Q. My local fire inspector tells me that if I plan to use the existing phone line for my customer’s fire alarm system, I have to also install a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to keep the phone lines up. I have not ever had to do this before. What’s going on?
A. Prior to the 2007 edition of the National Fire Alarm Code, this communication issue was not addressed. Now that network reporting has become more common, the code has taken a look at all the links in the end-to-end communication methods employed in today’s high-tech industry.
There are four instances indicated in NFPA 72 where a UPS may be used. Where a computer system may be used at the protected premises to receive signals, such as a fire command center, standby power is required. NFPA 72 used to state that where a PC is used, the loss of primary power to the premises cannot allow required signals to be “lost, interrupted, or delayed by more than 10 seconds as a result of the primary power failure.” Ten seconds is forever when it comes to a computer. In these instances, a UPS was commonly used for standby power. However, you won’t find the term “computer systems” after the 1999 edition.
The next edition of NFPA 72, in 2002, provided more specific UPS requirements:“an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) arranged in accordance with the provisions of NFPA 111, Standard on Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems, shall be permitted to supplement the secondary power supply to ensure required operation during the transfer period.” [The old requirement for “at least 15 minutes” was changed to “during the transfer period”.] This 2002 language remains basically unchanged through the 2010 edition (see 10.5.7.3).
In our second example of UPS usage, the 2002 edition also inserted new language stating that if you are using “signal control and transport equipment (such as routers, servers) located in a critical fire alarm or fire safety function signaling path” as part of your fire alarm system, then you must provide power and supervision to this additional equipment. In the 2010 edition of NFPA 72, you can locate the rules for providing secondary power to the on-site network equipment used to transport fire alarm input and output signals throughout the facility in section 10.5.6.4: “Operation on secondary power shall not affect the required performance of a system.”
Another major UPS section was inserted in the NFPA 72, 2010 edition for protected premise fire alarm systems and emergency voice communications systems. This edition began allowing a UPS system meeting NFPA 111 to provide primary and secondary power, as an alternate to the traditional “commercial light and power” which allowed batteries and generators for backup sources. This use requires application of all the same rules that apply to primary power for an FACP or FAPB panel, dedicated breaker, mechanically protected, etc., per section 10.5.5.
Check the codes
The last section of our UPS subject was also introduced in the 2010 edition as a requirement for adding backup power to customers’ communication equipment employing a data network or Internet (IP communicator) to transmit required signals off-site. However, this new section only requires compliance with the “capacity” requirements stated under 10.5.6, not the “mechanically protected” or “dedicated branch circuit” sections required of primary power for all commercial fire alarm systems. NFPA 72, A.126.96.36.199.12 explains: “This requirement is to ensure that communications equipment will operate for the same period of time on secondary power as the alarm control unit” [which is either 24 hours plus five minutes for most systems, or 24 hours plus 15 minutes for voice EVAC systems].