crucial that you work with a knowledgeable
sound or AV contractor. A good contractor
will be able to able to help you to plan
your system’s upgrade in a way that makes sense
for your local codes and for your budget.
Please contact CTI (conferencetech.com)
to learn more about emer- gency voice notification
John Laughlin, CTS, is President and CEO of
Conference Technologies, Inc., a provider of audio
visual design, integration, video conferencing,
rental solutions, and technical service support,
with nine offices throughout the United States.