Answering a Cry for Help

A roundtable discussion of emergency phone and communications systems


SS: Emergency communications has historically been driven by two factors: service and liability. The balance between these two shifts over time, depending on events, and over various market applications, depending upon changing public perceptions. In some markets there is almost a blend between service and liability.
For example, shopping mall operators now consider emergency phones to be a standard element of their parking lots. From the service standpoint, they want customers to feel comfortable and welcome. They want customers to know that the mall cares about them, and that if a customer can't find or start their car, the mall will send someone to help.
At the same time, courts have been more and more strict in imposing liability on owners and operators of these facilities for crime that may occur on the premises. It is important to be able to demonstrate that you, as the owner or operator of the facility, took appropriate steps to reduce possible crime and to enable potential victims to promptly and effectively obtain help in an emergency.
... A few years ago an article appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine (hardly a high-tech security book) that told its readers that they should not shop at a mall that did not care enough to provide emergency phones in appropriate locations.
Airports have come to view emergency phones as an essential element of their parking facilities. Talk-A-Phone has done parking facilities at numerous airports, including Logan Airport in Boston, Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta and O'Hare and Midway Airports in Chicago. We are now in the process of delivering customized emergency phones to LAX Airport in Los Angeles for integration with AED defibrillators throughout the terminals, which is another instance of how integrating two apparently isolated technologies can amplify the power of each.

ST&D: The integration of security functions and technologies into a single-database, enterprise security solution has become an important undertaking across the security industry. How is the emergency communications market meeting the integration challenge?

CG: We are seeing increased integration demands with our systems, including the utilization of the physical location of our units, the auxiliary inputs and outputs of our phone and the integration of our software with other devices on the site. Our Code Blue units can host cameras, card readers and other identification hardware. The contact closures within our phone system can be used to activate and direct this hardware, and the phone can be used as a listening device while cameras provide the visual surveillance. Our software, specifically CMS, is capable of sending signals in ASCII format to facilitate head-end integration for a total system solution.

SP: Emergency phones are being integrated in multiple ways. As security equipment, software that manages the location of calling units is becoming increasing important. Cameras must be integrated to identify activity at the calling unit. The activation of an emergency phone indicates a "time is of the essence" condition, and a well-integrated system must follow this principle.

EC: Integration is extremely important. Jeron intercoms are designed to be part of facility-wide security systems including access control, CCTV, wireless phones, P.A. page and pocket pagers as well as other devices and systems the end user is looking to incorporate.

MS: Emergency phone and communications systems do not require as much constant programming as do telephone entry and access control. Integration of security functions becomes applicable to emergency phone systems in the polling programs that give reasonable and timely assurance that the emergency phones are performing within normal operating specifications. Polling programs that were once written to be stand-alone operating systems must now be written to easily integrate with a single-database enterprise security solution.

SS: There have been two sources of technological enhancement in emergency phones in recent years. The first has been in technical enhancement of the units themselves. The most powerful enhancements, however, have come as a result of integration. It really is a case of one plus one equals three. Having the emergency phone automatically call up the associated CCTV cameras; having a GUI interface that can visually display the incoming emergency phone call and activate related systems; being able to call and listen to a location because you see something wrong on a CCTV monitor?these are just a few examples ...

ST&D:Do you believe the capability for integration will become a required element in emergency communications solutions? Is user demand high for this capability?

CG: Demand is growing, and not only because of the need for improved coverage both from a visual and audio perspective, but also from an "installed cost" consideration. This includes the initial up-front cost as well as resource support.

SP: Other than simple stand-alone devices, most emergency phones must already integrate with other security software.

EC: End users want seamless integration. To work efficiently, the different components of an entire security system must function as one, often being controlled by a central console/computer system. Security agents operating a program logic control station can monitor areas in real time, audibly and visually. Integration will not become a required element in emergency communication systems; it already is a required element.

MS: The greatest limitation on overall integration of emergency communications is the ability of software solutions to work in an environment that consists of several different manufacturers' emergency phones. Many campus installations have several different types of emergency telephones, manufactured by several different manufactures. Interior phones may be different from elevator phones, which are probably different from exterior phones. This makes the task of having a centralized integrated solution very challenging.