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Effectiveness and reliability of fire protection systems continue to improve due to new technologies and the vast amounts of available data. However, a system is only as effective as the ITM (Inspection, Testing and Maintenance) program that is used to keep it running once it is put in service. NFPA 25 Standard for Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems is considered best practice in the Netherlands, and also worldwide, for the inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection installations. How do you design and build the optimum ITM program? Based on our experience and together with our clients, Antea Group has developed NFPA 25 ITM solutions for tank storage terminals and has optimized ITM programs to provide complete insight into the state of the fire protection systems and their components. This article gives insight in the lessons learned and methods used.


Legislation in industrial fire safety and NFPA 25

Industries in the Netherlands must comply to fire safety requirements coming from a variety of EU, national and municipal directives, laws and policies. Besides the European SEVESO III directive implemented by the state, the industries must also comply with extensive national and municipal building, environmental and labor legislation. Additionally, the companies must fulfill local emergency response requirements and meet the terms of certification requirements for fixed fire protection systems and other equipment (see figure 1).

Companies must comply with numerous EU, national and municipal laws and regulations; all have their own purpose.

Before the introduction of NFPA 25 industries in Rotterdam were annually live testing their equipment. This meant that many deficiencies were being missed between the tests and as a result, over 80% of fire protection systems did not perform as designed. Today, the Dutch authorities have adopted and enforce the Best Available Technique (BAT) for industrial fire protection. The industry may choose between certification or NFPA 25. Notified Body uses NFPA 25 as BAT, which means many companies choose to design their ITM programs conform to NFPA 25. Note that the NFPA 25 only focuses on the ITM of the fire protection systems. The adequacy of the design of these systems is the responsibility of the property owner or the designated representative.

Why do you need an ITM program?

An effective ITM program helps companies manage three major aspects of compliance management: EHS (Environment, Health and Safety), legal obligations and business continuation.

Fire protection installations are put in place in order to protect people and the environment from the damaging effects of fire. The systems must be functional at all times. A fire protection system is only effective when it is adequately designed for its purpose and well-maintained after its installation.

Facility owners have a legal responsibility to make sure that their systems are in working order by following the requirements of NFPA 25 or other ITM codes. The fact that the local 

authority may not actively participate in the ITM program does not alleviate this responsibility.

Aside from disturbance of the running of a facility, an unexpected event such as a fire has the potential to affect financial position, image and market share of the enterprise. Fire protection installations must thus play a vital role in business contingency planning. When they are part of the risk management strategy they must also be in top condition.

How do you design an ITM program?

ITM program should be thought about when building new fire protection installations: for example, the systems should be accessible and easy to inspect. Ideally, the hand over package should already include the ITM guidelines.

For existing installations, the ITM design process must begin with checking if the fire protection system has been adequately designed. Is the fire protection system fit for its purpose and does it have the right capacity? Has the correct design code been used? Did the protected installation change after fire protection has been installed? Only if the design basis is adequate will the ITM program be useful in the long run (see figure 2).

The ITM program does not test if the design of the system is adequate. It does assist in finding the optimal ITM times for the system components.

Assuming adequate design basis, the design of the ITM program conform to NFPA 25 can begin. This is an iterative process: the results of the ITM test runs in the field can be used as the input for the improvement of the design of the ITM program itself and foster the expansion of the system by adding new components. Previous ITM records and existing checklists, as well as authority requirements, also form an important source of information and structure for the ITM program. Additionally, an effective ITM program requires a good data management tool and trained personnel to use it.

ITM software solutions

The ITM program can be implemented using a variety of asset management or compliance management software tooling. All installations mentioned in the NFPA 11 and NFPA 25 can be monitored with these. By starting small (e.g. one part of the facility first), the pros and cons of the tools can be discovered and solutions can be engineered. Once these are in place you can start expanding the ITM program. Other installations, such as fire and gas detection, alarms, fire extinguishers and so on, can then be added to your ITM program. One thing to keep in mind is that third party access makes managing your ITM program even simpler. When service suppliers can access your applications, they are able to input their inspection, testing, and maintenance data directly into the clients database. This significantly reduces the amount of paperwork the companies have to process. Because the entire ITM program is available, ITM owners can also manage the supplier contracts much easier as the scope of work is fixed.

Cloud-based software tools are preferred because of their ability to add data and access system information through mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones. This allows users to complete inspections or quickly access design specifications while they are in the field or on-site. Additionally, mobile applications are configurable and can be customized to suit specific project needs. Special attention is required for Ex zoning considering tablets or smartphones and on-site data restriction requirements. Not all terminals allow uncontrolled data streams going in and out site boundaries.

Because cloud-based solutions are scalable, they will allow maximal flexibility in your organization. Always make sure that the tooling supports easy modification of checklists and fire protection system data. Site-specific NFPA 25 Inspection forms should be quickly customizable to your needs.

Data analysis and visualization

Always make sure that you have complete insight into the status of all relevant fire protection installations in the facility at all times. This is what the authorities ask from the permit holders. Inspections, testing and maintenance generate data on the state of the components of the fire protection system. Well-recorded data is a source of valuable information for your organization. Using today’s business intelligence software helps you create reports and dashboards that provide you with real-time information about progress, compliance, and more. These reports help to organize and visualize all available and relevant data, creating a clear overview that emphasizes and accentuates key indicators, making it easier to monitor and manage your NFPA 25 ITM program.

How do you optimize your ITM program?

A large portion of the optimization of an ITM program lies in the adjusted inspection and test frequencies. Inspection frequencies may be optimized if components have proven their reliability, or preventive maintenance can be scheduled for components that are more prone to issues. This must be technically defensible and supported by evidence, such as the system or component preventive maintenance programs, repair history, service conditions and so on. Previously collected and visualized data provides and input on all of these aspects and makes optimization possible. Optimization is aided by the clear definition of critical components (priorities for ITM) and adequate management of change.

ITM through smart glasses

As smart devices and internet of things are evolving, we see augmented reality devices as a viable alternative to smartphones and tablets (figure 3). Using smart glasses frees up both hands of the user and brings the attention of the user back to the surroundings, making ITM a safer experience.

Using augmented reality during ITM. Information on critical components of the installation can be viewed, modified and added using smart glasses.

Lessons learned

  • Evaluate your design basis first and always (MOC)
  • Start small and built up from there
  • Use inspection software tooling
  • Always do test runs in the field
  • Make one department responsible for all fire protection equipment i.r.t. ITM program
  • Use general checklists instead of unique checklists
  • Use qualified personnel/supplier
  • Secure your design basis at all times
  • Keep test records available
  • Secure block valves but don’t use chains
  • Don’t forget heat tracing, drainage & heating systems


Contact for More Information:

Name: René Sloof

Associate / Client Company: Antea Group - Netherlands

E-Mail: Rene [dot] Sloof [at] Anteagroup [dot] com (Rene[dot]Sloof[at]Anteagroup[dot]com)