Emergency Call Systems to the Rescue

On Feb. 14, 2008, Steve Kazmierczak shot and injured more than a dozen people on the Northern Illinois University campus. The end result was five dead and a dozen more injured. Police have yet to establish a motive.

“Kazmierczak fatally shot five people — four women and one man — and injured more than a dozen others before he turned the gun on himself. The 27-year-old, who studied sociology at NIU, was a current student at University of Illinois in Champaign,” wrote Kelli Schlueter, a writer with the Chicago Flame.

Shootings are only one type of violence with which security professionals have to contend. There are other types of violence from which society must be protected. Rape and robbery are two other kinds of serious crimes that quickly come to mind. This is true especially where it involves open spaces in public places.

One of the ways officials responsible for safety in   public and private places deal with violence is through the use of emergency call and mass notification systems. Self-contained pedestals are installed in parking lots and garages, as well as footpaths in parks and other public places. Two-way communication is made possible between each one and a central call center located either locally or at a remote site.

Whether a call center is located on site or remote from the location depends largely on the application. Conventional means of communication include a group of dedicated cables suitable for command and control as well as audio communication. These systems are also able to utilize newer methods of communication, such as IP- and radio-based systems. 

Integration Plays a Role

During the past five to 10 years, manufacturers of call systems have sought to integrate them with other security disciplines, such as video surveillance. By marrying these systems with computer network technology a more robust and manageable approach results, one that puts an enormous amount of information at the fingertips of security personnel.

Another addition to a basic emergency call system is a second button we might,  for all intents and purposes, classify as nonemergency. The primary emergency button, which is often colored red, is used to get help in an emergency situation, whereas a nonemergency call button is often used for other purposes.

A nonemergency button can be used to ask security personnel for general directions in a large complex. Another possibility, which is application and technology specific, allows the caller to request a given office, building or individual   extension on a campus-wide telephone system with the purpose of talking with someone at that location.

An option often included in an emergency call system is video surveillance. Here cameras are installed atop each emergency call station, thus allowing security personnel to conduct video tours of a parking lot or garage. Through integration, when an emergency call is initiated by someone in trouble, cameras can be automatically positioned so personnel can clearly and quickly see the area surrounding the activated call station.

Another possibility is the addition of remote management where the use of local attendants is not feasible. This brings with it a recurring monthly revenue (RMR) component, something that security companies fully understand. This feature, when used, can introduce a degree of complexity to the installation.

In some instances broadband is used to link the central monitoring station to the remote system. As an add-on, an installing dealer may also offer a cellular connection to assure the person requesting help reaches someone at the central station as quickly as possible.  A good example of this can be seen with Aiphone’s AX Series intercom system, which is IP-based and can be integrated with video. This is a definite up-sell in residential or apartment applications that security companies ought to consider.

“The AX Series offers an adaptor to allow any of the AX door stations to be connected to the system exchange via a LAN or WAN using a third-party video server,” says Aiphone Marketing Manager Bradley Kamcheff. 

Using Existing Network Resources

Emerging technologies on the digital front have made it possible to reduce the upfront cost of installation as well as the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an emergency call   system. Moreover, the proliferation of network technology coupled with a variety of recent innovations in emergency response services, have made it possible to minimize the impact of a growing facility and an ever-expanding mission.

“Customers have an urgent need to improve communications within their organization,” says Chris Coffin, CEO of Digital Acoustics. “They want a scalable, easy-to-install and cost-effective solution — whether it’s going onto a university or corporate campus for mass notification parking lot or transportation terminal — without compromising voice-quality audio in applications of any size.”

This is especially true of colleges, universities and local government as security directors seek ways to enhance safety with somewhat limited budgets.

In a traditional emergency call system, TCO is a huge consideration in how colleges, universities, cities and other organizations handle the implementation of security and life safety. In the past, the primary driver of this technology involved analog-based communications. In today’s network-driven world, the technology of   choice is fast becoming voice over IP (VoIP).

“People used to talk about voice over IP like they do the pollution-free practical electric car: as the platform of the future,” says Talk-A-Phone Chairman Samuel Shane. “While that car may still await completion, Voice over IP has already become the platform of the present.”

The fact is the audio/visual industry is seeing a huge trend toward broadband in this regard, and usage is sure to grow instead of decline.

“With IP backbones becoming more and more common, the ability to streamline infrastructure and reduce costs, while maintaining a highly flexible and expandable system for voice communication, has opened eyes to the unique possibilities VoIP allows,” says Shane.

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