Brooks H. Baker is the associate vice president for facilities at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and APPA’s Immediate Past President. He can be reached at

In time of war, communication can be a critical strategic advantage or disadvantage. During World War II, encryption of communication between Allied fighting forces was critical to the success of military operations. Numerous encryption codes were devised by brilliant minds to be used in the Asian theatre by the U.S. armed forces, but all of them were broken by the Japanese in short order. A Marine who had grown up on a Navajo reservation and was fluent in the Navajo language had the idea to use the Navajo language to encrypt critical messages. The Navajo language is an extremely complex language and has never been written down due to its use of voice tones and inflections in communicating. Only a handful of people outside the Navajo nation spoke the Navajo language, and none were Japanese.

A number of Navajos were already fighting in WWII, and more were recruited to go into conflict zones to provide encryption/decryption services to the Allied forces. According to Major Howard Connor of the 5th Marine division, “Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima and other places.” The Navajo Code Talkers were successful in coding and decoding messages for U.S. forces for the remainder of the war and the code was never broken.

For the last year or two, you have seen articles and educational sessions relating to code advocacy and code awareness. To some educational facilities managers, building codes, fire codes, and mechanical/electrical codes are as encrypted as if they were coded by a Navajo Code Talker. APPA’s new Code Talkers column in Facilities Manager will enhance the facilities professionals’ level of awareness of applicable codes for educational facilities and will provide insight into their meaning and specific applications at our individual institutions.

For example, many codes and regulations that impact the construction and operation of our facilities are confusing and conflicting. In other cases there are codes in existence that do not serve our best interests. Still other codes, if enacted, will impact the safety of our facilities negatively and will cost significant amounts of money for compliance.

Codes and standards which are being targeted initially for involvement by APPA are ones proposed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): National Electric Code, Life Safety Code, National Fire Alarm Code, and more. Other agencies proposing codes that affect facilities include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the International Building Code (IBC). Some of our member institutions are not directly governed by NFPA or IBC, but have local or state codes that apply to them. So why is APPA’s involvement in codes important to these institutions? Most local and state codes mimic the codes developed by NFPA, EPA, or IBC with only minor modifications. Therefore, nearly everyone is affected.

APPA’s input into the creation and modification of these national and international codes will have an impact on the vast majority of our membership. These codes and/or standards provide valuable guidance for managing facilities and have a tremendous impact on the cost of operations. Knowing and understanding the codes which apply to our particular facilities and how we can best comply with the requirements of these codes is critical for facility managers in education. This is why we need to become more involved.

All facilities have fire pumps and fire alarm systems. Some of the requirements in existence may not be in the best interest of our buildings and occupants. Not because we don’t want them to be safe; rather some of these requirements are unnecessary and over the top.

Currently there is a proposal in front of the committee members of the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72) to require directional, audible devices in all buildings. The thought is that this technology will direct someone to an exit who is blinded by smoke from the fire. That sounds good, but what will it cost to install and test this equipment periodically? What is the statistical evidence that there is a need? How many people die each year in a fire because they were blinded by smoke and could not find the exit? These are questions which must be asked during committee meetings in order to arrive at the “right” decision. Will APPA have someone representing us in those meetings, making sure that our side of the issue is heard?

Watch the Code Talkers column in each edition of Facilities Manager to learn more about what is going on with code advocacy, how this can affect your institution, and how you can be more involved.