Fire & Life Safety: Educational Occupancies Get Life Safety Upgrade

IBC changes strengthen EVAC systems for schools

While a two-way communication system may be part of a fire alarm EVAC system, the local AHJ may also approve an intercom system. The intercom can also provide the required prearranged signal for returning to normal activity. Section 404 also recognizes that the lockdown drills not a substitute for the fire and evacuation drills already required for schools in other parts of the IFC.


Q. My local school system is adding classrooms by placing portable trailers behind the main building. Do each of these new classrooms need fire alarm systems?


A. Normally, no. Trailers used for school classrooms are pretty much exempt from having fire alarm systems installed in them when they are comprised of a single room and have a maximum occupancy of 30 people. Single room Amish school houses are also exempt for the same reason (well that and the ‘electricity’ thing). Mostly, this exception allows an ever-growing school system to add more classrooms quickly and economically with little or no additional risk. Each portable classroom comes with two exits.


Q. If a fire alarm system is provided, is it required to be part of the main building’s system?


A. No. It is a separate building set apart from the main building and doesn’t need to evacuate with the main school building. In fact, students may be much safer if they were to remain closely supervised in their portable classroom. If desired, adding a fire alarm system may be accomplished one of several ways. The cheapest, and worst method, would be to extend the current building-wide fire alarm system to include the portable units. Adding a separate fire alarm system to each portable classroom would do the job, but then you would have the problem (multiplied by the number of portable classrooms involved) of off-site reporting to contend with. And additionally, annunciation in the main office would certainly be a requirement of the principal (again, multiplied by the number of portable classrooms involved). If the present system is addressable, the best option would be to add an addressable relay that activates only the NAC for the trailer that initiated the manual alarm using an addressable input module. This would also provide the required reporting and annunciation at no extra equipment or wiring cost.

Learning to keep up with Educational Occupancy requirements now will help you jump to the head of the class when your state adopts this new edition of the IBC. With schools being funded more than ever to improve safety and security, watch your state and local websites for bidding information. As you know, learning is a life-long habit that can pay off handsomely.



Greg Kessinger is SD&I’s longtime fire alarm and codes expert and a regular contributor. He can be reached at