Behind the Scenes of Mass Notification & Emergency Communications

Mass notification systems have received a lot of attention in recent years and represent a growing market for installing life-safety system contractors. Find out how this area developed, where it differs and overlaps with emergency communication systems, and where this market is heading.

Emergency Communications

While the original concept for a MNS was to mitigate against a terrorist attack, the newly formed technical committee determined that for other types of events there be an automatic fire alarm system in place to detect and warn building occupants. Thus ECS came to be as a new system type. While ECS is part of NFPA 72, such a system can encompass more than just voice evacuation, so the title of this standard was changed to National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

As mentioned earlier, ECS is described within Chapter 24 of NFPA 72. The purpose of an ECS is found within Paragraph 24.2.3: “An emergency communications system is intended to communicate information about emergencies including, but not limited to, fire, human-caused events (accidental and intentional), other dangerous situations, accidents, and natural disasters.”

Within Chapter 24, the following two basic types of ECS are covered: One-Way Emergency Communications Systems; and Two-Way In-Building Emergency Communications Systems. Within each of these categories there are a number of system types.

ECS and MNS are chiefly found at government facilities like military bases, embassies, consulates and other high target properties. But since the Virginia Tech tragedy systems are now being installed at universities, colleges and other institutions. Systems can also be found within communities to provide early warning to residents of an impending emergency.

MNS/ECS may be used to alert occupants of a building, site or base of a terrorist threat, armed persons, civil unrest, hazardous spill or release, dangerous weather, and other events that may occur at or around the location of the system. The system can be triggered from within or outside the site. The extent of these systems may be small defined zones, larger defined zones, building floor, multiple floors or zones, entire buildings, building perimeter, block, base, city, county, state or nation.

Shane Clary, Ph.D., has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is Vice President of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pacheco, Calif.-headquartered Bay Alarm Co.

Emergency Communications Systems Types

  • In-Building Fire Emergency Voice/Alarm Communications Systems (EVACS)
  • In-Building Mass Notification Systems
  • Wide-Area Mass Notification Systems
  • Distributed Recipient Mass Notification Systems (DRMNS)
  • Two-Way In-Building Wired Emergency Services Communications Systems
  • Two-Way Radio Communications Enhancement Systems
  • Area of Refuge Emergency Communication Systems


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