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
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
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
UL 2572, Standard for Mass Notification Systems, Underwriters Laboratories, Northbrook, IL, 2011.
NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2011.
UL 864, Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, Underwriters Laboratories, Northbrook, IL, 2003.
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The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is a professional society for fire protection engineering established in 1950 and incorporated as an independent organization in 1971. It is the professional society representing those practicing the field of fire protection engineering. The Society has over 5,000 members and 100+ chapters, including many student chapters worldwide.