Amassing Mass Notification Know-How

Understanding the mass notification/emergency communication codes, planning process and available technologies can open a new market of opportunities for dealers. Conducting a thorough risk analysis and making the most of its findings is key.

[IMAGE]12116[/IMAGE]Distributed recipient notification systems such as E-mail or reverse 911 systems offer alternative methods for alerting occupants. However, these technologies are not supervised for faults or breaks, nor do they encompass a more “survivable” design that would enable the ongoing delivery of accurate communications even if one or more parts of the system’s network are down. Likewise, there are no codes or standards currently in existence that require these systems to be regularly tested and maintained to a specific level of performance.

NFPA 72 makes clear that distributed recipient notification systems such as text messaging or E-mail shall not be used in lieu of required audible and visual alerting ECS. This is due to the possibility of delivering conflicting information such as a text message directing a person to remain in place, while the fire alarm system in the building provides the evacuation message. If the fire alarm evacuation system is activated before the occupants received the message, there could be confusion.

For the same reason, NFPA 72 requires a building’s fire alarm and ECS to be integrated and programmed to allow all ECS functions to supersede the fire alarm. This priority setting avoids the situation of a fire alarm evacuating a building while a message to “shelter in place” is sent through the same facility’s ECS.

Combining Fire Alarm, ECS & MNS

At this point in time, a layered approach using a fire alarm/ECS and an integrated distributed recipient notification system is considered the best solution for reaching the largest number of occupants. However, the sequence of notifications (from all systems) must be considered, and any potential delays in the transmission of communications must be minimized. For these reasons, all systems should be integrated and coordinated with a facility’s emergency plan (see sidebar on risk analysis and emergency planning).

In the midst of an emergency, flashing strobes accompanied by live or prerecorded audible instructions tend to have a much higher impact on occupants. At the same time, highly visual signs in large areas of assembly can offer information specific to the emergency or display a simple message such as “evacuate.” To deliver voice instructions to those outside, large speaker clusters can be installed on the exterior of a building or throughout a campus.

Utilizing a combination of audible and visual notification devices, such as strobes, voice communications (indoor speakers and Giant Voice) and programmable LED signage is seen as the most intrusive solution for capturing the attention of occupants and delivering a clear, audible message.

For multiple buildings or campuses spread across a city, state or even the globe, some fire alarm manufacturers have harnessed the latest voice over IP (VoIP) technology, delivering live voice messages to anywhere in the world via the Internet. These state-of-the-art systems employ one or more workstations from which security or facilities personnel can send emergency communications via VoIP.

Fire alarm system manufacturers and installers work within a tightly regulated industry that was the first to create requirements for the design and installations of ECS for commercial properties. The marriage of ECS and fire alarm control systems is a growing trend that is expected to continue reaching into larger varieties of facilities and multibuilding properties, including K-12 schools, high-rise buildings, mass transit hubs and even public gathering places such as theatres, restaurants and places of worship.

Dealers situated to capture this new business are those that can walk potential customers through the risk analysis and emergency planning processes, and then demonstrate how their required fire alarm system can also serve as an effective emergency communications solution.

Peter Ebersold is Director of Marketing for Northford, Conn.-based NOTIFIER.

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