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March 4, 2015 -
Much like other building systems, a mass notification system is really only as good as the people who are operating it. A high-tech system with all the options is great, but if you can't use all the options, what are you paying for?
A couple of different concerns arise in this area. The first is simply making sure that security, facilities, and any other departments necessary know who does what, when to do it, and how to do it.
The first step in this process can sometimes be settling turf wars, says Robert Lang, formerly chief security officer at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. When Kennesaw was looking into fire panels that could be part of a mass notification system, he received some pushback from the facilities department, which didn't love the idea of non-facilities people being authorized to activate emergency messages on the fire panels. Kennesaw State does this activation by having someone in every building who is trained on proper emergency notification procedures.
"Pushback from people can be a bigger challenge than technological limitations," Lang says. His main tactic to prevent that pushback is to try to get people to understand that emergency management protocols and technology have undergone substantial changes, which are intended to save lives.
The second concern is staffing levels. If six people are needed to handle all of the steps of the mass notification messages, what happens if you have an emergency on a night when one person is out sick and another is on vacation? Or, in the worst case, what happens if five people are incapacitated in an emergency event?
To combat this, train people on multiple responsibilities. You can also bring in people from other departments for training to serve as backups in case of an emergency.
Regardless of how you decide to handle it, the important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t assume you'll always have the number of people — and specific people — in place in an emergency, so contingency plans need to be built in from the beginning.
"It's really tying the program together to make sure that everything is well thought-out prior to an event," says Jon Evenson, director of emergency management services, RJA. "The challenge that we have is no event seems to fall the way we'd like it to fall. It doesn't happen Tuesday morning at 10:30; it's usually 3 in the morning on a Saturday when we have very limited staff capabilities to coordinate the response."