Get the Word Out

Life safety strengthened with layered communications


To be most effective, notification should be applied in layers to the communications infrastructure. For example, SMS/text message alerting is a popular notification technology, but cell towers are unreliable and can be overloaded during an emergency. Emergency managers must also account for those who have not registered their cell phone with the school system, or who do not have access to it at the time. These limitations and others can be addressed by adding other notification solutions, such as “smart” LED signs, according to Berkly Trumbo, director of Emergency Communication Systems for Inova Solutions, Charlottesville, Va.

“A mixed media approach to emergency communication will garner a higher degree of effective response than a one-dimensional approach,” Trumbo said. “Supplementing audio alerts with visual alerts is an important step toward creating a complete program for mass notification.”

One of the barriers to the market is perception by the general public. Integrators like CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), Parrish, Fla., discovered through market research users are unclear about what constitutes a mass communication system.

Houston Thomas, CDW-G’s public safety business development manager, said the study, This is a Test – This is Only a Test: Updating America’s Emergency Alert Infrastructure, found that more than half of Americans did not know if their city even had had a modern mass notification system.

“Americans, however, are receptive to using a mass notification system during an emergency, with weather threats, terrorist threats/incidents and traffic incidents topping their notification wish list,” Thomas said. CDW-G, he said, has embarked on an awareness campaign (http://cdwg.okco.com/home) and Mass Notification Toolkit to boost awareness.

“Emergency communication is more than just a notification process, it’s about awareness. And it’s clear that there is no one single technology accomplishing this, but a combination of many,” he said.

System engineering expertise and a thorough knowledge of codes and standards is essential in deploying the right solution for the customer, according to Dennis Mason, president and chief operating officer of Kings III of America in Coppell, Texas.

“From our perspective, there are a number of different facets to emergency communications. We deal primarily with elevator emergency telephones and help phones that may be at a pool side, area of refuge, parking lot, golf course, etc. We have our own engineers and some of our executives are on code boards so we know when perspective legislation is coming and when particular codes, such as the ASME A17.1 National Elevator Safety Code and local pool legislation changes so we can try to stay ahead,” he said.

Mason said the elevator market has seen significant changes in recent years and a new code would require dial tone to be monitored and if dial tone is lost an audible and visual signal required in the egress lobby. “We just completed engineering on a product to meet this code and will have it in production by the time the code is enforced which we think will be around June 1, 2009. There are also some recent code changes that require the phones be answered by a 24-hour service that is trained in handling elevator emergency calls. Of course some jurisdictions prohibit this call to be placed to a 911 emergency center so in that case, they need to be answered by a call center such as ours. The biggest recent change in emergency systems is the combination of telephones and intercom systems. They can be used as a local intercom as well as to call offsite for emergencies,” he said.

Mass notification and emergency communication is a terrific adjunct to traditional integration and a way to add recurring revenue from service and maintenance contracts. It’s a good niche for the integrator who can master it and all the solutions coming into the market.

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Mass Notification Road Map

By Beth Welch

The 2010 edition of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm Code® is expected to encompass a new chapter on mass notification, referred to as ECS (Emergency Communications Systems). The most significant part of this code requires the ECS to have precedence over a fire alarm system, ultimately leading to an integration of both systems.

The current draft of NFPA 72, Chapter 12 outlines some common system elements of which dealers should take note: