Emergency Phones Foil Crime, Offer Dealers Chance to Expand Life-Safety Avenue

Crime is a constant reality throughout much of society. The FBI’s Preliminary Unified Crime Report for 2005 provides a stark case in point: Murders increased 4.8 percent vs. 2004 statistics; violent crime increased by 2.5 percent; aggravated assault are up by 1.9 percent; and robberies are up 4.5 percent.

Many of these types of violent offenses are perpetrated in outdoor or public locations.

This month, we will explore a variety of technologies security dealers and systems integrators can provide to deter vicious crimes in parking lots, indoor parking garages and similar settings where victims are preyed upon.

Common Features and Benefits
No matter the electronics within the box or its user interface, just about all emergency phones operate in a similar manner.

There are special features, however, that should be determined up front. For example, some models center on an automatic dial-up telephone. This is applicable where phone service is provided at the emergency unit itself. Others use a local IP-based LAN, sometimes in conjunction with a back-up communication technology (more on this later).

Still others employ an intercom-style speakerphone arrangement with one or more buttons that provide high-or low-priority services.

“Emergency call boxes can offer two priority levels for calls: one is with an emergency button; the second, with an information button,” says Craig Krsanac, vice president of Ring Communications of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

“There’s a blue light that is used in conjunction with our two-button unit. When a patron pushes the top button, the light will start to flash so others [in the vicinity] can look and see what’s happening,” says Samuel Shanes, chairman and CEO of Talk-A-Phone of Chicago.

Pressing the emergency button will connect the individual to a dispatcher. Two-way communication enables the dispatcher to quickly determine the individual’s situation and direct the call appropriately. Other persons in the immediate vicinity who witness the flashing blue light built into the wall unit may also choose to assist.

For nonemergency purposes, the bottom “info” button can be programmed, for instance, to connect to a parking management office where they can expect to find general help. One example is a lost patron who cannot recall where he or she parked his or her vehicle.

Options, Add-ons and Integration
There are an assortment of options and add-ons to consider when designing an emergency phone system. Before you begin, have a clear vision of the needs and expectations of the client.

A standard unit usually comes with one or two buttons on a single faceplate and a built-in strobe light. Additional features can be added by the use of a second faceplate that will accommodate other technologies.

For example, an optional keypad can be used to allow someone to call another person on campus using the PBX system, such as a specific office or an individual who may be mobile.

Another add-on involves the installation of a camera for video surveillance. This can be accomplished by installing the camera behind the optional faceplate or by including a pendant-type camera dome on top of the tower, allowing security personnel to monitor activity in the vicinity of the call box. The video from these additional cameras can be documented for immediate verification and future use.

Lamps for safety and security can also be built into some emergency phone systems, illuminating a pathway for anyone nearby.

Carl Gandolfo, national sales manager with Code Blue of Holland, Mich., says his firm makes an emergency phone unit that can be mounted to an existing light pole. They also make one that is an integral part of a pole assembly.

Client Needs Come First
Before choosing the type of emergency phone system to deploy, there is this vital question to determine: How does the client intend to carry the alert signals and two-way communication to and from each phone and remote monitoring point?

Without this information, dollars could be needlessly spent and the client might not get what he or she really needs.

One common method of communication is to have a client’s PBX system include all emergency phone units. In this case, it’s merely a matter of installing the appropriate cable.

“Typically, the emergency phones in most settings are connected to a PBX system,” says Talk-A-Phone’s Shanes. “Voice over IP [VoIP] is another option. We provide analog and IP switches that allow these emergency phones to operate over the PBX system.”

Shanes continues with a caveat: “Although [IT] will probably not install a VoIP backbone on account of the emergency phone system alone, they may include our call system when one is already in place or yet to be installed.”

Where this is not practical, such as in retrofit situations, radio technology can be used to transmit signaling and voice communications in two-way format as required.

The wireless option can include WiFi, cellular and dedicated radio. The emergency and nonemergency signals are sent using two-way radio and then converted and connected to the PBX.

“We have a WiFi-enabled emergency phone system that is often integrated with IP CCTV,” says Shanes. “We have both 2.4GHz and 900MHz RF available, all integrated through our VoIP capability.”

Linda Upton, product manager with GAI-Tronics Corp. in Mohnton, Pa., says new ways to utilize WiFi are always being sought.

“We find the security market is looking for a wider variety of stanchion configurations with wireless solutions, such as camera surveillance and alternative energy supply,” says Upton.

More recently, some emergency call box manufacturers have added a software-based management program to their offerings. This enables responding security officers to more easily track activity throughout the system. Icons flash and special instructions will pop up to assist the operator when someone presses the emergency button on the unit.

Systems Integration Plays Its Part
Integration is another hot button, as emergency phone systems become part of a fully integrated security and safety system.

Using integration, nearby cameras mounted on buildings and light poles can be made to respond to the activation of any remote emergency phone.

“Pan, tilt, zoom [p/t/z] cameras can be utilized to cover multiple emergency call points if installed in strategic locations,” says Derek Anderson, director of sales with Connectivity Inc. of Lauderhill, Fla. “And when interfacing to a card-access system, a gate arm or door strike can be overridden on demand by security personnel. Security dealers can tie in the auxiliary relay of the call box to trigger a camera when the call box is activated.”

This can also be done using a centralized control system contained in a technology room or closet. Because in many cases a multiconductor is used to link these remote units to the central PBX, bringing back these relay contacts is not usually a problem.

“Systems must be built around the products of a number of manufacturers that really are designed to operate as a system, rather than as a number of products strapped together and somehow made to co-exist,” added Shanes. “We have the ability to work with other firms as customer needs arise.”

Shanes says Talk-A-Phone is a participant in the Lenel
Open Access Alliance Partner and MicroKey Strategic Partner programs. Those that participate in this effort are able to enhance their emergency phone offerings by allowing them to become part of a much larger System.

For the complete version of this story, see the September issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

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