The evolution of mass notification systems: Part 1

Industry experts discuss emerging technologies, markets and implementation challenges

While educational institutions and corporations have been the traditional adopters of mass notification systems, Trumbo says that federal regulations such as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards or CFATS is helping drive adoption of MNS solutions in other markets.

In addition, Jarman said that hospitals and hotels appear to be another emerging market for mass notification solutions.

"(Hospitals and college campuses) have an institution with a mission and a staff to deploy that mission and the mission includes the ingress and egress of the public into and out of the facility," Jarman explained. "In both cases, in higher education, as well as in healthcare, there is a certain amount of stress and opportunities for people to be under duress or strained and they sometimes interact poorly or dangerously with staff."

In terms of integration, David George, director of marketing communications at System Sensor, says that the industry is starting to look at using fire panels as the "backbone" for connecting MNS devices with other critical building systems.

"Fire alarm systems are being multi-purposed for emergency communications systems also because that infrastructure is already there," explained Christa Poss, marketing manager for the audible/visible business unit at System Sensor. "Maybe it has to be retrofitted to include a voice evacuation system or maybe it has horns instead of speakers, but the backbone is already there. That's definitely where the industry is headed."

Despite the advancements that manufacturers have made in mass notification technology, George said that industry still has some work to do on interoperability.

"I still think we're quite a ways away from that (one-button approach) being integrated between different options," George said. "How do we get the word out? When do we get the word out? What do we say? A lot of that depends on some of (the organization's) disaster planning. Also, I think it depends on better integration of the different systems. "
Poss added that industry should also be educating end-users about the importance using different mass notification technologies.

"It can't just be one mode of communication," she said. "Sometimes I think that is the missing link, that they don't know that a fire alarm system can do more, that you can use your existing signage for other reasons, so maybe that's a piece of it as well. "

Flannery also emphasized the importance of not relying of on a single technology. Although technologies such as text messages and even outbound robo calling are very popular, Flannery said if there is a cell tower near the scene of the emergency that gets overloaded then you could run the risk of your warnings not getting out if you don't use another notification method. However, he also indicated that mobile devices hold a lot of potential for emergency communications.

"The future that I see, and we're starting to see the emergence of this now, is to message out to mobile devices using apps," Flannery said. "There are apps that you can download that allow to do a couple of things like be tracked in a cooperative type of setting because maybe you're a lone worker or something like that. You can be alerted, so messages can be pushed down to you through this app that resides on your smartphone or mobile device. You can also message back. Some of these devices have panic button-type functionality where you can message back to a command center."