Make Sure You Send the Right Mass Notification Messages

Ensure end users heed appropriate mass notification system (MNS) message practices.

In the past, in both Fire Side Chat and within other issues of Security Sales & Integration there has been plenty of coverage on mass notification systems (MNS), which are also referred to as emergency communications systems within NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. But it’s particularly important for installing security contractors to stay up to date on such systems this year. Next month, the membership of the National Fire Protection Association will be voting on the 2016 edition of NFPA 72. Within this edition, the Technical Committee on Emergency Communication Systems has completely revised the existing Annex G into a new Annex H, Guidelines for Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings and Campus.

Since the release of the 2013 edition of NFPA 72, there have been a number of active shooter incidents within the United States. In 2014, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) released a report Guidance Document: Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings by Erica Kuligowski, Ph.D. and Hidemi Omori, in which numerous mass notification strategies are discussed. The ECS Technical Committee distilled the fundamental findings within the report into the new Annex H.

Messages Must Address the 5 W’s

The emergency message that is to be delivered to the occupants of a building or space must be clear and precise. Additionally, prior to the message being broadcast, there must be an identifiable alert to allow the occupants to prepare for the message.

RELATED: Demystifying Emergency Communications System Message Delivery

Annex H states that the alerts should have the following attributes:

  • Alerts should be significantly different from ambient sounds.
  • Buildings should reduce background noise when initiating audible alerts
  • Flashing, rather than static, lights, preferably one standard color for all buildings, can be used to gain attention to visual warning messages.
  • There are additional methods to alert occupants to an emergency: disruption of routine activities, tactile methods, social networks and face-to-face.
  • An alert signal should be accompanied by a clear, consistent, concise and candid warning message.
  • If selected, an alert should be tested for its success in getting occupants’ attention in the event of an emergency and used as part of building- or campus-wide training.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He 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 Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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