The Complicating Consequences of Emergency Lighting Controls

June 20, 2019

The evolving digital lighting landscape presents many opportunities for enhanced system-level controls and automation intended to better manage energy consumption and improve the work and living conditions of building occupants. These advances have triggered the need to adjust codes and standards to ensure essential safety features are not compromised by expanded functionality and complexity. Among the considerations are the expected knowledge and diligence of those responsible for installing and maintaining these products where their action — or lack thereof — can compromise the safety of the building occupants.

National Electrical Code (NEC) Article 700, Emergency Systems, and UL 924, the Standard for Emergency Power and Lighting Equipment, have recently been revised to address new generations of equipment, such as directly controlled emergency luminaires and a variety of integrated and remote sensing, communication and control devices. Code and standard requirements always need to be carefully crafted to be clear and enforceable, allowing for some flexibility but deterring excess risk. But even with precisely agreed-to wording, there is a reliance on the human stakeholders — certifiers, specifiers, installers, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and building maintenance personnel — to continually educate themselves. Installing and maintaining this sophisticated equipment in ways that reduce the likelihood of failure is not a plug-and-play exercise. Attention must be given to detailed instructions that are integral to the product compliance and certification process in order to understand the operating parameters and avoid potential failure modes.

Adding to the complexity, this equipment can also include internet connectivity and the ability to receive software updates over time. The connectivity allows for a range of remote monitoring and data gathering functions that can be of great value to facility managers, while post-installation updating allows the equipment’s functionality to be enhanced or expanded over time. But these features also create challenges for certifiers and those seeking confidence that compliance with the established safety requirements remains intact. Is the equipment adequately protected from internet communications that can adversely affect its performance? Do installed software updates retain the functionality that originally allowed the equipment to meet the safety requirements? And perhaps most importantly, who is responsible to ensure continued compliance when parties not part of the original compliance decision can gain access to equipment controls?

Choose your favorite metaphor, but the horse is not going back into the barn. Increased functionality means increased complexity and, even with a strong regulatory system, increased vulnerability. This is endemic across our society, as individuals and agencies across the globe wrestle with the joys and fears of our increasingly interconnected world. Emergency lighting has a simple, non-negotiable function — help people find their way out of a building. Effectively applying this mandate is now a team sport — everyone who touches the product, from design to maintenance, must recognize their role and act responsibly.