No vexation without representation

Saturday, December 1, 2007

When next the NFPA releases a standard for the security or fire-prevention installation industry--maybe 720, which guides the monitoring of carbon monoxide alarms--you'll likely have nothing to complain about. Unless, you're one of the half-dozen or so industry members participating in the standards-making process.
It's like our electoral systems here in the United States. If you didn't vote, you shouldn't complain about the outcome.
In my discussions with integrators over the past year, the issue of standards has arisen more than I care to remember, whether in lament over a standards-making body issuing an untenable edict or in lament over a group of manufacturers who seem unwilling to decide on a single way of pouring video into a DVR.
But what can be done, right? The code-makers are like Roman gods, making decrees from on high and striking down objectors with lightning bolts, right?
Well, of course not. NFPA standards are written by people just like you, or they could be, anyway. Right now, the code-making committee for the near-universal NFPA 72 are often made up of academic fire engineers, or those working in the fire extinguishing world. Just three of the more than 30 members of the NFPA 72 committee, for example, represent those who actually monitor fire alarms.
At the CSAA annual meeting last month in Hawaii, involved people like Bob and Ed Bonifas (owners of the "other ADS Security" they joked in front of Mel Mahler) were virtually begging other alarm company owners to get involved. If it weren't for Vector Security and Bay Alarm, it seemed, CSAA members wouldn't have any representation at all.
Yet NFPA 72 guides the way many of you operate your businesses.
As an intellectual exercise, think about the power of the two words, "where required." In the end, these two words will likely keep you from absolutely having to notify the fire department as the first thing you do when a carbon monoxide alarm comes into your central station.
Instead of being allowed to call the homeowner first, to see if maybe the family were out of the house and unlikely to be affected by a build-up of carbon monoxide, stations originally would have been required by NFPA 720 to call the fire department first, who would arrive at a house, knock on the door, get no response and ... do what, exactly? Knock down the door to make sure no one's there?
Thanks to the efforts of CSAA/AICC representatives like Lou Fiore, this month's letter writer, you've now got an option, as long as the AHJ doesn't require you to call the fire department first. They changed 720 by tacking "Where required" in front of the first sentence.
That could save your customers hundreds of dollars in false-alarm fees, possibly, or in door-replacement costs. It's a small thing, but it's the sort of thing that only an alarm-company owner or operator would think about in designing a standard for response.