At NFPA show, a focus on mass notification systems

Day two of NFPA's World Safety Conference & Expo served to be an early one for the many expo attendees who showed up for the number of educational sessions presented before the opening of the showroom floor.

Russell Leavitt, chief executive officer at Telgian Corp. in Tempe, Ariz., presented the session on NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. The session examined the code misinterpretations and how this relates to the ways that it is misapplied in the industry. NFPA defines NFPA 25 as the following: "It establishes the minimum requirements for the periodic inspection, testing and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems, including land-based and marine applications. The types of systems addressed by this standard include, but are not limited to, sprinkler, standpipe and hose, fixed water spray, and foam water."

Some real-world examples Leavitt gave about how NFPA 25 is misapplied include a lack of sprinklers for the front canopy of a building, paint overspray issues, and low point drains.

"What we're trying to do with the standard is make sure it gives us those basic needs (about codes)," said Leavitt.

He continued by explaining the code's purpose as a reasonable degree of protection and how it is not specifically intended to reveal design or installation deficiencies. A few guidelines to follow in knowing where and how to apply the standard in everyday installation and eliminate the need for corrections include: knowing the standard; understanding the risks; and most importantly, educating the owner, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and the contractor.

Besides sprinklers and NFPA 25, there was a strong focus on mass notification solutions at the show.

Wayne D. Moore, principal at Hughes Associates from Baltimore, Md., and an instructor of the Fire Alarm Systems Workshop at NFPA, presented a session on understanding the challenges of mass notification systems (MNS), a topic which seemed to be the buzz of the exhibitor floor. Moore addressed some of the challenges these systems are generating, not only for the manufacturers but for the integrators and end-users. Those challenges include the ability to integrate regulated and non-regulated systems as well as the use of these systems by command structure. Moore brought up the question of oversight, asking who would be in charge of these systems: AHJs, police, or fire officials?

More important was the implementation of audio as one of the ways these systems are to deploy a clear and direct message in the event of an emergency evacuation. The important element is that the message consists of more than simple emergency strobe light notification.

"It's important to understand the limitations of these systems and that's where the importance of risk analysis comes in," explained Moore. He continued in explaining that effective mass notification is not a singular system and that mass notification (soon to be called emergency notification) is generally about integrating and leveraging systems that cover monitoring, communications and control.

Walking the showroom floor, it was clear to see that a lot of providers of such systems are definitely getting that message. Here is a sneak peek at a couple of the providers that debuted their systems during the show.

Notifier's MNS product line, which includes amber strobes, LED signs, speaker clusters and more, now has the advantage of operating on its new NOTI-FIRE-NET fire alarm network, which operates nearly 40 times faster then its standard network platform while supporting twice as many nodes. The new network supports fire alarm control panels, local and remote monitoring, building automation gateways and mass notification systems. It enables facilities to unite multiple fire alarm and safety systems over a single network with a larger bandwidth that doubles the number of nodes per network to more than 200.

Also showcasing mass notification solutions at the show was Gamewell FCI, which was demoing its E3 Series line of Expandable Emergency Evacuation systems. The systems provide fire alarm protection while also functioning as a MNS. Coupled with that were several new products, including their newest Focal Point Touch (a wall-mountable touch-screen console), back-lit signage, switches, amber strobes, speakers and more. The E3 Series MNS features a distributed audio design that provides accurate communication. It allows for the delivery of emergency and evacuation information in real-time via pre-recorded messages, live voice paging and text messages to various network displays.