Should NFPA 730 go from guide to code?

SIA says no because of concerns about liability and the expense of retraining installers
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SILVER SPRING, Md.—A proposal to change NFPA 730, the National Fire Protection Association standard governing security systems, from a best-practices recommendation to a code is generating concerns from the security industry.

The controversy is about whether NFPA 730 should be changed from a guide to a code, giving it the force of law if municipalities adopt that code, according to Joe Gittens, director of standards for the Security Industry Association.

 “A guideline can be a standard, best-practices way of doing things. But when it becomes a code, then all kinds of business considerations and legal considerations are now in effect,” Gittens said.

Liability is a big concern, according to Gittens. The revised NFPA 730 would include a sample ordinance, and “once you have a sample ordinance it’s very easy for a municipality to put it into effect, and if something goes wrong in a premises that was installed before this, security companies, security installers and designers may still be liable for not being up to code.”

SIA was among security organizations that reached out to their members this fall, recommending they send written comments about the proposed revisions to the NFPA.

SIA told members it is specifically concerned with wording that would change the title of NFPA 730 from Premises Security Guide to Premises Security Code and “change all instances of ‘should’ to ‘shall’ within the document. This change can have an impact on the installed products and systems of many SIA members.”

Changing NFPA 730 would also impact NFPA 731, the companion document to NFPA 730, Gittens said. NFPA 731 governs the installation and maintenance of security systems. He said 730 states what the guidelines are and 731 details “basically how you install equipment to meet those guidelines.” He said that if 730 is revised to become a code, then under 731, “the actual installation procedures have to reference the code.”

In additional to liability concerns, Gittens said security companies would have to pay more to retrain staff. “It becomes more important to retrain installers on how to install to exact code instead of simply following best-practice guidelines,” he said.

He added: “The security industry is a major, major stakeholder and we don't feel that the discussion has been had between members of the NFPA and also security stakeholders to make it code-worthy.”

The decision as to whether NFPA 730 becomes a code is still “a work in progress” and concerns from the security industry are being taken into account, according to Richard Roux, an NFPA electrical engineer and staff liaison to the NFPA Technical Committee on Premises Security.

That committee voted last spring that NFPA 730 should become a code after being a guide for six years, but there was debate on both sides of the issue and the vote was not unanimous, Roux said. The proposal is now in first draft form, and was open for public comment until Nov. 16.

More than 200 comments were submitted, Roux said. He estimated about half of the comments addressed the code versus guide issue, and many of those were opposed to making NFPA 730 a code.

The next step is for the technical committee to hold a second draft meeting at which it will consider all the comments, Roux said. The meeting, to be held March 12-14 in Tampa, Fla., is open to the public, he said.

“They will debate this one way or another and go to a second draft, and then the second draft will again be available for public review July 19,” Roux said.

That second draft can be appealed—the deadline is Aug. 23—and if that’s the case, the draft will go to a floor debate at the NFPA’s annual meeting in June 2014, he said. If it’s not appealed, the second draft will become a document by the end of 2013, he said.

What would SIA like to see happen?

“It’s fairly simple,” Gittens said. “SIA would like to see this second draft of NFPA standards revert back to a guideline. If that’s the case, the security industry would be happy and would contribute to that guideline and help ensure it’s even better than the previous version. But making it a code is just something that has too many business consequences for the security industry.”

Roux said the nonprofit NFPA, based in Quincy, Mass., does not itself develop any NFPA standards, but facilitates their development. “The NFPA establishes a process for bringing experts together to develop documents,” he said. The documents are developed by the technical committees that are made up of experts who represent a wide variety of stakeholder groups in the industry, he said.

When NFPA 730 and NFPA 731 were proposed in the early 2000s, security companies voiced concerns about establishing NFPA standards for security systems. But Roux said that NFPA codes are not just about fire—they also set standards for building construction and other areas as diverse as electrical systems, aircraft rescue and hypobaric facilities. “If I had to sum it up, it’s public safety in the built environment … and security surely is about public safety,” Roux said.

For more information about NFPA 730 and NFPA 731, visit www.nfpa.org.