Because of the incidence of high-profile emergencies occurring on campuses in the last several years, administrators throughout the country are deploying third-generation emergency mass notification systems to help protect the people and property under their watch.
Many campuses are leveraging their existing Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure to protect people and property and to bolster their emergency response strategies. Network-centric emergency mass notification transforms an existing IP network and its connected devices into a highly effective alerting system, unifying multiple communications channels.
Emergency alerts are triggered from a Web-based console from any network-connected PC (subject to authentication and granted permissions), and once activated, are disseminated across the network in the form of intrusive audio/visual messages to desktop computers, as well as mobile devices such as phones, pagers, BlackBerry devices and personal digital assistants (PDAs).
As many traditional alerting channels (sirens, telephones, public address systems, etc.) now have IP interfaces, network-centric notification systems can trigger alerts to those channels as well. From the IP network and telephony communication infrastructure to the existing fire alarm systems, network-centric alerting extends and unifies these systems under a single alert management platform.
The NFPA 72 (2010) National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code is addressing network-centric emergency mass notification, under the name Distributed Recipient Mass Notification System. The code now is addressing the multi-threat scenario by adding a risk analysis phase, in which all types of emergency situations are analyzed in order to design the best solution. The code also allows the integration of fire-alarm systems with more traditional alerting for multi-threat notification with net-centric emergency mass notification, which can augment existing fire-alarm systems for multi-threat alerting.
By leveraging the existing IP network, installation and infrastructure integration can be completed within hours or a few days. In addition, using the IP network saves an institution costs for new network backbone and the associated costs with hiring additional IT professionals and ongoing maintenance costs.
Network-centric alerting consolidates IP and traditional notification channels into a single alerting platform, helping education institutions to meet federal and state regulations and requirements such as section 508, HEA and the Cleary Act. In effect, network-centric emergency mass notification systems extend legacy life-safety systems from limited alerts to modern, third-generation, bi-directional systems capable of reaching multiple alert channels and devices, enabling a faster, safer and more effective response over traditional methods—and in a cost-effective manner.
The advantages of a network-based emergency mass notification system for education institutions are numerous:
1.Unified notification: Integrate with many IP-based and legacy notification systems to provide easy and effective emergency notification from a single Web-based console.
2. Rapid and pervasive reach: Distribute emergency alerts to hundreds of thousands of people through network-connected devices in minutes.
3. Web-based system access: Operators can send out alerts from anywhere they have a network connection (given authentication and authorization).
4. Richer message delivery: Deliver detailed and tailored communications based on the threat or scenario (i.e. evacuation instructions, more data requested, call backs).
5. Multi-use/full-spectrum threat response: Have greater capability to respond to any threat or scenario requiring rapid and pervasive mass notification.
6. Confirmed alert receipt and acknowledgment tracking: Track delivery and acknowledge every alert to ensure people have received the information.
7. Personnel accountability: Receive rapid and reliable feedback on status of personnel.
8. Regulatory compliance: IP-based notification complies with federal and state emergency mass notification guidelines and regulations.
9. Cost Savings: By leveraging the existing IP network, an organization can realize substantial cost savings by eliminating multiple, independent systems and reducing infrastructure and support costs.
10. Integration with social networks: With the widespread use of social networks, campuses can have a consistent messaging with all other delivery channels supported.
Mass alerting systems have come a long way since the days of passive sirens blaring out a non-specific signal. Today, innovative IP-based emergency mass notification systems are can deliver detailed alerts to multiple devices and receive feedback on status of individuals, all in minutes.
Investing in a network-centric emergency mass notification system that leverages the existing IP infrastructure and integrates with existing fire alarm notification systems or public address systems has proven to be the most effective way of alerting the most people in the shortest amount of time—regardless of the danger.
By enabling education institutions to lower capital investments, emergency mass notification systems are removing the barrier to entry and setting the standard for network-centric mass notification deployment. Universities which are maximizing their IP investments with the deployment of IP-based emergency mass notification systems to extend legacy life safety systems in support of multi-threat alerting include:
Sidebar: U.S. Air Force Air University
To understand the different levels of alert distribution, education institutions can look to the Air Force’s Air University as an example. The U.S. Air Force Air University, situated on Maxwell Air Force Base, provides higher-education options to Air Force enlisted and civilian personnel. When an emergency occurs on base—whether inclement weather or a potential attack—the Maxwell command post operators can quickly notify all base personnel, university staff and students with alerts sent to computer desktops and other network-enabled devices.
Though the base can address facility-level alerts, on occasion, a situation will warrant a larger response. In these instances, Maxwell may need to alert another base within the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), the organization Maxwell AFB is part of. Because AETC adopted a standard alerting system for use at all of its bases, any single base can alert others as well as quickly communicate with headquarters. This can be accomplished within the same user interface that launches the alert to Maxwell. Though in this instance the alerts are being sent to another Air Force base, in a civilian scenario, alerts can automatically be sent to police, fire, rescue and community alerting systems.
Sidebar: Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University, College Station, has decided to deploy an integrated mass-notification solution to help to protect students, faculty and personnel in the event of an emergency. The use of network-centric emergency mass alerting software provides Texas A&M with the capability to send out emergency alerts to its campus populace through multiple devices, including campus computers via pop up alerts, Emergency Alert System radio broadcast, cable TV, telephones, and mass e-mail and text messages, all from a single Web-based console.
Texas A&M’s solution addresses one of the biggest challenges of deploying an emergency notification system—the seamless integration of disparate communications channels. By unifying multiple forms of alerting through a single integrated system, Texas A&M simplifies its notification process while attaining a high percentage of population reach through redundant systems that alert people campuswide. Additionally, the emergency notification system provides the university with a significant cost saving by using the university’s existing on-site communications infrastructure.
Those university’s emergency managers with alerting authority can trigger alerts from their browsers and send out information through a wide variety of communications channels. They can select from predefined alerts or create a custom alert and quickly notify students and staff about the emergency. Alerts that reach personal devices are all tracked in real time for response and accountability reporting. At the same time, alerts also can reach the campus cable TV and radio station.
UCLA deploys a unified, network-centric alerting solution that turns its existing IP network into a reliable and effective mass notification system. UCLA uses a highly comprehensive alerting system that can reach the campus population through many channels simultaneously, including: computers, telephones (mobile and landline), text messaging, e-mail, campus sirens, campus cable TV, campus radio and the Emergency Digital Information System.
Known as UCLA’s “BruinAlert”, the emergency mass-notification system is used to protect more than 60,000 people across campus and consistently reaches more than 99 percent of target populace. The system provides UCLA with significant cost savings by leveraging the university’s existing alerting infrastructure. Its network-centric approach uses the campus’ IP network to enable faster mass notification over a large and geographically dispersed area.
UCLA’s emergency alerting system has been used successfully many in real-life situations. These include:
-Alerted and provided follow-up information to the UCLA population during a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred near Los Angeles.
Effectively alerted the UCLA population about a wildfire near campus.
Successfully notified the campus community of a suspicious package found in parking structure adjacent to a medical office.
Sidebar: Baylor University Medical Center
Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas (BUMC) is a nationally recognized hospital that cares for more than 300,000 people each year. Home to more than 20 specialty centers that are designed to treat a range of medical conditions, the hospital is a major patient care, teaching and research center for the southwest with 1,025 licensed beds, which means a lot of people to alert and potentially move in case of an emergency.
Because a university medical center has unique notification requirements that include mass casualty incidents, medical “code” alerts, personnel recall and delayed openings, employing a network-centric mass notification system is important to reach personnel seamlessly and rapidly for their safety, the safety of patients and to enhance physical security.
BUMC’s mass notification system is able to reach thousands of people quickly, capture responses and automatically generate personnel status reports in minutes. BUMC is using desktop alerts to notify physicians, nurses and medical personnel about the status of the hospital’s main patient record system. For example, alerts can be sent that the patient record system is going to be offline for maintenance and when the system is experiencing outages at various facilities.
Via network-centric emergency mass notification, BUMC is able to ensure:
Staff Protection– Mass dissemination of alerts to personnel to accelerate threat response
Personnel Accountability– Receive feedback on alerts to know status of recipient during a crisis
Accurate and Secure Contact Information– Deployed behind the firewall and integrated with existing data sources to ensure personnel contact information is accurate and secure
Edgar is Director of Operations-Federal Civilian at AtHoc, San Mateo, Calif.