Abandoned Cable Triggers Code Compliance Issues

Oct. 30, 2003
Washington, D.C. – According to estimates, there is more than 45 billion feet of plenum cable in place in buildings. The National Electric Code (NEC) now requires that all abandoned copper and fiber cable be removed.  Are your buildings in compliance?The National Electric Code (NEC) includes rules intended to ensure the safety during installation, use, and/or disposal of materials, components, fixtures, and systems. It ensures minimum construction quality and safety of life, health, and property. The NEC is developed and revised every three years. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the secretariat to the Code and responsible for its updates. In 2002, a new provision to this code required the removal of abandoned cable. This was the first major change to cabling requirements in the NEC in more than 20 years. The NEC requirements do not have the effect of law; however, the majority of jurisdictions in the United States adopt the NEC by reference into local building and fire codes, which are then enforced by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). If your jurisdiction adopted the NEC 2002, you must be aware of its potential impact on your building.Abandoned cable is defined as “installed communications cable that is not terminated at both ends at a connector or other equipment and not identified ‘For Future Use’ with a tag,” (Paragraphs 800.2 and 770.2 of NEC 2002). This definition is somewhat vague and the NFPA is considering issuing a draft set of clearer definitions for this portion of the code. However, this lack of clarity does not invalidate the requirement.Why does abandoned cable present such a problem? The accumulation of miles and miles of cabling left in the ceilings and walls of facilities has become a major concern for life safety over the past 10 years. Cables that are abandoned in ceilings, riser systems, and air-handling systems are a source for fueling fire, smoke, and sublethal toxic fumes that can incapacitate. In addition, PVC jackets tend to break down over time. This decomposition process is accelerated by exposure to increased temperatures and humidity.  As the code is enforced across the country, building owners and tenants could face thousands of dollars in additional cost to remove and dispose of the abandoned cables, tag and manage the remaining cable plant in their riser and communications areas, and ensure that tenants install proper cables to meet the building requirements for fire and safety of their other tenants. Nevertheless, all cabling end-users should understand the implications of not complying with these new NEC requirements.As we all know, tenants come and go, and your building may contain abandoned cable from a number of former tenants. However, the building owner is ultimately responsible, and you must take steps to protect yourself and your properties from future liability.BOMA International recommends that you begin immediately to survey your buildings. Are there wires that are not being used? If so, identify the wiring by the service they performed, and the brand or model of cable. The NEC 2002 allows certain types of wires to be retained if they are tagged for future use. Any cable that is not in the category permitted for future use must be removed.Who pays for the removal of the wiring? You do, unless your leases clearly state that tenants may not abandon any wiring during the term of the tenancy, and/or your license agreements require service providers to remove wires upon the termination of the contract. BOMA recommends that you review your leases and license agreements to ascertain exactly who the responsible party is and if you have recourse to recover any of the funds needed to remove the wire. Next, make any amendments necessary if you are not already protected by these agreements.The NEC will next be revised in 2005, and this abandoned cable issue is one that is sure to receive some discussion. However, local jurisdictions are now in the process of adopting NEC 2002, and at least for now, this is a requirement to which we will have to comply. Building owners, managers, tenants, and service providers need to work cooperatively to ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities to comply with NEC 2002.For more information on this or any other issue, please visit the BOMA International website at (www.boma.org).  Frank Bisbee, president, Jacksonville, FL-based Communication Planning Corp., provided much of the information in this article.

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