Implementing an Emergency Mass Notification/Location System

In today's world of increasing concerns over safety, security and protection of lives and valuable assets, the need for developing and implementing a comprehensive mobile duress, situational awareness and mass notification system has become not just nice to have, but rather a mission critical requirement.

An increasing number of organizations are turning to integrated intelligent security systems that incorporate location, situational awareness and emergency mass notification capabilities to help protect their premises and human resources. These types of systems not only can help notify security personnel when an event occurs-anything from a fire to unwanted temperature increases to an injured person-but also pinpoint where it occurred. It also integrates emergency mass notification capabilities so that a security director or facilities manager can notify appropriate personnel and get people out of harm's way quickly and safely.

There are several considerations prior to purchasing a wireless location/situational awareness and emergency mass notification system:

1) Basic System Needs: Specifying any security system begins with understanding the basics, such as premises size and layout, as well as who will interact with the system. How large is the overall site? Does it consist of one building or is it a large multiple-building campus? Who needs to access the site, how frequently and during what times of day/week? Who will be responding to events when they occur?

2) Construction or Environment: Since wireless systems offer much more flexibility and allow you to easily move sensors, repeaters and transmitters where needed, strong consideration should be given to utilizing these technologies. Installing a hardwired system is much less forgiving and can cost more without offering greater security or reliability. Robust wireless technology with a repeater network can overcome most potential obstructions and ensure complete coverage of the site.

3) Location Capabilities: Historically, wireless duress alarms required multiple technologies in order to pinpoint location. Although 900MHz wireless devices are the standard for duress and have been for many years, they have not been effective at pinpointing location. This can be overcome by adding supplemental technology, such as RFID tags, infrared sensors or ultrasonic sensors, as examples. While effective at achieving location, the system cost goes up significantly each time another technology is added, as does the overall system complexity. Newer IP-based wireless duress solutions now use the same long-range wireless to both summon help and reliably pinpoint location, which greatly reduces the system's overall cost and complexity.

4) Multiple Application Support: Another important element to consider is whether the system will support the integration of other devices and systems. For instance, it should support standard intrusion sensors, such as door contacts and motion sensors, as well as a wide range of unique sensors, such as outdoor photo beams, fire extinguisher monitors and carbon monoxide sensors, as well as duress pendants. The system should take alerts from any of these devices, as well as information from other in-building systems, like intrusion, access control and fire panels, and integrate them into a single notification engine. Rather than just looking for a system that only offers mobile duress, look for a system that leverages your existing investments into a single platform at greater value and similar price.

5) IP-Based System: An IP-based system is a necessity, particularly with the emergence of the Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) concept. It quickly is becoming the next standard for all security devices and systems so it is important that what you buy meets these requirements to help guarantee a sound investment for the future. There are numerous functions such a system can monitor to offer you a way to derive business information as an added benefit. Such systems can serve as an excellent perimeter protection solution. Other items, like fire extinguishers and all the different kinds of sensors that can be employed-whether they are analog output or contact types of sensors-can be tracked. Monitoring critical temperatures or processes also is possible and can provide a measurable payback. All of this information can be put onto the network to then generate information which can be correlated and presented to management to help them better manage the business and increase their efficiency.

6) Simplicity is Key: Simplicity of a system is a very critical component in determining the best solution that fits your needs. The system should be something that is 1) easy to install and deploy 2) easily integrated with existing systems, and 3) easy to maintain and modify as your needs change.

7) Outbound Communication Options: An emergency mass notification system needs to offer a variety of ways to get the word out fast to the people who need to know. At the basic level, there is the need to know incident information, risk/hazard locations and resource locations. Each role, from security personnel to security director to dispatcher to command and control, requires access to information. These information requirements are role-specific and vary in degrees of urgency.

In addition, the mass notification system should deploy several ways of notifying key emergency personnel when needed with escalation capabilities if confirmation is not received. Managed alerts can be simple text messages, e-mails and phone calls and may be directed to mobile responders. You want to ensure the solution fits your internal response and workflow methodology so that you send managed alerts to the proper authorized people based on the time and day of the week.

There are a number of technologies available in the market today that can meet the needs of security directors and integrators. Emerging new wireless systems are one possible effective solution because they are easy to install, highly reliable, offer situational awareness capabilities and are also able to pinpoint the mobile location of a call for help so that responders know where assistance is needed. They also can easily interface with mass notification systems that are simple and easy to understand, such as text, e-mail and text-to-speech messages to reach mobile responders. In addition, wireless systems can easily connect with other existing in-building protection solutions, such as fire alarms, access control and environmental monitoring systems. For these reasons, when evaluating emergency mass notification and location systems, wireless is one of the most appealing choices to consider.

Mark Jarman is president of Inovonics ( He has served in the security and wireless industries for more than two decades and can be reached at