In any Assisted or Independent Living community, the emergency call system is a significant link in the delivery of Life Safety for the residents. When help is needed, the expectation is that the emergency call system will reliably summon that help.
Despite this importance, however, emergency call systems are often treated pretty casually. Many think the various systems available on the market are all alike; they are not. Many assume that any system on the market must meet a nationally recognized standard; not so – there is no such standard – not today.
Nurse call systems for hospitals and nursing homes have had the ANSI/UL 1069 standard for many years. There are significant differences between application of nurse call and emergency call systems, however; applying a standard for nurse call to a residential property, such as Assisted Living or Independent Living, simply does not work well.
The standard for Assisted and Independent Living is coming, though. After almost seven years of work, a final draft of ANSI/UL 2560 has been posted on an internal UL web site for comment by members of the panel that will vote upon its adoption and other stake holders. Depending on the comments received, it will most likely be voted upon and adopted in early 2011.
The new 2560 standard covers hard wired and wireless emergency call systems. It requires minimum coverage of fixed call stations, allows portable devices (pendants) and specifies the maximum time from when an alarm is placed until it is reported. Generally, calls can be canceled only at the point from which they originated. (With certain exceptions, the call cannot be canceled from the desk.) All devices must be self testing and troubles must be reported within specified times. The standard requires backup power and obligates the manufacturer to state how long the backup power will last. It also requires that a battery powered device report a low battery and will continue to work for at least seven days after the low battery report.
The standard is very inclusive in terms of requirements. It provides no special advantage for any one manufacturer; most current manufacturers should be able to comply with only minor revisions to their products, if any. The standard also provides for future innovation by covering only the core life safety system. Ancillary features which were not envisioned by the standard can be added to the system provided they do not interfere with the operation of the core system.
This all started back in 2003 when Tel-Tron and a handful of other manufacturers formed the Emergency Call Systems Association (ECSA). The intent was to publish a consensus standard that would detail the minimum standards for an emergency call system. With no staff and no budget, the attempt never really got off the ground.
Then, in 2005, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) picked up the ball. NEMA’s “Health Care Communications Group” expanded its role and became the “Health Care Communications and Emergency Call Systems Group.” Many of the companies from the by then disbanded ECSA were represented and the effort for a national standard resumed. A task group was formed to draft a standard and both NEMA and UL agreed to provide staff support.
Like all ANSI standards, 2560 represents a consensus of manufacturers, users, regulatory agencies, and National Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) and other stake holders. By rule, and to avoid building standards around parochial interests, manufacturers are a small minority of representation on a Standards Technical Panel (STP). In the case of this standard, the STP consists of 17 members, only 5 of whom are product manufacturers.
A white paper on the proposed standard has been prepared by NEMA and is available here http://www.nema.org/stds/sbp1.cfm. (The document is free, but NEMA is not immune from bureaucracy, so you need to create an account to download it.) In some areas, the white paper was predictive, and there are some discrepancies between it and the draft standard, but it still provides a good overview of the standard.
Once the standard has been adopted, it will take some time for manufactures to demonstrate compliance to an NRTL and become “listed.” Our industry is moving towards the time when owners, developers, and managers of Senior Living communities will have a trusted third-party evaluation of the emergency call systems they are considering for purchase.
Tel-Tron has always been dedicated to lifting the reputation and quality of our industry. A national standard is one way to do that. Our Brian Dawson was founder and president of the original ECSA. Brian is also a member of the Hospital Communications and Emergency Call Systems Group at NEMA. I chair the Technical Committee of that group, was a member of the task group that created the original draft of the standard, and wrote the NEMA white paper. I am also a member of the UL1069 STP (to which this standard has been assigned) and chair the task group charged with handling ANSI/UL 2560.
As the senior living industry continues to mature, the time for this standard has come. Resident safety is too important a topic – from both the humanity and legal points of view – to take a chance on a product that cannot meet minimum standards. Most manufacturers and suppliers of emergency call systems provide quality and reliable products. There are exceptions, however, and this new 2560 standard will allow communities to purchase compliant products with confidence.