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NFPA-72 2013 – Most Significant Changes
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Issue 64: NFPA-72 2013 – Most Significant Changes

By Lee Richardson

The 2013 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code,1 builds on the scope and organizational changes made in the 2010 edition.  This article briefly recaps these changes and provides a summary of new organizational changes.  In addition, a number of significant technical revisions have been introduced, which will be summarized by chapter.

Building on the 2010 Edition
The 2010 edition of NFPA 72 was probably the most important edition since the code was introduced in 1993 as the National Fire Alarm Code.  The 2010 edition contained a number of very significant technical changes, including a new chapter with requirements for various types of emergency communications systems.  [An overview of the major changes in the 2010 edition can be found in the January 2011 edition of Emerging Trends.] 

From an organizational standpoint, the addition of the new chapter introduced an opportunity to do so in such a way that other new chapters could be subsequently added without requiring chapter renumbering on an ongoing basis.  Taking advantage of this opportunity, the 2010 edition was completely reorganized by grouping chapters into front chapters (1-9), support chapters (10-19), and system chapters (20-29) with reserved chapters placed within each grouping to allow for future expansion. 

As a part of the reorganization, in addition to the new system chapter, "Emergency Communications Systems,” some existing material was moved into two additional new support chapters: "Circuits and Pathways,” and "Emergency Control Functions and Interfaces.”  

In the 2013 edition, a new administrative chapter, "Documentation,” has been introduced to further improve the usability of the document.  The chapter provides a central location for all the documentation requirements of the code.  In some cases, the documentation provisions are contained directly in the new chapter.  In other cases, references are provided to the locations of documentation requirements contained in other chapters.  As an example, the new chapter contains the minimum documentation requirements that apply to any system covered by the code, while additional document requirements that might apply from other parts of the code or from other governing laws, codes, or standards are listed with an appropriate reference.  The "Record of Completion" and "Record of Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance" forms are included at the end of the chapter and have been completely revised so they are easier to use – with a basic form for straightforward systems and supplemental forms for more complex systems.

Further Changes to Improve Usability
The support chapter, "Fundamentals,” has been reorganized for the 2013 edition to provide a more user-friendly flow of requirements.  In addition, requirements for circuit monitoring found in the 2010 edition of this chapter have been relocated to the support chapter, "Circuits and Pathways,” providing a more logical placement.

Extensive usability changes have also been made in the support chapter, "Inspection, Testing and Maintenance.”  These changes occur primarily within the inspection and testing tables.  The visual inspection table has been updated, adding new inspection methods for each component along with the inspection frequency.  The test methods and test frequency tables have been combined into a single table so that the test method appears along with the test frequency for each component.  The component listings in both tables have been reorganized and coordinated so that components and equipment are easier to find.

Significant Technical Updates
The 2013 edition of the Code also includes many technical updates. Among these are provisions in the support chapter "Documentation” that specify a more extensive minimum list of documentation that is to be provided for all systems when documentation is required by the enforcing authority. 

Changes to the support chapter "Fundamentals” have been made to require supervising station operators and fire alarm system service providers, respectively, to report to the authority having jurisdiction when monitoring service has been terminated or when a system has been out of service for more than eight hours. Also within this chapter, requirements for inspection, testing, and service personnel qualifications have been updated to better reflect the level of qualification needed for each type of activity.  This includes a new provision requiring system programmers to be certified by the system manufacturer.

The support chapter "Circuits and Pathways” has been updated to incorporate specific circuit performance and integrity information, which was revised and relocated from the chapter on protected premises fire alarm systems. Also, a new section has been added to address prioritization and segregation of life safety and non-life safety data in shared pathways.

Modifications have been made throughout the support chapter "Inspection, Testing and Maintenance” to clarify that the requirements apply only to the systems, devices, and components covered by the code – not to components of other systems. In addition, inspection methods have been added to the inspection table along with the inspection frequencies.  Also, new provisions have been added to require that a test plan be written to establish the scope of testing for fire alarm systems.


The support chapter "Initiating Devices” has been updated to clarify requirements for accessibility and labeling of remote alarm and supervisory indicators.  In addition, the provisions in this chapter that address total coverage detection have been revised and coordinated to clarify the approach to be taken when return air plenums are involved.  Also, the provisions addressing spot-type smoke detector spacing in high-airflow conditions have been revised to clarify that adjustments for high airflow must be made prior to any adjustments for ceiling construction.

Updates to the support chapter "Notification Appliances” have been made clarifying that coverage for occupant notification (generally specified by other governing laws, codes or standards) only applies in occupiable spaces, as defined in NFPA 72.  In addition, the provisions in this chapter for audible signaling have been updated to require documentation of the locations that require (and do not require) audible notification as well as documentation of the audibility levels that must be produced. Similar area-of-coverage documentation requirements were also added for visible notification.  Also, provisions for the use of the standard alarm evacuation signal (the three-pulse temporal code) have been updated to extend to signals used for relocation and partial evacuation, not just complete evacuation.  Finally, provisions addressing textual and graphical visible appliances have relocated from the chapter on emergency communications systems to this chapter and have been expanded to include fire applications and refined to include location, mounting and performance requirements.

Changes have been made in the support chapter "Emergency Control Function Interfaces” to more specifically address requirements for elevator recall when sprinklers are installed in elevator pits. The requirements for occupant evacuation elevators have also been completely revised to coordinate with changes being made in ASME A.17.1/B44, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. In addition, requirements for fire alarm systems interfacing with HVAC systems have been updated, as have the requirements for door and shutter release and requirements for electrically locked doors.

The systems chapter "Protected Premises Fire Alarm Systems” has been updated to address the monitoring of carbon monoxide detection systems by fire alarm systems.  Carbon monoxide detector activations are required to be displayed on the fire alarm system as "carbon monoxide alarm” signals. Also, provisions have been added requiring that if a valve is installed in the connection between a sprinkler system or a suppression system and an initiating device, the valve must be supervised.

A number of changes have been made in the system chapter "Emergency Communications Systems” including the following:

  • The addition of specific references to documentation requirements in the new documentation chapter;
  • The addition of a requirements to post instructions for the use of microphones in making voice announcements and for test messages to specifically state "this is a test;”
  • The addition of ANSI/UL 2572,2 Standard for Mass Notification Systems, in the requirement for the listing of mass notification systems control units;
  • The addition of a requirement to provide message templates for each message developed for scenarios of the emergency response plan;
  • Clarification of requirements for the use of live voice instructions in emergency voice/alarm communication systems upon release of the microphone;
  • Updated in-building mass notification system documentation requirements to provide the owner with a written sequence of operations and a copy of the site-specific software;
  • Updated requirements for voice message priority in in-building mass notification systems;
  • Added provisions on the use of textual and graphical visible notification appliances for primary or supplemental notification; and,
  • Updated requirements for the location and accessibility of emergency command centers.

Changes have been made in the system chapter "Supervising Station Alarm Systems” addressing alarm signal verification, alarm signal content, and restoration of signals. These changes have been made in part to help emergency responders better manage issues related to unwanted alarms. In addition, new definitions for "unwanted alarms" have been added to more precisely identify the sources of these alarms. Changes have also been made to update the communications methods addressed in this chapter, including the following:

  • Updated requirements for supervision intervals for both single and multiple communications paths;
  • Changes to the types of transmission means that can be used for the second channel of a digital alarm communicator transmitter (DACT);
  • Added provisions for signal processing equipment at supervising stations;
  • Updated requirements for secondary power for shared communications equipment used with performance-based technologies;
  • Added annex material to provide examples of technologies that fall under the requirements for performance-based technologies; and,
  • Removed requirements addressing digital alarm radio systems

The systems chapter "Public Emergency Alarm Reporting Systems” has been updated to prohibit the use of unlicensed radio frequencies in wireless networks.  In addition, revisions have been made to clarify the wireless network capacity for the number of alarm boxes on a single radio frequency. A new requirement has also been added to require circuit survivability for wiring between an auxiliary alarm system and the auxiliary or master box.

Several changes have been made in systems chapter "Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Fire Alarm Systems,” including the following:

  • Modified the performance requirements for the low frequency alarm signal;
  • Updated the provisions for visible and tactile notification so they apply to those with moderately severe as well as profound hearing loss;
  • Changed the secondary power capacity requirements for smoke and heat alarms to 7 days instead of 24 hours;
  • Introduced two new separate provisions addressing smoke alarm and smoke detector resistance to common nuisance sources in general, and to common cooking nuisance sources when installed within 20 ft (6 m) of a fixed cooking appliance;
  • Added provisions to address the connection of sprinkler waterflow switches to multiple-station alarms;
  • Added provisions to require two simultaneous or sequential operations to activate a keypad fire alarm signal; and,
  • The provisions for testing of smoke alarms (in the testing chapter) have been revised to eliminate the requirement for sensitivity testing

Lee Richardson is with the National Fire Protection Association

  1. NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2013.
  2. UL 2572, Standard for Mass Notification Systems, Underwriters Laboratories, Northbrook, IL, 2011.

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