Protex Central
Protex Central, Specialized Protection Solutions Integrator
Protex Central, Specialized Protection Solutions Integrator
November 30, 2012

Decoding the latest Mass Communication Codes and Trends

The latest fire alarm code of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the U.S. now
applies to more than fire situations. It includes a new chapter on requirements for Emergency
Communications Systems (ECS) also known as Mass Notification Systems (MNS). This
technology is spreading like wildfire. Conducting an online search for Mass Notification
Systems produces more than 5 million hits whereas Emergency Communications Systems
produces more than 50 million results. That’s a lot of information to review and decipher.
This article summarizes how the codes were developed, what building owners and facility
managers need to know, a solution to avoid expensive replacement, and the future of MNS.
What is Mass Notification?
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) defines Mass Notification as a means to “provide
real-time information and instructions to people in a building, area, site, or installation using
}intelligible voice communications along with visible signals, text, and graphics, and possibly
including tactile or other communication methods.” The DoD further states that Mass
Notification Systems “protect life by indicating the existence of an emergency situation and
instructing people of the necessary and appropriate response and action.”
The Evolution of Mass Notification
In 1996, terrorists attacked a USAF housing complex, Khobar Towers, in Dhahran, Saudi
Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and wounding hundreds of others. William Cohen, U.S.
Secretary of Defense, issued a post-incident report of the attack, which concluded that there
was no effective notification system with which to warn personnel. The principal means for
sounding an alarm at the housing complex consisted of having personnel go from door to door
throughout an eight-story dormitory, alerting residents of the danger.
This primitive approach prompted the U.S. Military to develop force protection standards.
Thus in 1999, the U.S. Air Force developed the Antiterrorism Force Protection Standards. To
add to the standards, in 2002 the DoD created the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) 4-010-01
Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings, where mass notification was first defined.
Two years later, the DoD published the UFC 04-021-01 Design and O&M: Mass Notification
Systems, which required the installation of intelligible voice notification systems in and around
new “inhabited buildings.”
In creating the UFC, the DoD discovered that most fire alarm systems were unable to
communicate with people in non-fire emergencies such as severe weather. The US Air Force
petitioned NFPA to develop MNS requirements. As a result, the NFPA added Annex E Mass
Notification Systems as recommended guidelines for MNS in the National Fire Alarm Code
2007 edition. This was the first time in U.S. history of the code that a non-fire alarm system
could take precedence over a fire alarm system.
In the NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code 2010 edition, Annex E became
Chapter 24 Emergency Communications Systems, the first mass notification code for the
}private sector. And, most recently Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has moved towards
establishing a new standard for mass notification as well – UL 2572. It will measure how a
Mass Notification System (MNS) performs against the NFPA ECS codes.
Decoding the Latest Mass Notification
Codes & Trends
NFPA 72 ECS Codes and How it Affects New Construction and Retrofit
Chapter 24 is a complete set of requirements for installation and performance of indoor and
outdoor Emergency Communications Systems, including In-Building Fire Emergency
Voice/Alarm Communications Systems, In-Building MNS, Wide-Area MNS, and Distributed
Recipient MNS (text messages, voice calls, emails, pagers, desktop notification). According to
NFPA 72 2010, an ECS is “intended to communicate information about emergencies
including, but not limited to, fire, human-caused events (accidental and intentional), other
dangerous situations, accidents, and natural disasters.”
An ECS must be installed in occupancies, where required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction
(AHJ) or other applicable governing laws, codes or standards. Regardless of whether an ECS
is required by the AHJ or voluntary, installing a code compliant system insures the building
owner that the ECS system has achieved a level of performance tested to the rigorous
standards of the latest Codes.
In-Building Mass Notification Systems
As defined by NFPA, In-Building Mass Notification Systems are installed in buildings or
structures for the purpose of notifying and instructing occupants of an emergency. Combining
or integrating in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications systems with other
communication systems such as mass notification, public address and paging is now allowed
and encouraged by Code. Using one system that meets Code is financially beneficial to the
owner since it reduces design, installation and on-going life cycle costs. Fire alarm or priority
mass notification messages as determined by a risk analysis must take precedence over any
other announcement such as paging or public address.
Risk Analysis & Emergency Response Plans
Creating an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) requires a detailed risk analysis. When designing
a mass notification system, one must consider the anticipated risks of each facility, probability
and frequency of occurrence, and projected loss. The role of mass notification – how the
facility disseminates information and specific-take action instructions needed for different
types of emergencies – is an important element of risk mitigation.
Coverage of the In-Building MNS
MNS provides live voice and pre-recorded localized messaging within a protected individual
building, areas surrounding the building, and other outdoor designated areas. The notification
zones are based on the risk analysis. Each separate building should be provided with a
separate In-Building MNS, which, must be designed with intelligible voice in accordance with
NFPA 72 – 2010 Chapter 18, Notification Appliances.
Operation of the In-Building MNS
An effective In-Building MNS manages all audio and visual notification appliances and reports
trouble and supervisory signal through the Fire Alarm System (FAS). Determined by the ERP,
the In-Building MNS control unit can override the FAS with live voice from an MNS microphone
or manual activation of a high-priority MNS message. After the In-Building MNS relinquishes
control, the fire alarm system will automatically restore to normal operation (without an active
fire alarm signal) or operate based on the Emergency Response Plan with an active fire alarm
The priority level of recorded messages are determined by the ERP and based on an
evaluation of:
 Occupancy impact on individual security
 Danger to life
 Danger to community
 Danger and impact on the nation
Only recorded messages determined by the ERP to be of higher priority than fire alarm
activation are permitted to override the fire alarm notification and initiate the mass notification
priority message.
Visible Notification
Where there is audible notification, the In-Building MNS must also provide visible notification
to serve the hearing–impaired and for high-noise areas. Visible notification is typically
accomplished using clear strobes for fire alarm and amber strobes for MNS. In addition to the
strobes, textual, graphic or video displays can also be utilized. Transmission of visible
notification and messages must be simultaneous to audible notification and messages.
Wide-Area MNS
The Wide-Area MNS broadcasts real-time intelligible voice messages, tones and sirens,
covering large outdoor areas. Wide-Area MNS can be used for applications such as campus
or facility Giant Voice systems, public warning systems, and military base outdoor notification
systems. System components include the Central Control Station and the High Power
Speaker Array (HPSA). The Wide-Area MNS must be designed so that each notification zone
can be individually controlled by the Central Control Station, intelligibility is in accordance with
the Code, and minimum mounting heights are based on the output of the speaker array to
prevent hearing damage.
Distributed Recipient Mass Notification System
Distributed Recipient Mass Notification Systems (DRMNS can be added and integrated with
audible and visible alerting systems whenever possible for a multi-tiered communications
system. The DRMNS must be able to communicate to hundreds or thousands of individuals
through multiple delivery methods, including mass dialing systems, emails, SMS/text
messages, paging, and desktop pop-up notifications. These web-based communication
systems must be installed behind appropriate internet system firewalls to protect the network
and designed with a backup configuration to facilitate distribution of messages.
Mass Notification System-of-Systems
With a variety of different MNS solutions available, one of the latest trends that security
professionals are recognizing is the need for a System-of-Systems approach to emergency
communications. There is no single technology that fits every situation. NFPA states that
relying on just one technology to do the job in an emergency could result in a relatively large
population not receiving the message. The overall solution is to utilize multiple communication
systems that combine to produce a reliable and robust design, ensuring that information will
successfully reach the affected audience. System of Systems approach to MNS include
broadcasting alerts over indoor or outdoor mass notification systems, sending text messages
and emails, distributing automated voice calls, and utilizing display signs, desktop alerts and
social media. However, businesses are realizing that launching alerts from multiple
communication systems can greatly increase the time it takes to send and receive messages.

With limited staff and multiple communication systems to launch, businesses need an
integrated emergency notification system with a simplified, single interface to launch all of the
different applications. It allows facility managers and emergency response personnel to focus
on the emergency at hand without being slowed down, trying to activate multiple systems.
Future of MNS
In the near future, building designers and owners will see flexible MNS solutions that easily
adapt to an organization’s Risk Analysis and Emergency Response Plans (ERP) as well as a
heightened convergence of the elements in the ERP - interoperable protection, sensor and
alerting systems. By integrating these technologies, including fire protection, access control,
accountability, video services, and Mass Notification Systems, a facility will greatly improve its
situational awareness, system management and emergency response time.
Implementing Mass Notification in your Facility
As codes continue to change, it’s important for facility managers and building owners to keep
up in order to ensure optimum performance and compliance of the systems installed. This
may sound overwhelming; however, it’s crucial to choose a vendor that has a handle on
codes and requirements. If it’s a retrofit project, building owners and designers need to
understand how they can utilize solutions that enable them to leverage existing infrastructure,
systems and equipment with minimal upgrades and modifications. For new construction, the
range of state-of-the-art ECS technology available today ensures success doesn’t have to be
a difficult endeavor and can be accomplished by starting with the below steps:
1. Begin with a vulnerability and risk assessment
2. Develop a Master Plan that integrates:
a. Protection Systems
b. Mass Notification Systems
c. Emergency Action Plans
3. Implement on a phased basis
4. Leverage existing systems and equipment
Completing a vulnerability and risk assessment provides building owners a scope of their
current situation and allows them to develop a master plan to address the needs of the
facility. It is highly recommended that these master plans integrate protection systems, MNS,
and the ERP.
To help building owners and managers meet the latest requirements and simplify their retrofit,
Cooper Notification designed the SAFEPATH MNS (SPMNS) to integrate with a facility’s
addressable fire alarm system (FAS) for a complete In-Building MNS solution that performs
both fire alarm and emergency communications functions. Compliant with UL 2572 and NFPA
72 2010 codes, the SPMNS provides personnel and building occupants with intelligible live
and pre-recorded voice messages that communicate what to do in response to an emergency.
The SPMNS manages all audible and visual notification and features a modular and flexible
design to meet the functional requirements of Emergency Response Plans as well as the
complexities of the new codes.
Fire codes apply to more than fire situations. They also cover today’s sophisticated threats
and emergencies. With a wide-range of MNS technologies available and numerous vendors
to choose from, the key is finding a solution provider that can provide the right mix of systems
that meet the latest MNS codes and the needs of emergency response plans.

Protex Central, Specialized Protection Solutions Integrator
Protex Central, Specialized Protection Solutions Integrator