Security Watch: Inside ISO’s New Fire Detection and Alarm Standard

Oct. 2, 2013
Q&A with Peter Parsons on the international design and installation guidelines

A fire detection and alarm system must be installed and maintained correctly by experienced personnel. This is where ISO has stepped in, with its new international ISO 7240-14:2013 standard on the design and installation of fire systems for commercial and industrial buildings. Here’s an excerpt from a Q&A with Peter Parsons, ISO’s Chairman for this standard. 

What exactly is ISO 7240-14 and can you give examples or an overview of the types of standards it sets for installation and maintenance of fire detection/alarm systems and their components?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published a new Standard for the design and installation of fire detection and alarm systems. To give the Standard its full title, ISO 7240-14:2013, Design, installation, commissioning and service of fire detection and fire alarm systems in and around buildings, we see it is more than just a system design and installation Standard. The new Standard references multiple product Standards that have been published by ISO over the past decade, specifying the requirements that will provide a life-safety system for installation in and around buildings.

ISO 7240-14 establishes a minimum-requirement Standard for life-safety – to provide building occupants with early warning so they can take action (such as evacuation) in the event of a fire. Property protection is also a concurrent outcome, but property protection is essentially a commercial business risk decision for a building owner to address independently of what has been specified in ISO 7240-14.

How will this new standard impact the security dealer/integrator community?

ISO 7240-14 requires that industry professionals have the required level of knowledge and experience to undertake the work required by their role. ISO took the decision that ISO 7240-14 should not be a tutorial on how a fire detection and alarm system (FDAS) should work. Other documents, including existing national codes and standards, already exist that contain large sections of commentary (eg BS 5839-1) and informative annexes (eg NFPA 72) that provide industry professionals with guidance information on the selection and use of equipment.

ISO 7240-14 is aligned with the way a project will proceed, through the stages of design, installation, commissioning and approval of a fire detection and alarm system. Each of these key stages include subclauses that identify both the responsibilities and qualifications required for each role. For example, the design of the FDAS shall be undertaken by persons having professional qualifications or experience relevant to the scope of the particular design requirements. Experience may include:

  • an engineer with proven experience in the field of fire detection and alarm technology,
  • an experienced consulting company, or
  • an experienced FDAS designer.

Once a system has been approved, additional requirements are included that specify requirements for how it should be used in normal operation, and regular service requirements to maintain the reliable operation of the FDAS. An emergency management plan is an important component of the use of the fire detection and alarm system to ensure on-site personnel are trained and exercised for actions required in the event of a fire.

Does this standard apply to a specific type of facility?

The Standard is applicable to most commercial and industrial buildings. Exceptions exists, where special considerations may be required. One of the strengths of ISO 7240-14 is that although prescriptive requirements are specified, such as where detection is required to be installed, the designer can vary from these requirements, as long as the documentation shows how the design objectives will be achieved. This includes documenting all assumptions that are made. Detailed design documentation allows approval authorities to make informed decisions regarding the integrity of the FDAS and its ability to provide early warning to building occupants.

How was the standard developed?

ISO 7240-14 was developed by a Working Group of technical experts established by ISO committee ISO/TC 21/SC 3, Fire detection and fire alarm systems. The committee has participating membership of 31 countries, with an additional 14 countries as observing members. Over the past decade, ISO/TC 21/SC 3 has published 31 Standards and other documents related to fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. Twenty two of these Standards are for products, including components such as detectors, audio and visual alarm devices, and control and indicating equipment.

What are the differences between this standard and NFPA 72 (and any other applicable NFPA standards)?

ISO 7240-14 and NFPA 72 share the same goal of providing early fire detection and safe egress for building occupants. Although ISO 7240-14 includes requirements for fire detection and alarm systems that may be connected to a monitoring service provider, equipment at the monitoring station is outside the scope of this Standard. Likewise, fire detection within residential dwellings is also outside the scope of ISO 7240-14. ISO 7240-14 has been developed for application in non-dwelling buildings.

Products used in the design of the fire detection and alarm system are required to comply with the requirements of other parts of ISO 7240 (eg detectors, audio/visual alarm devices, modules, alarm transmission equipment, etc). Use of this equipment has simplified the requirements in ISO 7240 because the equipment Standards are not technology dependent. For example, ISO 7240-14 does not need to include specific requirements for alarm transmission equipment, such as specifying the types and numbers of transmission paths from the building to the monitoring service provider.

The largest part of ISO 7240-14 relates to the design of the fire detection and alarm system (contained in Clause 6). Design is required to be undertaken using a systematic and documented process. All assumptions, reasons for equipment selection and site-specific information (such as building construction, use, egress paths, etc) shall be considered as part of the design process. A well-documented design is critical to ensure the performance requirements of the fire detection and alarm system can be achieved, and assists with both installation, commissioning and any modifications that may be made in a future time.

The designer needs also to be aware of the regulatory regime that may exist. National or regional regulations that place other limitations on the design need to be factored into the final configuration of the fire detection and alarm system. These may include limitations on the number of devices that can be configured within a detection or alarm zone, the use of installation materials (such as fire-rated cabling), and any requirements for the remote monitoring of fire alarm and fault conditions. Where external constraints permit, Clause 6 provides complete requirements on detector selection and location, requirements for manual call points, and requirements for fire alarm devices.

Fire alarm signalling to building occupants is important for the safe egress of people from the building. ISO 7240-14 allows the use of both audio/visual alarm devices installed throughout the occupied areas, and the use of a sound system for emergency purposes. The sound system is specified in ISO 7240-16, and the design and installation requirements are specified in ISO 7240-19. ISO 7240-19 is a complementary Standard to ISO 7240-14, with both parts having a similar style. For larger buildings where a simply notification solution is not appropriate, ISO 7240-19 provides a solution.

Fire detection and alarm systems are often connected to other building systems. Requirements for smoke and heat control (such as fire doors), remote monitoring and interfacing to other building systems (eg HVAC, building management systems) are also included in Clause 6.

Will this standard lead to an influx of new compliant products from manufacturers?

ISO 7240-14 provides a complete solution for the design, installation, commissioning and service of new and existing fire detection and alarm systems installed in and around buildings. Referencing the large suite of already published equipment Standards, ISO 7240-14 provides users with a well-integrated Standard for the early detection of fire and the safe evacuation of building occupants.

While cognisant of existing regulations and codes that existing in some countries (eg electrical safety codes), ISO 7240-14 is not constrained by any specific regulations, providing a flexible and useable Standard for many countries, especially emerging economies where legacy Standards may not exist.

How can installers & technicians learn more about the specifics of ISO 7240-14?

ISO 7240-14 is available from the ISO web store ( ISO does not provide direct training on the use of the Standard. Training would typically be provided by industry peak bodies as required. This Standard is targeted to industry professionals, with knowledge and experience in the design, installation and commissioning of fire detection and alarm system. Given the way it is structured, most experienced users will be able to quickly understand the foundations supporting the requirements and self-learn the specifics of each section (eg detector spacing).

About the Author

Paul Rothman | Editor-in-Chief/Security Business

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at [email protected]. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at