Sprinkler Supervision and Monitoring: NFPA 13 and NFPA 72 Part 3
In this series of blogs, we’re discussing the code requirements for when and how fire alarm and sprinkler waterflow signals must be monitored. In Part 1, we addressed the requirements from the model codes and NFPA 13. In Part 2 of this series, we discussed the requirements for digital alarm communicator transmitters (DACTs) and why they have been the default method of monitoring for many years. To catch up on Part 1 and 2 of this series, please click on the following link.
Blogs - National Fire Sprinkler Association (nfsa.org)
You may recall from the earlier article, the use of DACTs has been in a slow decline since the NFPA 72 technical committee no longer allowed two phone lines in the 2013 edition. So, what other options are available to business owners and contractors? This article will try to answer that question.
Over the past several years, since the use of DACTs have been in decline, the use of cellular communicators has grown exponentially. Essentially, the business owner pays a monthly rate to a cellular provider, such as Verizon or AT&T, to monitor the fire alarm panel and these signals are sent over a cellular line like a phone call made on any standard cell phone. However, unlike your personal cell phone, manufacturers have gone through an extensive testing and listing process to ensure the monitoring equipment is reliable and will quickly and reliably send the signal out to the supervising station. There are currently several manufacturers that have listed and approved equipment available on the market. The location of the cellular communicator is an important consideration when using a cell communicator. Often, the cell communicator is installed at or next to the main fire alarm control panel. If the panel is located at the center of the building behind several solid walls, in a basement, etc., getting the cell signal out of the building can be an issue. All of us at one time or another have experienced unreliable cell signals inside buildings. The same concept applies to cell communicators as well. The fix to this is to install antennas to “boost” the signal strength. In some cases, like in rural areas, the antenna may need to be placed on the roof of the structure to get a reliable signal.
Radio transmitters used for monitoring have existed for years. Options include one-way private radio transmitters, two-way radio transmitters, and mesh radio networks. While this article will not go into detail to explain each type of radio transmitter, know that this type of technology is approved by NFPA 72 as a single communication technology (no backup needed) for monitoring. Some of the more common manufacturers include AES Intellinet, GSM, and Alarm Net.
Internet, or IP, Communicators
With access to the internet rapidly expanding over the last 20 years, it’s no surprise that manufacturers have been wanting to use this technology to monitor fire alarm and waterflow signals. You may hear the term, IP-DACT when referring to fire alarm monitoring. Don’t confuse this with standard digital alarm communicator transmitters. IP-DACTs essentially connect to the DACT port or phone connection at the fire panel. The IP part of the DACT converts the signal to internet instead of using standard phone lines. For this reason, IP-DACTs are considered a form of internet monitoring and are not considered a DACT. However, IP communicators have an issue that must be addressed to be used as a monitoring technology. NFPA 72 requires all fire alarm systems, including equipment used for monitoring, to have 24 hours of backup power. If an IP communicator is used for monitoring, the internet equipment must be connected to a backup power supply capable of providing power for a minimum of 24 hours. This is often an issue because many business owners do not connect their internet equipment to a backup power supply.
Single vs. Multiple Communication Paths
As mentioned in previous articles, NFPA 72 only requires two communication channels when a DACT is used for monitoring. There is no requirement in NFPA 72 for two transmission channels when using cell, internet or radio as the transmission means. From a technical committee perspective, NFPA 72 defines “reliable” as, how quickly does the fire panel know when monitoring goes down. This does not mean the monitoring network can never go down. We know equipment can fail at any given time for no apparent reason. But from NFPA 72’s perspective, cell, internet, and radio are considered reliable because the panel will know quickly if/when the communication channel fails.
Application and Summary
It is not the intent of this series of blogs to turn you into a fire alarm expert. After all, the issue of monitoring and how to send waterflow and fire alarm signals is a complicated topic. Rather, the goal is to provide sprinkler contractors and designers with a basic understanding of the monitoring and supervision requirements from the model codes and standards so you're better prepared when working on a job site. When a project is nearing completion, we hope the information in this series of blogs will provide you with some background when determining how the sprinkler waterflow signal will report to the supervising station.