Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

Getting the Word Out with Mass Notification Systems

Mass notification systems utilize a number of integrated communication devices and software to alert building occupants about a potentially dangerous situation and facilitate the proper action and response. They represent a very beneficial added layer of life safety protection.

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Communication needs to spread like wildfire during critical events to limit the risk of an emergency situation from escalating. Being able to communicate effectively with first responders, emergency staff, management, and those people being impacted by a crisis can be accomplished with mass notification systems. Through visual and audible communication, devices and methods such as speakers, digital signage, texts, e-mails, tweets, strobes, and more work together to foster an overall safety plan.

National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) defines an emergency communications system as “a system for the protection of life by indicating the existence of an emergency situation and communicating information necessary to facilitate an appropriate response and action.”

Communication from mass notification as part of a comprehensive emergency management system can connect multiple buildings and people worldwide offering:

  • Wide area communication: Audible speakers and visual devices, integrated with fire, security, video, and access control systems, initiate procedures and the ability to see all video and direct access control for complete situational awareness.
  • In-building audible communication: Visual cues, such as strobes, message board displays, and digital signage, ensure the message is clear.
  • Mobile apps: Individuals can download an app to receive emergency notifications.
  • Desktop alerts: Messages can be disseminated to networked desktops and laptops via browser-based pop-up alerts.
  • Mobile dashboards: Individuals can respond to alerts or initiate plans on mobile devices.
  • Mass texts, tweets, e-mails and automated phone messages: Lists of both internal and external contacts (police, fire, emergency services) can receive emergency notifications within minutes.
  • Asset management software: Sends messages to various display devices on a network.
  • Lighting control: Activates safety lighting, dims lights, or turns on additional lighting for enhanced safety.

When selecting a mass notification system, chief among the factors to consider are the integration capabilities that tie into the fire system and security alarm, video, and access control functions. Other features to look for include zoning capabilities, prerecorded messaging and announcements, system monitoring and reporting capabilities, notification options (visual, audio, e-mail, text), and system redundancy.

Having the ability to direct individuals away from danger and toward safety in an emergency is not the only use for mass notification systems. They can also be helpful in nonemergency communication across multiple locations. This could include weather-related notifications to alert a community about something like an approaching tornado or any other type of notification that needs to reach a large group of individuals. Mass notification systems also incorporate Building Management System controls that send alerts from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and other building operations to indicate when service is needed immediately.

Human threat, fire, and other emergencies often have unfortunate consequences. Mass notification systems are used to manage a crisis, minimize loss, expedite response, and inform all those who need to know about the situation what action they should take. Systems can also be used for nonemergencies. The key to a cohesive and comprehensive solution is the ability to integrate systems and equipment from multiple vendors into a common user interface for applications large or small.

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