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NFPA 72 2010 - Most Significant Changes
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Issue 43: NFPA 72 2010 - Most Significant Changes

By Lee Richardson

The 2010 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code,1 is probably the most important edition since it was revised in 1993 as the National Fire Alarm Code. Many of the more significant changes in the code were presented in the July 2009 edition of Emerging Trends. Some of these will be briefly recapped in this article because they are indeed important changes. This article will also summarize additional significant changes not addressed in the July 2009 article.

Recapping Significant Changes

The following changes are among those presented in more detail in the July 2009 edition of Emerging Trends. Only a brief summary is provided here.

As the new title of NFPA 72 implies, the content of the code has expanded beyond fire alarm systems to include requirements for several new signaling systems. These include in-building mass notification systems (24.4.2), wide-area mass notification systems (24.4.3), distributed recipient mass notification systems (24.4.4), radio communication enhancement systems (24.5.2) and area of refuge emergency communications systems (24.5.3). These new systems as well as two traditional fire systems, emergency voice/alarm communications (24.4.1) and two-way telephone communication service (24.5.1), are now all addressed in a new chapter entitled "Emergency Communications Systems." The provisions of the new chapter also address the interrelationship between different mass notification systems and fire alarm systems, and the means to establish priority and control between them. Essential among the provisions for mass notification systems are requirements for the performance of risk analyses to provide the bases for design requirements and signal priority. Performance-based practices for the design of mass notification systems are also addressed.

NFPA 72 has required that voice communication systems be capable of reproducing voice messages with voice intelligibility since the 1999 edition. With the expansion of the scope of the code, the role of voice communication systems has also expanded. The 2010 edition has been updated with new requirements in 18.4.10 relating to the identification of areas/spaces ("acoustically distinguishable spaces") that will require (or not require) voice intelligibility as specified by the system designer and approved by the authority having jurisdiction (if required). In addition, a new Annex D, "Speech Intelligibility," provides guidance on the design and testing of systems to provide voice intelligibility. These updates are based on work conducted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.2

Signaling for those with hearing loss received new treatment in the 2010 edition of NFPA 72. Beginning January 1, 2014, audible notification appliances of commercial fire alarm systems that are provided to signal sleeping areas will be required to produce a low frequency alarm signal (520 Hz square wave or equivalent). The detailed requirements are found in In addition, the evacuation and alert tones preceding voice messages associated with emergency voice/alarm communication systems must also produce the low frequency output. This latter requirement becomes effective as soon as a jurisdiction adopts the 2010 edition. The detailed requirements are found in as specified in TIA 10-4 (see the NFPA 72 document information page:

New requirements for signaling to the deaf and hard of hearing have also been added for applications of smoke alarms and household fire alarm systems. For those with mild to severe hearing loss (hard of hearing), the low frequency alarm signal must be used for signaling in sleeping rooms. For those with profound hearing loss (deaf), tactile notification appliances are now required along with high intensity strobes in sleeping rooms. The detailed requirements are found in 29.3.8.


 Additional Significant Changes

The changes summarized below are also among some of the other more significant for the 2010 edition.

Several changes have been made in the supervising station alarm systems chapter. These include a new requirement for qualification of supervising station operators, a new requirement for indication of remote station service, removal of four legacy communications methods, update of key definitions associated with digital alarm communicator systems, and update of provisions for IP communicators.

Supervising station operators must now be able to demonstrate evidence of qualification and/or certification in a similar manner as has been required for system designers, installers and service personnel. The detailed requirements are found in 10.4.4 (referenced from 26.2.4).

Of the three types of supervising stations service, central station, proprietary supervising station, and remote supervising station service, the latter is probably the most commonly used. Owners using remote supervising station alarm systems are now required to provide annual documentation to the authority having jurisdiction identifying the party responsible for inspection, testing and maintenance of the alarm system. The detailed requirements are found in 26.5.2.

The four legacy communications methods removed from the code include: active multiplex transmission systems, McCulloh systems, directly connected noncoded systems, and private microwave radio systems. These systems are no longer being actively installed.

The use of some non-traditional telephone service can now be used in applications of digital alarm communicator systems (DACS). While the detailed requirements for these systems in have not changed, the definitions for three key terms have been revised or added and have an impact on how the requirements are interpreted. These terms are linked to the requirement for a digital alarm communicator transmitter (DACT) to be connected to a "loop start telephone circuit" of a "public switched telephone network" in These terms are defined in 3.3.273 and provide the link to a new term "managed facilities-based voice network" (MFVN) defined in 3.3.141.

Collectively, these definitions take a broader view of the type of telephone service recognized for DACS applications. Service must be provided through a physical facilities-based network maintained by the service provider to ensure service quality and reliability. The essential expectations for these systems are detailed in A.3.3.141 and include the expectation that telephone service provider's communications equipment located at the premises or in the field include eight hours of standby power. Not all telephone service providers will meet the expectations for these networks. Twenty-four hours of standby power is not "expected" for premises and field installed MFVN equipment. However, the once-expected capacity of 24 hours has not been provided for some time even by traditional telephone service providers except at their central facilities. The standby power capacity at the central facilities of MFVNs is still expected to be 24 hours.

The use of IP communicators is more common for transmission of signals to a supervising station. This communications method uses the internet (or intranet) as part of the communications pathway. The requirements for these systems are found in, and were formerly contained in a section entitled "Other Transmission Technologies" that first appeared in the 1999 edition. Unlike DACSs, IP communicators do not require the use of a second communication channel (unless required as a part of the manufacturer's published instructions or the product listing). However they are "always on" and are required to indicate failure of the communications path at the supervision station within 5 minutes of the failure. (In contrast DACSs are not "always on" and are only required to initiate a test signal once every 24 hours.)


New in the 2010 edition for IP communicators is a requirement for any associated communications equipment located at the premises or the supervising station to meet the secondary power capacity requirements of 10.5.6 – which requires 24 hours of secondary power capacity. This requirement would apply to non-fire-alarm system equipment such as that included as part of a local area network or cable modem used to connect the IP communicator with the internet. IP communicators are available in versions that interface with a traditional DACT rather than directly with the fire alarm control unit. These versions are sometimes called IP DACTs and fall under the rules for IP communicators in, not the rules for DACTs.

Another change has been made in the chapter on initiating devices. The prescriptive rules for locating and spacing spot-type smoke detectors in joist and beam ceiling applications have been subject to revision over the past several editions. The provisions of earlier editions were generally thought to be conservative and in some cases (such as for waffle ceilings) the number of detectors required seemed by many to be excessive. Revisions were made in the 2007 edition, based on initial work undertaken by the Fire Protection Research Foundation,3 and provided updated requirements for applications involving level ceilings. Further research4 was done following the issuance of the 2007 edition and the requirements in the 2010 have been updated, refining the 2007 work and now addressing both level and sloping ceilings. The detailed provisions are found in the paragraphs under and include specific provisions expressed as a function of ceiling height for waffle or pan-type ceilings, corridors, and rooms of less than 900 ft2 (84 m2.)

Many other significant changes have been made throughout the document. Some of them are listed below for reference:

  • Personnel qualification to recognize state or local licensure requirements (10.4.1 &10.4.2)
  • Recognition of uninterruptable power supplies in lieu of primary and secondary (10.5.4)
  • Mechanical protection of external circuits for secondary power (
  • Updated secondary power capacity requirements(
  • Updated signal priority and distinctive signal requirements (10.6 & 10.7)
  • Updated record of completion (Figure
  • New Circuits and Pathways chapter (Chapter 12)
  • Verification of compatible system software, including interfaced systems (14.2.4 & 23.2.2)
  • New testing provisions mass notification systems (Table 14.3.1, Table, Table 14.4.5)
  • New testing provisions for radio communication enhancement systems (14.4.12)
  • Updated Inspection, Testing and Maintenance Form (Figure
  • New requirements for gas detection (17.10)
  • Updated requirements for manual initiating devices (17.14.1)
  • New Emergency Control Functions and Interfaces chapter (Chapter 21)
  • New requirements for first responder use elevators (21.5)
  • New requirements for elevators for occupant-controlled egress (21.6)
  • Updated requirements for electrically locked doors (21.9)
  • Updated requirements for protected premises fire alarm system circuit performance (23.4, 23.5, 23.6, 23.7)
  • Updated requirements for combination systems (23.8.4)
  • Updated requirements for the minimum provision of a manual fire alarm box (
  • Updated requirements for public emergency alarm reporting systems (Chapter 27)
  • Updated requirements for household fire warning equipment (29.7.7, 29.7.8,

Lee Richardson is with the National Fire Protection Association

  1. NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA 2010.
  2. Grant, C. "Intelligibility of Fire Alarm and Emergency Communications Systems," Fire Protection Research Foundation, Quincy, MA, 2008.
  3. O'Connor, D., et al. "Smoke Detector Performance for Level Ceilings With Deep Beams and Deep Beam Pocket Configurations Research Project," Fire Protection Research Foundation, Quincy, MA, 2006.
  4. Mealy, C., et al. " Smoke Detector Spacing Requirements for Complex Beamed and Sloped Ceilings," Fire Protection Research Foundation, Quincy, MA, 2008.

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