When seeking information on Mass Notification Systems (MNS), search engine results can range from 250,000 to 5.8 million hits. A search for Emergency Communications System (ECS) produces even more results - 6.5 to 45 million. Whether first-time shoppers of an MNS or upgrading current systems, there is no doubt that there is a huge amount of information for an inundated security executive to review and decipher.
Wikipedia defines Mass Notification as "a comprehensive solution that leverages cutting-edge communications technology to not only warn people of danger, but to keep them informed and guide them to safety." It further states that "a top-level, facility-wide, multi-threat emergency communications platform has gained the attention of regulators, and as the field matures, listings and standards will play a defining role in its ongoing development."
From the wide range of technologies available to the countless vendors that provide it, security executives are not only challenged with finding the right emergency communications solution to protect their personnel and community, but also with keeping up with the latest trends and technology and understanding local and national codes and requirements.
System-of-Systems. Security executives are now recognizing the need for a System-of-Systems approach to emergency communications. Instead of relying on just one technology to do the job, multiple communication systems ensure that information will successfully reach everyone in harm's way. The different layers of communication for a System of Systems include sending e-mail and text messages, activating computer pop-up alerts, distributing automated voice calls, broadcasting emergency information over indoor or outdoor mass notification systems, using electronic signage as well as Websites and social media.
Interoperability. Launching alerts from multiple communication systems can greatly increase the time it takes to send and receive messages, leading to slower response times from first responders trying to decipher the appropriate actions for the crisis. This challenge directs us to a further trend - interoperable emergency communications systems. There are three types of integration that are key to improving emergency response time.
With multiple communication systems to launch and limited staff to launch the separate systems, businesses need an integrated emergency notification system with a simplified, single interface to launch all of the different systems and applications. In other words, one button to push. It enables security managers and emergency response personnel to focus on the emergency at hand without being slowed down, in an attempt to activate multiple systems.
Knowledge is critical in efficiently responding to emergencies. The more knowledge one has about a situation, the better he or she can respond. In addition to integrating multiple communication systems, an interoperable emergency notification system can provide a secure real-time information sharing framework, enabling facilities to communicate with other facilities and campuses as well as to local fire, police and health departments and surrounding organizations for a better understanding of the emergency. This helps facility managers make more informed decisions.
Another trend in MNS is improving situational awareness and alerting time with interoperable life safety and security systems. By integrating emergency communications with security systems such as video monitoring, access control and sensor detection or with external data sources like the National Weather Service, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Drug Administration and Consumer Products Safety Commission, alerts can be automatically sent when a threat is detected, giving businesses the essential information quickly.