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Author(s): Kristin Bigda. Published on July 2, 2018.

In Compliance | NFPA 101

A look ahead to the 2021 Life Safety Code


While many of us are still learning the newest edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, both the NFPA technical staff as well as our technical committee members are preparing for yet another code revision cycle and the development of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101.

The NFPA Safety to Life Technical Committees are already busy with the development of the 2021 edition and are preparing for the First Draft meetings in Minneapolis in July. The code is revised every three years, a schedule that allows it to address the most up-to-date technology and fire and life safety risks. It also means that the work of the NFPA technical staff and our stakeholders is never truly done—we are constantly working to educate users on the latest edition of the code while at the same time developing the next one.

Here is a preview of a few of the important topics that will be addressed this cycle by NFPA 101’s technical committees:

Security and targeted-violence incidents.

The code’s foundation centers around occupant life safety from fire. Recently, the code has expanded those considerations that are important in fire conditions but that also provide an ongoing benefit in non-fire emergencies. As the risk for non-fire incidents such as active shooters receives more attention, the code must adapt to balance occupant life safety from fire events along with security from non-fire events. Applicable technical committees will review if and how provisions in the code today address security and how the code can move toward achieving that balance of protection from fire and non-fire related incidents. Findings from the Building Safety and Security Workshop, hosted by NFPA in May, will assist committees in any recommended code changes.

Adequate protection of senior housing.

This cycle, applicable technical committees will look at older adults and the trend known as “aging in place”—staying where they are rather than seeking new housing to accommodate the level of care they require. A resident of an apartment building, for example, might choose to continue to reside there even though they may require some level of personal care services as might be found in a residential board and care environment. This aspect, coupled with the resident’s potential mobility limitations for evacuation purposes, means there is a need to evaluate whether the existing code provisions for occupancies such as apartments (sometimes advertised as senior apartments) and board-and-care facilities adequately address the level of protection of occupants who choose to age in place.

Thresholds for mandating risk analyses for mass notification systems.

New to the 2018 edition of the code, some occupancies picked up the menu option in the new Section 9.14 that requires a risk analysis to be conducted to determine if mass notification should be provided and how extensive the system should be. For the next edition of NFPA 101, these occupancies will take a closer look at the thresholds established for when the risk analysis is required and whether or not any adjustments to those thresholds should be made.

Tall wood building construction types and limits.

Select occupancies in the code, such as assembly and day care, currently mandate limitations on the construction type of a building based on the number of stories in height and the presence of sprinklers. As NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code, further recognizes and refines the use of mass timber construction, occupancies will need to re-evaluate their construction type limitations to make sure they consider the presence of mass timber construction, if permitted.

Protection of existing high-rise apartment and business occupancies.

Several public inputs have been submitted that propose changes to the provisions recognizing an engineered life safety system as an alternative design for protecting existing high-rise apartment and existing high-rise business occupancies in lieu of the building being protected by an automatic sprinkler system. Proponents of the changes include authorities having jurisdiction and NFPA’s High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee.

NFPA welcomes and encourages participation throughout the process. To follow the 2021 revision cycle, access meeting agendas and minutes, and review the technical committee actions from the upcoming First Draft meetings, visit the NFPA 101 document information webpage.

KRISTIN BIGDA, P.E., is principal fire protection engineer at NFPA.