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12/15/2008 12:00:00 AM
Compiled by FacilitiesNet Staff
Simply put, emergency notification systems must work. When they don’t, the results can be dire. To avoid unpleasant surprises, choose an emergency notification system that can cover as many different scenarios as possible.
To ensure success, messages have to be timely and intelligible. Secondly, the systems need to be robust enough to work even during catastrophic events. Reaching all occupants in all areas with the appropriate message can be a challenge, experts say.
Emergency notifications systems of the past may not meet the needs of today’s approach to emergency planning, which recognizes that different situations call for different responses. For example, consider a school where an unclaimed briefcase was left outside.
The school, equipped with a fire alarm system, didn’t know how to notify students and teachers of the suspicious package. The fire alarm system didn’t allow specific instructions to be communicated. If it had been used, students and teachers would simply have evacuated the building, and some of them would have wound up passing the briefcase.
Industry experts say that a uniform consensus over defining emergency notification hasn’t been reached yet. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards on which code might be based are still in development. Meanwhile, rapidly changing Internet Protocol (IP) communications are paving the way for new technologies.
Though the technology is still evolving, there are three general areas of development for emergency notification systems. They include Web-based telecommunications; public address systems that grew out of the military’s “Giant Voice” program; and life-safety system circuitry based on NFPA standards.
The equipment used to communicate messages for these systems varies. Ethernet, wireless and cellular technologies, along with dedicated cabling systems and fiber optics, are among the options.
From there, emergency notification systems expand to offer many solutions: Strobe and siren systems and call boxes are still available, but today there are also smoke and heat sensors that trip emergency notification warnings, email dialers, Short Messaging System (SMS) dialers, LCD display screens, and many more. For facility managers who choose email, cell phone, or SMS dialers to spread messages, remember that the device receiving the message must be turned on for the person controlling the device to answer or respond to the message.
What works best for any given organization depends on the systems already in place. With IP networks, organizations can often piggyback emergency notification systems on existing IP networks, which can reduce costs.
Stand-alone options, such as an NFPA-based system, also work well because the system is engineered to overcome network node failures, much like wireless mesh networks. But most experts agree that multiple systems guarantee the highest probability for effective communication.