Connectivity creates safer facilities

NFPA 72 updates focused on audio/visual signaling for mass notification and emergency communication systems can now be more efficient for occupant and building protection.

By Carmine Schiavone, Johnson Controls July 12, 2018

The fire and life safety industry was revamped in 2010 when the NFPA made an update to NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, introducing audio and visual signaling for mass notification. That edition of the code called for the inclusion of audible and visual alerts in mass notification and emergency communication systems-but the updates didn’t stop there. In addition to signaling, the code was amended to allow fire alarm control units to be overridden in the event of non-fire emergencies. These updates created a positive disruption in the fire and life safety industry, paving the way for progressive lifesaving solutions and the current technology landscape.

The emergence of connectivity

Fire and life safety systems require a level of reliability and resilience that extends far beyond other building systems. Updates to codes and standards, like NFPA 72, allow for the emergence of smarter, safer technologies to help ensure dependability, specifically with the use of systems integration. Fire detection, sprinklers, and suppression systems, for example, are traditional life safety components. Advancements in the systems’ functionality and capabilities cannot be overlooked-improvements can be implemented by connecting sensors and communication systems. This allows more accurate data collection, analyzing data faster, and more efficient emergency response times. If a fire is detected, sprinklers and suppression systems can work together to help limit fire reach, while fire alarm and communications systems send notifications to help ensure prompt arrival of emergency dispatchers.

Sensors, while used frequently to enable the detection of smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide (CO), play an important role in monitoring occupant levels within different locations of a facility. Occupancy sensors can be connected to mass notification systems to provide insight into where people are located in a building. This technology helps deliver proper guidance and information to occupants during an emergency, based on their locations, and facilitates a more effective response by first responders. In addition, sensors can help prevent nuisance alarms when connected to fire-detection systems. The ability to make fire detection more or less sensitive to smoke is strengthened with the use of occupancy sensors because it can determine if dust activity is a result of a higher level of occupants in a room, rather than threatening smoke.

These technologies must be flexible to meet the unique needs of different facilities, and all systems-including fire detection, mass notification, security, and building automation-can now be connected through systems integration for one comprehensive safety solution.

Advancing with systems integration

Connected, integrated, and responsive technology is becoming increasingly crucial in creating a safe facility. Potential emergencies can be detected and mitigated when fire, life safety, and building-automation solutions have the ability to "communicate" and exchange real-time information. For example, carbon monoxide detection can be connected to the HVAC system. If high levels of CO are detected, the HVAC system could stop the movement of air or exhaust and potentially bring fresh air to the affected area. Simultaneously, building occupants and first responders can be alerted to the emergency. With the integration of building systems, response times can be faster and more accurate and solutions can be better-tailored to reduce nuisance alarms and mitigate risks.

Life safety is becoming more nuanced, proactive, and comprehensive, and the systems dedicated to providing the utmost protection need to evolve accordingly. As system integrators remodel their technologies to address the most up-to-date codes and standards, facility owners can use integrated fire and life safety solutions to keep their buildings and occupants as safe as possible. 

Carmine Schiavone is the general manager and vice president of Fire Protection Solutions and Services at Johnson Controls, leading the North American fire protection business with his passion for protecting lives and property. Schiavone has nearly 30 years of experience in the fire protection and life safety industry; he has held an array of leadership roles at Tyco before its September 2016 merger with Johnson Controls.