From the Chief’s Corner: The ERCES Annunciator - What Do Emergency Responders Need to Know & When?

Chief Alan Perdue

By Chief Alan Perdue (ret.), SBC Executive Director

Posted on October 6, 2022

When assessing the value of Information, we may not always have an accurate understanding of what information should be collected, who needs to know what and how much collecting that information will cost. Let’s explore this concept as it relates to the information associated with transferring data from the ERCES annunciator to the building’s fire alarm system.

The other day I received a call from a fire code official who was inquiring about NFPA 1225 2022 edition, specifically section item (5), and it got me to thinking this code section may need a little background explanation to be fully understood. 

Let’s first take a look at the entire text of Section 18.14.1 Fire Alarm System which states:

18.14.1 Fire Alarm System. 

The system shall include automatic supervisory signals for malfunctions of the in-building emergency responder communications enhancement system that are annunciated by the fire alarm system in accordance with NFPA 72. 

The system shall comply with all of the following:

Monitoring for integrity of the system shall comply with Chapter 10 of NFPA 72.

(2) System supervisory signals shall include the following:

(a)* Signal source malfunction

(b) Active RF-emitting device failure

(c) Low-battery capacity indication when 70 percent of the 12-hour operating capacity has   been depleted

(d) Active system component failure

(3) Power supply supervisory signals shall include the following for each RF-emitting device and active system components:

(a) Loss of normal ac power

(b) Failure of battery charger

(4) The communications link between the fire alarm system and the in-building emergency responder communications enhancement system shall be monitored for integrity.

(5) Where approved by the AHJ, a single supervisory input to the fire alarm system to monitor all system supervisory signals shall be permitted.

Section highlights the requirement for the supervisory signals for malfunctions of the ERCES to be annunciated by the fire alarm system. In other words, a supervisory signal for any of the items identified within section would send a supervisory signal to the fire alarm system through the annunciator that is installed within the building. 

However, there is one exception found in item (5). It states “Where approved by the AHJ, a single supervisory input to the fire alarm system to monitor all system supervisory signals shall be permitted.” Think about that for a minute. Does that provide the information that is really needed?

The term “value-added” comes to mind which is defined as “having features added to a basic line or model for which the buyer is prepared to pay extra”. Let’s unpack this value-added concept and its relation to what emergency responders need to know and when, upon their arrival to a building that is equipped with an ERCES.

Having spoken with a lot of first responders as I travel across the US, I often ask this question -- what is the most important thing you need to know about ERCES when you arrive at an incident within a building? The overall response I receive back – “Is the ERCES working, or not?” 

I often follow up with whether or not they are concerned with knowing the battery charger is not working, or that there is a signal source malfunction, or maybe an active system component failure? Again, the answer is nope. The service people may need to know those things, but first responders are primarily concerned with whether it is working or not. 

As illustrated by this example, information that’s deemed important or value-added varies among different stakeholders. That’s when one must factor in the cost and benefit associated with collecting more information than we might need. Sometimes we do not realize it, but information comes at a cost. In this situation, it may mean more dry contacts, circuit boards, a larger fire alarm control panel, labor, etc., you get the point. 

When it comes to evaluating the need for additional information, we must ask if the value of collecting the information leads to the improvement in the outcomes of our actions. If not, then the decision should be to reduce or eliminate it. 

Here’s the bottom line -- From the standpoint of item (5) in Section, when it comes to sending signals from the annunciator to the fire alarm system, what matters most is the notification that there is a problem with the ERCES. First responders need to know this. Additionally, knowing the fact that the receipt of one supervisory signal or multiple signals will generate the same overall response from the monitoring facility highlights the importance of the AHJ’s consideration of permitting a single supervisory signal for the installation. 

Albert Einstein once said “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” As applied here, even though one knows what the code language says, at times it can be quite confusing to fully comprehend. At the end of the day, the code official’s responsibility is to ensure that the purpose of the requirement is being met. When it comes to item (5) of section, the purpose is that the fire alarm system has been notified about a supervisory signal from the ERCES and it has been properly transmitted to someone that can do something about it... #feelsafeinside

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