What Does NFPA Say About Security?

NFPA is the National Fire Protection Association. It is the Building Code that defines how and to what degree your facility must comply with fire alarm system standards. NFPA 72 then becomes the reference guide that defines how you go about it.

So, what does NFPA have to do with security? In some ways, you might say security is about ensuring that people who don’t belong STAY OUT. Conversely, fire alarm systems are about detecting emergency conditions and alerting people to GET OUT. They don’t appear to be at cross-purposes. Or do they?

In the event of an emergency, people must be able to freely exit the space or freely exit the building without requiring prior knowledge. In other words, free egress shouldn’t require any training; they should be instinctive.

Electromagnetic locks, also known as maglocks, are the least appropriate solution for locking a door, not only because of their reliance on a continuous power source, but also because maglocks do not naturally interface with the mechanical door hardware options for exiting or egressing through a door. There is a whole section in NFPA dedicated to appropriately designing hardware for Access Control portals so that they don’t become EGRESS DENIAL portals.

There are only TWO ways to appropriately utilize a maglock on an Access Control portal; if you don’t fully comply with one of these two options, you run the risk of preventing FREE EGRESS.

  1. Install a mechanical exit device that is directly wired to the maglock power source, so that depressing the exit device will drop power to the maglock. This natural action on the part of the person exiting through the portal does not require prior knowledge.
  2. If you do NOT utilize integrated exit devices for egress, ALL of the following conditions must be met:
    1. A sensor, also known as a Request-to-Exit sensor, MUST be provided on the egress side and arranged to detect an occupant approaching the door, so that it automatically unlocks the maglock when triggered. It MUST be directly wired to the maglock power source, and it can NOT rely on software programming to drop power to the maglock to unlock the door.
    2. An unlocking mechanism, or Push-to-Exit button, MUST be provided on the egress side and arranged so that it unlocks the maglock when triggered. It MUST be wired directly to the maglock power source, and it can NOT rely on software programming to drop power to the maglock to unlock the door.
    3. Activation of the building fire alarm system shall automatically unlock the door by interrupting the maglock power source.

It is not uncommon to find violations of this NFPA code requirement. If you are concerned about whether you have maglocks in places that don’t meet the letter of the law, please reach out to your current security service provider for an audit.

For a copy of the full NFPA reference, see below.

NFPA72 21.9


Gloria Lubben, CPP
Executive Vice President

Gloria joined with Pat Van Haren in 1993 to found SecurAlarm and help forge its vision. Gloria is passionate about working where what we do to enhance security on behalf of our clients matters. As a graduate of Calvin College, she takes her alma mater’s slogan of service personally: “My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely.” Gloria has been active in the industry since 1983 as a consultant and trusted advisor to clients, as a teacher and mentor of teammates, as a respected competitor of industry related peers, and since 1993 as a Certified Protection Professional. Today, Gloria focuses on New Business Development opportunities by leveraging her years of experience and bringing the unique SecurAlarm message and methods to bear on the business challenges of some of the region’s largest companies. Gloria and her family enjoy the great outdoors: fishing, hunting, camping, and exploring different parts of the country!

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