Mass notification systems

The top five technology trends

IP Networked Systems. The MNS market is going through an IP Network Convergence evolution. Since emergencies do not always happen while you are sitting in the office, businesses need the ability to remotely activate any of their emergency notification systems - from an emergency text messaging system to an outdoor warning system. One of the main benefits of an IP-based mass notification is the ability to send and receive alerts anytime, anywhere across a range of networks and communication devices.

Large-Scale Alerting Systems. Several states and counties have developed highly-advanced and interoperable large-scale alerting systems that can communicate across multiple regions or state-wide.

For example, the five counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania, including the city of Philadelphia, have launched ReadyNotifyPA, powered by Cooper Notifications Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN) to communicate to 25,000 first responders and emergency operations staff and 3.8 million citizens. This interoperable regional alerting system enables emergency management personnel in different counties to receive or send messages across borders so that colleagues in other agencies can assist in crisis situations or be alerted to threats that may cross multiple counties.

It also enables citizens that live and work in different counties to register multiple devices, including e-mail addresses, pagers and phone numbers so they can be contacted no matter where they are located. The National Capitol Region also uses a regional alerting system to communicate with 16 jurisdictions. During President Obama's inauguration, 58 law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions relied on Alert DC to coordinate the largest security and safety operation for a presidential inauguration in the nation's history.

Interoperable state-wide alerting systems like Pennsylvania's AlertPA are also being implemented that enable officials to quickly send emergency text and e-mail alerts and other important notifications to the public.

Security professionals can adopt this trend by working with their county and state emergency management personnel to develop a regional MNS that can be interoperable with local fire, police and public health, schools and businesses. Companies that are considered part of the critical infrastructure based on hazardous or valuable products and its effects on the public could be eligible for DHS grant funding under the Urban Area Security Initiative or through the Buffer Zone Protection Program.

Mass Notification Codes. The latest fire codes apply to more than fire situations and now affect a range of departments in an organization, including security and emergency management. When the Department of Defense was developing requirements for MNS, they discovered that most fire alarm systems were unable to communicate with people in non-fire emergencies such as severe weather. They petitioned the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to develop MNS requirements. As a result, the NFPA added Annex E Mass Notification Systems as recommended guidelines for MNS in the National Fire Alarm Code 2007 edition. In the 2010 NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, Annex E became Chapter 24 Emergency Communications Systems (ECS) - the first mass notification code for the private sector.

NFPA 72 Chapter 24 is a complete set of requirements for Emergency Communications Systems, including In-Building, Wide-Area, and Distributed Recipient MNS, which consists of mass dialing systems such as automated voice calls, text messages and e-mail alerts. According to the NFPA, an Emergency Communications System must be installed in occupancies where required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) or other applicable governing laws, codes or standards. Regardless of whether an ECS is required by the AHJ or voluntary, installing a code-compliant system ensures that the ECS system has achieved a level of performance tested to the rigorous standards of the latest codes.

Specific markets are also recognizing the need for mass notification requirements. Due to the vulnerability of college campuses, the federal government passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) in 2008, which requires all colleges to immediately notify the campus community in an emergency. By October 2010, colleges are required for the first time to include emergency response and evacuation procedures in their Annual Security Report.

Implementing or Upgrading an MNS