7 Considerations for Choosing MNS

March 30, 2011

The rise in workplace crime and safety issues has escalated over the past several years, causing organizations of all types and sizes to look for ways to better protect their property and human assets. This has led to many businesses needing to develop and implement a comprehensive mobile duress, situational awareness and mass notification system throughout buildings and campuses. In fact, the purchase and deployment of these systems has risen dramatically over the past several years — turning them into a mission-critical requirement.
Facility managers, security directors and integrators are faced with the daunting task of determining how best to integrate the myriad of building and security technologies available. Besides protecting their premises, they need to ensure the occupants and assets also are safe and protected. To overcome these challenges, any well-designed solution must be simple, reliable, easy to integrate, and cost-effective.
As a result, 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 can help notify security personnel when an event occurs — anything from a fire to unwanted temperature increases to an injured person — and also pinpoint where it occurred. It 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 things to consider before 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. Types of questions to ask include: 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 enable end-users to easily move sensors, repeaters and transmitters where needed, strong consideration should be given to using these technologies. Installing a hard-wired system is much less forgiving and can cost more without offering any greater security or reliability. A 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 900 MHz 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. 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 example, it should support standard intrusion sensors, such as door contacts and motion sensors, as well as a 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 — such as intrusion, access control and fire panels — and integrate them into a single notification engine.
5. IP-Based System: An IP-based system is a necessity, particularly with the emergence of the Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) concept. It is quickly 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. The system can monitor numerous functions to offer end-users a way to derive business information as an added benefit. For example, such systems can serve as an excellent perimeter protection solution. Other items, such as 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 are 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 increase 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 easy to install and deploy, easily integrated with existing systems, and easy to maintain and modify as an organization’s 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. Ensure the solution fits your internal response and workflow methodology so that managed alerts are sent to the proper authorized people based on the time and day of the week.

Site Plans and Equipment Needs
There are a number of ways to plan, design, set-up and install a system. Again, the first step is to determine the amount of space you need to cover and protect. The answer will shape the type and amount of equipment you purchase. There are two different types of solutions to consider:
• Hard-wired Systems: This has been the traditional preferred choice among many security dealers and integrators. Wired systems are considered by some to be more reliable and secure due to having a visible and tangible connection between the points. In certain situations that require a fixed, permanent installation with no need for location capabilities, hard-wired systems are a viable option; however, installation time and costs are often a major consideration when it comes to a wired install. Trenching and restoring architectural elements destroyed by pulling wire often results in significant costs.
• Wireless systems: If your situation is one where you have a multiple-building challenge or a campus, then wireless may prove to be the most reliable and cost-effective solution. Wireless systems are flexible, easy and quick to install, saving considerable amounts of time and money. But not all wireless technologies are the same. There are many wireless solutions to choose from, and it is important to pick the one that best fits your type of application.
A 900 MHz solution is considered the most reliable in a commercial setting and proven solution for transmitting life safety-based data in very harsh and challenging types of environments as opposed to other types of wireless offerings, such as WiFi. Many 900 MHz systems are designed with life-safety in mind, making them an ideal choice when reliability really matters.
In addition, a wireless system is the only way to realize location on mobile duress pendants. With sophisticated positioning technology to determine the physical location where someone needs help, wireless systems are an excellent choice as a critical component to the overall system. Location using 900 MHz technology is accomplished through the use of intelligent, line-powered, battery-backed up repeaters throughout a building or campus setting.
A single transmitter can communicate reliably approximately one mile line of site, and several hundred feet to reach a receiver or a repeater. With the use of a repeater network, this can effectively be extended to fit any size campus making it very easy and cost-effective to set up coverage within a large building or on a distributed campus.

Mark Jarman is President of Inovonics (www.inovonics.com). He has served in the security and wireless industry for more than two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].