Rethink Mass Notification

Properly dealing with emergencies demands integration of plant systems.

By Joe Wilson, Federal Signal

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In planning a plant mass notification strategy, consider the increased speed, greater reliability and cost savings that opting for network-managed systems instead of discrete wiring and relays may offer.

Network-managed systems accommodate a broader range of media, such as audio and video, providing increased communications flexibility. Standard Network Management Protocol (SNMP), a proven and widely accepted methodology, supports continuous remote monitoring of individual mass notification system components for improved reliability and lower maintenance expenditures.

Standardized (non-critical) Windows-based system monitoring and configuration software represents another step forward for mass notification. These systems are easier to install, support simple routine modifications in the field and eliminate the need for custom factory software. With just a "point and click" users can program settings into nonvolatile memory. Of course, a number of built-in protections prevent unauthorized users from making modifications.

The increased use of fiber optics is another popular trend that's paying dividends, especially for larger multi-facility companies implementing or upgrading mass notification requirements. By linking sites in redundant, completely self-healing communication rings, fiber-optic transmission promotes heightened standards of reliability, enhanced flexibility and simplified less-costly maintenance.

Another promising development is use of satellite images. Such images now are being incorporated as overlays for site drawings to calculate theoretical sound coverage for audible siren and horn alerts. This technology also can be accessed to take advantage of Geographic Information System (GIS)-based mapping for targeted public alerting on a local or regional basis.

Satellite imaging provides an effective tool for establishing effective audible warning sound coverage as well as mapping geographic areas for citizen alerts.

Gateway to Intelligent Mass Notification
Mass notification covers both indoor and outdoor requirements and calls for interface with the telephone/PABX and plant intercommunications systems, public address, tones, voice messaging, etc. Through traditional loudspeakers and a variety of illumination signaling devices (Figure 1), these back-end systems actually produce the warnings and notifications. On the front end of emergency notification -- performing the function of activating and integrating these back-end systems -- are the intelligent IP-based interoperable technologies that have evolved since 9/11.

Not to be confused with integrated communications, interoperable communications supports a facility's capability for real-time communications and urgent notification of multiple parties using multiple devices. The next step in providing a "total solution," interoperable communications is key to establishing seamless multi-media communications with fire, police and medical first responders, local authorities and citizens in surrounding communities. Additionally, interoperability supports and augments a number of other incident response and emergency preparedness initiatives, including wide-area alerting and data sharing among multiple agencies.

An extension of alert notification and secure messaging software, integrated incident planning and execution tools support National Incident Management System/Unified Incident Command System (NIMS/UICS) and provide a method for defining "tiered response" plans to events initiated both internally and externally. Known as scenario management software, these applications integrate alerting, communications interoperability and collaboration tools to automatically activate multiple forms of communication.

Integrated incident planning and execution tools serve as a "nerve center" to trigger and coordinate response, communication, alert notification and collaborative efforts of employees and management, local officials and agencies, and first responders.

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