Emergency communications & mass notification

An exclusive roundtable-in-print

Giannini: Consider solutions that do not use aggregators to distribute their messages over public wireless networks. They can also focus the use of text messaging to constituents who are off campus, while using interior building and exterior solutions as the delivery method for on-campus constituents.

Sipe: The most important step is to test your mass notification system on a regular basis. This will identify any delivery or capacity issues before an emergency situation arises. Another important step is to pre-define recipient lists with multiple modes of communication. Rather than sending an identical alert to all recipients, the method of delivery should vary depending on proximity, urgency and level of involvement.

Shanes: Segment and prioritize. If the message is critical and needs to reach the intended audience instantly, use intrusive mediums such as audio broadcast. Text messaging and e-mail can be efficiently used as means to follow up with specific instructions, or to react to non-critical events.

STE: What technological advances can we expect in the next 5-10 years?

Miasnik: A smoke detector in the 14th floor coffee room goes off, triggering a camera to start streaming live video of the room to the security guard. With a couple of clicks on his smart phone or tablet, the guard confirms the fire by viewing the video, sends notification to the emergency response team and senior leadership, issues pre-determined evacuation instructions to the building occupants, turns off HVAC, releases all locks on the access control system, and sends a personnel accountability report to the fire crew on its way to the building. All of this happens in a couple of minutes, saving hundreds of lives. We won't have to wait too long before the technology rises to fulfill this dream.

Brummel: Continued integration and "cross talk" within the multiple disciplines using mostly open-ended systems that specialize and integrate seamlessly, providing complete turnkey solutions based on the requirement of a given application.

Milburn: In the future, security executives will see flexible solutions available that easily adapt to an organization's Risk Analysis and Emergency Response Plans (ERP) as well as a heightened convergence of the elements in the ERP - interoperable protection, sensor and alerting systems. By integrating these technologies, including fire protection, access control, accountability, video services, and Mass Notification Systems, a facility will greatly improve its' situational awareness, system management and emergency response time.

Shanes: Expect to see integration on a much wider scale. Every aspect of building infrastructure will be explored and potentially tapped in for message delivery.

Giannini: We anticipate improvements in the voice intelligibility of the solutions, the speed at which messaging is distributed and received, and the range of the systems. As personal communication devices become better able to receive data, voice and video, there will be a resulting impact on emergency communication solutions.

Sipe: We can certainly expect a greater level of interactivity in terms of alert delivery and response capture, especially with the rise in use of smart phones. Mass notification will become more of a two-way conversation. We will also see increased delivery capacity as local telecoms upgrade.

STE: Everyone knows that schools and universities are prime candidates for a mass notification system. What other markets could benefit from these systems, and how?

Sipe: Businesses of all sizes can benefit from a mass notification system for risk management and business continuity. It is important to remember that a mass notification system can be used for both emergency and non-emergency communications. Markets that can benefit from this fast, effective communication tool are retail centers, municipalities, government agencies, hospitals, utilities, and oil and gas companies.

Milburn: From warning personnel of a HAZMAT incident to evacuating an entire city for a natural disaster, the Mass Notification System (MNS) industry offers a variety of solutions to meet the specific needs of its diverse customer base. In addition to the education market, customers for MNS include corporate campuses, healthcare facilities, industrial and energy plants, retail stores, mass transportation hubs, and military and government facilities. Types of applications for these different markets vary.