The ability to notify tenants and occupants of an emergency situation is no longer just a nice option for commercial buildings to have. From an active shooter scenario to severe weather to a fire alarm activation, facilities professionals are choosing to invest in mass notification systems to provide a comprehensive crisis communication solution that works across all channels and devices during an event.
When an emergency situation is under way, it’s crucial that the intended recipients don’t miss an important message. Not only are these messages conveyed via audio across intercom and PA systems, but mass notification systems can also push targeted voice, text, instant message, e-mail, or broadcast messages out across digital signage screens, desktop computers, paging systems, VoIP desk phones, smartphones, tablets, fax machines, two-way radios, etc.
They can also send notifications to public websites, intranets, and social media outlets. The messages coming across these devices can be customized and targeted to certain groups (tenants on a certain floor, occupants in a specific department, employees who are out of the office, people in certain geographic regions, etc.), and can include evacuation warnings, instructions for sheltering in place, and information updates, or can trigger events for a lockdown.
These systems may also integrate with a high-rise’s surveillance, access control, lighting, or fire alarm system. By linking video cameras to a mass notification system, for example, facilities managers can monitor high-risk areas for suspicious activity. Based upon certain criteria, some surveillance systems may be able to send a mass notification alert to police or a specific group of people if it detects a certain sound or movement. Connecting the fire alarm system with a mass notification system allows messages to automatically be sent if an alarm is triggered.
Mass notification systems can be installed as an in-house, on-premise system that is managed by the building owner or facilities manager. It ties into the building’s IP network to allow messaging broadcasting, and can be customized to and integrated with the rest of the building’s technology infrastructure.
Mass notification systems can also established as a hosted solution instead. This involves the purchase of a “subscription” for use of the service based on the number of users, the number of messages being sent, how often the system will be used, etc.
Mass Notification in Action
The Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, is a 1,300-acre campus with 200+ facilities, including the 12-story Mark Ellingson Hall. After the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, the university decided to invest in a mass notification system that would provide comprehensive notification coverage for students, faculty, and staff (and the list goes on).
To send a message with the campus mass notification system, the public safety officer signs in, selects from a list of preset alerts, and sends the message. Siren/strobe patterns, message alerts, and groups can be programmed ahead of time. The campus has created groups for on-campus individuals, off-campus individuals, visually impaired students, parents, etc. Users can also choose to send a targeted message to occupants in a specific building.
New in Mass Notification
Asset management software is now allowing users to send emergency messages to display devices such as smartboards, projectors, and in-room touch panels for an added layer of protection.
Two-way listening is also a recently talked-about feature; in an emergency situation, it may be possible for police and other authorities to listen to what’s happening in a building through the intercom or speaker system.