Mass Notification Can Be Critical

When disaster is imminent, security personnel (or general management in their absence) must be able to quickly and efficiently alert everyone concerned in time to avert death, injury and loss of property. At the same time, those in authority must contend with issues common to emergency management from a facility standpoint. This includes the preservation of data and the proper shutdown of all critical systems.

When an emergency is about to happen or is already unfolding, time does not allow individual contact with each and every building occupant. To foster a safe and incident-free outcome, preplanning and a number of advanced, high-tech systems are necessary.

Mass Notification: A New Term
Where it comes to a timely, safe and efficient response, the buzz phrase today is Mass Notification.

“Second to the federal government, universities are the second largest application we’re seeing for mass notification systems,” says Gerry Ross, business development manager with SimplexGrinnell of Westminster, Mass. “Where the government’s concern is terrorism, universities are concerned about security, usually because their students’ parents want to know what added measures have been taken to safeguard their facilities.”

Ross says that larger high schools and private institutions are also installing or asking about mass notification.

According to Appendix C of the Reference Manual to Mitigate Potential Terrorist Attacks, published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), mass notification is the “Capability to provide real-time information to all building occupants or personnel in the immediate vicinity of a building during emergency situations.”

There are two elements to a comprehensive mass-notification program of which officials should be aware. The first is mass notification for real-time public address using emergency voice communications and the other is a comprehensive, electronic mass-notification system that empowers management to electronically alert all stakeholders.

Real-Time Public Addressing
The first element of the mass-notification pro-cess involves alerting people in the immediate vicinity in outdoor environments that an emergency situation is imminent.

“The mass-notification system can quickly notify people of threats or broadcast messages from law enforcement or other public authorities to large gatherings on how to respond, greatly reducing the risk of death, injury and property damage,” says Paul Brisgone, director of ADT’s Federal Systems Division.

Brisgone’s approach includes a portable system that can be moved from one place to another. According to ADT, its system can provide intelligible verbal messages in a number of languages that can be heard up to a quarter mile away. An optional 360° camera can be installed atop a 30-foot retractable tower to allow authorities to visually survey the area. Rapid deployment is essential in certain situations, and the ADT system is specifically designed for this task.

The second type of mass-notification system, with regard to emergency voice communications, involves indoor notification.

Cooper-Wheelock of Long Branch, N.J., offers a system specifically designed for indoor and outdoor locations called the SAFEPATH supervised audio facility equipment system. This approach integrates the emergency voice communication capabilities of the SAFEPATH system with emergency management. The system is able to alert campus occupants of fires and other emergencies by audible zone or in all-call fashion and is often added to an existing fire alarm system to provide emergency voice capability.

Cooper-Wheelock also offers a wireless emergency warning system, which is a fully cable-free system that uses radio technology instead of metallic wire. Deployment can be temporary or permanent using the company’s system. Connectivity between the master console, remotely placed control units and high-powered speakers is monitored using radio technology.

The system can be computer-operated or activation can be through a simple push-button switch. Other systems often use an ordinary telephone to input.

Voice Evacuation Platform Is Ideal
Gamewell-FCI, a Honeywell Security company, offers the E3 Series that combines the fire detection and notification function with that of mass notification. “National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72) is currently being revised to include an annex on mass notification systems. This is because fire alarm systems are by their nature a very robust and survivable basis for mass notification,” says Gamewell-FCI Director of Marketing John Weaver.

This approach is ideal because of the survivability built into today’s fire alarm control systems.

When mass notification is employed, it’s sometimes helpful that the outward appearance of the audio/visual devices bear a different look than the fire system notification appliance devices on the job. This is because, in an emergency situation, other than fire, you may not want people to evacuate a building.

Because fire and mass-notification devices are often mounted next to one another, it’s important occupants readily identify the nature of an alarm when one takes place. One way to accommodate this is to use colored, nonred strobes.

According to a product manager for Potter Electric Signal Co. of St. Louis, “The Amseco line of colored strobes is designed with applications like mass notification in mind. They are UL Listed and patent pending for true color light output.”

The reflector is anodized to match the color of the lens. This produces a true color light output and is available in amber, blue, green or red.

More Efficient and Timely Response
The second part of the mass-notification equation involves electronic mass notification for public address. Using this method, word of an impending disaster is sent to all campus stakeholders through a high-tech electronic communication system that simultaneously sends programmed messages to all concerned over any number of communication-based services and devices, such as pagers, PDAs, cell phones, E-mail and more.

The process usually begins with a general action form on a Web page that resides either internally within a single computer or on a Web site on the Internet or an Intranet. Management merely types in the general message, selects the user groups to whom the message is to be sent, and clicks on the OK button at the bottom of the page. Within a matter of seconds, the message is on its way to several, hundreds or even thousands of intended recipients.

In some cases, an electronic mass-notification system can be interconnected with an on-site public address system. This is especially helpful when the latter is listed by a third-party organization for mass-notification use.

The SAFEPATH system, for example, can send messages by fax, pager and telephones as required without the same computer, Internet-based software.


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