Mass Communications and the Changing Fire Market

Oct. 27, 2008
Where can school and university security professionals look for solutions to mass communications issues? Answer: The Fire Market

So how can the fire market help address corporate, school, university and public transportation mass communications issues? During the recent NFPA show in Boston , MA , I had the opportunity to sit down with Beth Welch, Gamewell-FCI's manager of public relations, to discuss how the fire market can assist in mass communications.

Peter Harlick: How do you see the fire industry changing?

Beth Welch: Today we think of firefighters less in terms of putting out flames and more as “first responders” to emergencies. The broader term “emergency notification” has become a greater priority in evacuation.

The federal government has attempted to address this issue. In 2002, the National Strategy of Homeland Security outlined a vision for future security which described a need for “communication and delivery systems indispensable to our national effort to detect, prevent, and, if need be, respond to terrorist attacks.” That same year, the Department of Defense developed Uniform Feasibilities Criteria (UFC) in its Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings.

In developing this UFC, the DOD determined that most basic fire alarm systems were lacking in their ability to communicate with people in the event of non-fire emergencies such as terrorist attacks or weather emergencies. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was thus directed to develop new standards for mass notification systems.

PH: How are today's mass notification systems delivering their message?

BW: In an emergency situation, one broad reaching message does not always apply to every floor or section of a facility. In many instances, different scenarios demand different messages. The forthcoming NFPA 72 code will allow mass notification systems to take precedence over fire alarms. For example, these systems will be able to override the fire signal and instruct people to remain in a building to protect them from terrorists outside, or to move to a shelter for protection from an impending tornado.

It is possible for fire alarm systems to be perfectly in sync with the new code. Some existing multi-channel fire alarm systems have such robust distributed messaging capabilities that they allow users to create customized messages for practically any type of scenario.

PH: Notification systems for schools are becoming increasingly important. What developments do you see here?

BW: School systems are starting to install speakers and audio evacuation with messaging instead of standard horn strobes. In a personal emergency situation at a school, for example a school shooting, a station can be triggered that delivers messages such as “stay in your classroom” and “close the doors” or perhaps “exit via windows”—whatever notification messages the system has been programmed to deliver.

These mass notification systems are suitable for a wide range of applications.

A special thank to you to Beth Welch for providing me with better insight into the available solutions that currently exist to address these growing needs. And, on behalf of Security Dealer , our deepest condolences go out to the families, friends and brothers of the nine firefighters who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Charleston , SC.