|The New Mass Notification Standard: UL 2572|
Issue 54A: The New Mass Notification Standard: UL 2572
By Jack Poole, P.E.
The attacks on September 11, 2001 were a major tragedy that started to raise awareness among policy makers, businesses and society in general about the need for mass notification and the need to be able to warn a lot of people about an emergency situation. Later events at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and every school shooting, along with untold hurricanes, floods, tornados and other emergencies has driven that need home.
While the US federal government (mainly the Department of Defense) is driving this push for mass notification, the private sector is coming on-board too. And though there's no code that specifically requires mass notification, that may change in the future – particularly now that UL 25721 provides equipment testing and performance standards for mass notification control units and peripheral equipment.
Mass notification is nothing new. Communities in the U.S. Heartland used sirens to warn residents about tornados. But technology has come a long way since then. And over the last five years, the industry has begun to incorporate requirements into NFPA 72,2 using the fire detection and alarm infrastructure as a vehicle for mass notification.
As the technology began to advance, so did the need for standards. It became apparent that a control unit was needed to handle all the mass notification features, from flashing lights to annunciation, email blasts to text notifications. So the question naturally arose: how will the control unit be manufactured so it has some level of rigor, so it works when needed.
UL wrote a standard that laid out what is required of these technologies – and how they would be tested. UL 2572 is similar to UL 864,3 the standard to test fire alarm control units. UL 2572 sets the criteria for how the control units for mass notification systems will be designed and tested. Not only will the control units be tested, but all of the peripheral supporting equipment that will be connected to the control units will be tested as a complete system.
This equipment standard, which is an American National Standard, covers the construction, performance, operational testing, and production line testing of the control unit plus all components, including the speaker arrays and distributed recipient mass notification components. The products covered by UL 2572 are intended to be used in combination with other appliances and devices to form an emergency communication and/or mass notification system. These products are intended to communicate critical information within buildings and/or outdoor areas about emergency situations that may endanger the safety of the occupants of an area or facility.
For now, if there's a property owner that is not required to have a fire alarm system in their building, but wants mass notification, the UL 2572 standard will apply to the technology they may want to use. A stand-alone mass notification control unit can be listed to UL 2572; it doesn't need to be listed or tested to UL 864.
Once control units get tested to UL 2572, the practicing fire protection engineer (FPE) can specify that control units comply with UL 2572 for mass notification systems. If the FPE designs or specifies a combined and fully integrated fire alarm/mass notification system, then the control unit that is specified should comply with both UL 864 and UL 2572. That way, building owners don't need to have two different manufacturers to maintain two different pieces of equipment.
Based on current proposals for the 2013 edition NFPA 72, Chapter 24 (Emergency Communications Systems) will no longer reference UL 864 for the control units for Emergency Communication Systems, but will instead reference UL 2572.
The private sector is joining the public sector in the desire for mass notification systems. Large, private organizations would like to have the ability to notify employees and visitors about major events.
So what do fire protection engineers need to understand about mass notification? It's all about doing a thorough risk analysis.
One starts with understanding the hazards. Is the building at the end of an airport runway, where an airplane could potentially impact? Is it near railroad tracks, or by some sort of chemical plant, or perhaps a natural gas distribution center, where an event could impact the facility? Once the hazards are understood, it is necessary to think about who would require notification and how to communicate with them.
Speaker systems with live voice messages and instructions may be one of the first means of communications that are considered. But visual devices may be needed too, such as strobes, pop-ups on the computer network, or digital message boards that give instructions.
Whether the people who would be notified are sitting at desks, working at manufacturing processes or wearing hearing protection could affect the communications strategies.
With mass notification, it's important to understand the who, what, when and where associated with the mass notification system. Mass notification is not a cookie-cutter type of scenario, where one technology solution fits all.
It is necessary to understand the intent behind mass notification for the occupants and type of facility, and design the system accordingly. In the case of mass notification system, the design is based on the performance that is desired.
Jack Poole is with Poole Fire Protection
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