Q: What is the new “mass notification” section of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72 National Fire Alarm Code 2007 about? Where did it come from, who requires it and what equipment is involved?
A: In 1998 the Navy and Department of Defense (DoD) began writing mass notification system (MNS) requirements covering not only entire military bases, but also sleeping facilities with 11 or more unaccompanied persons and military family housing with 13 or more family units in one building.
The DoD first published the Minimum Anti-Terrorism Standards for Buildings which requires a “timely means to notify occupants of threats and instruct them what to do in response to those (terrorist) threats.” The DoD then published the Unified Facilities Criteria 4-021-01 to comply with the following three areas:
1. How to implement the mass notification requirements detailed in the above DoD “anti-terrorism standard.” If you are a government contractor supplying MNS, then you are already aware of conflicting requirements for the operation, interface and listing for this type of equipment. It is intended that these systems have the ability to be activated by secure stations, including encrypted remote radio signals from military commanders. The MNS will incorporate clear or amber strobes, with various text (“alert” “evacuate” “fire”) pop-up computer messages.
2. To comply with President’s Bush’s Executive Order 13407 that stated, “It is the policy of the United States to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people in situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other hazards to public safety and well-being (public alert and warning system), taking appropriate account of the functions, capabilities and needs of the private sector and of all levels of government in our Federal system and to ensure that under all conditions the President can communicate with the American people.” Bush plans to include “the public alert and warning system with the capability to alert and warn all Americans, including those with disabilities and those without an understanding of the English language.”
3. To implement national design standards and recommendations for mass notification systems as provided in NFPA 72. To accomplish this many subtle changes were needed to be made to the text of 72. Military contractors will install outdoor “Wide Area” MNS and “Individual Building” MNS, which are intended to provide real-time information to personnel within and in the immediate vicinity or 31 feet of the buildings on a DoD Installation.” This standard also stated, “In most cases the simplest and most economical approach for new construction will be to install a combined system that performs both as an Individual Building MNS and as the building fire alarm/voice evacuation system.” This standard also requires that “The Individual Building MNS shall be designed under the supervision of a registered Fire Protection Engineer, by a registered professional engineer having at least four years of current experience in the design of fire protection and detection systems, or by an engineering technologist qualified at National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) Level IV in fire alarm systems.”
It’s a complex subject, but an appropriate one and necessary to protect lives and evacuate occupants safely and quickly from the protected premises. It also represents a possible new installation emphasis, one that could lead to ongoing and repeat business.