Emergency Communication Systems Code History

How ECS Codes Were Developed And How They Work

Khobar Towers - The Birthplace of Mass Notification
Source: Air Force News

Mass Notification and emergency communication was first defined in 1997 by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in an investigative document termed: "Khobar Towers Report".

The report was developed in response to the deadly terrorist bombing of an American Military housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

In summary the report concluded that significant loss of life could have been reduced and even avoided entirely; if there were an effective means of alarm and "mass notification" in place at the housing facility.

In order to move forward with a solution DoD developed the Unified Facilities Criteria 4-021-01 (UFC): Design and operation of Mass Notification Systems requirements document.

UFC 4-021-01

This document established guidelines for providing life safety systems in US Military facilities. The core focus of the UFC document is to identify the ability to issue intelligent notifications such as "shelter-in-place" directives to save lives.

As needs developed and following consultation between DoD stakeholders and National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), a clear recognition of the convergence of traditional fire alarm systems with MNS/ECS became evident.

NFPA Chapter 24 "Emergency Communication Systems"

NFPA establishes codes and standards that govern requirements for approved design, installation maintenance and management of life safety systems. The effect of MNS awareness on the life safety systems industry was highlighted when the 2007’s NFPA 72’s "National Fire Alarm Code" was re-named to the 2010’s NFPA "National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code".

In the updated code, Chapter 24 provides a dedicated section covering "Emergency Communication Systems".

This section provides clear and concise details for MNS design, installation and technical performance.

The highlights of 2010 NFPA 72 Chapter 24 are as follows:

  • Designated Authority Having Jurisdiction must perform a "Risk Analysis" to ensure that the MNS is compliant in a performance basis before the installation is to be approved.
  • Chapter 24 does not obligate the installation of MNS for every facility. It does offer prescriptive type guidance for stakeholders that choose to install MNS.
  • Fire alarm systems can be overridden in certain situations such as "active hostile shooter incidents". This is a major shift in life safety response policy since it demonstrates NFPA understands that specific life safety requirements are not met solely by the fire alarm system technology
  • All voice evacuation systems are required to be designed and tested to provide intelligible voice broadcast. This means that a Common Intelligibility Scale (CIS) test procedure is required throughout.

It is currently envisioned that specific occupancy classifications, such as Colleges and Universities may be required to provide a MNS solution in lieu of the current optional requirement. Based on NFPA’s three year code cycle, this requirement is envisioned to be released within the next 6 years.

Read our NFPA Chapter 24 guide which can help you understand the often complex NFPA code.

UL and ULC

In regards to equipment requirements Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in the USA developed the UL 2572 standard. This standard includes a set on non-mandated standards that MNS and its components can be listed with to ensure safety and performance functionality is met.

Currently ULC in Canada is developing the ULC-S576 MNS/ECS equipment standard. One key focus of the standard to align and harmonize the American UL 2572 requirements with the Canadian code and standard requirements to meet Canadian AHJ compliance.

Currently, the National Building Code of Canada requires Emergency Voice Communication Systems to be intelligible utilizing the Common Intelligibility Scale testing procedures so that each specific paging zone provides a reading of .7 CIS.


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