Perhaps more than any other section of Pro AV technology, mass notification technology systems are critical to life safety at campuses, hospitals, and other facilities worldwide. It isn’t just the installers’ reputations on the line here — the lives of real end users and others are at stake.
We couldn’t possibly claim to know as much about how to save lives with this technology as the experienced individuals who install it. Nor could any single article do complete justice to the category by describing its ins and outs.
But we nonetheless thought it might be useful — especially to those who just started working for a firm who works with mass notification systems — to interview some of those professionals to get a glimpse at the common issues, snafus, and other concerns with installing mass notification systems.
The usual prep — but be ABSOLUTELY sure
Shannon Ritchie, a business Development Manager at Convergint Technologies, says if anything, he just wishes there was some kind of standardization on this incredibly broad category.
“Knowing what you’re trying to achieve at the end is critical — it is for every category of technology, but especially one like this. Do you know your connection on the IT team? Who do you have to train and connect with for this work?” he says.
“Not knowing all of this upfront can be very painful as you’ll end up spending days only to find software that’s not compatible, end user teams who are doubling efforts, etc.”
“It’s vital that departments work together within the customers’ organization, we’ve heard multiple times of duplicate work between departments” he says.
“So education throughout departments and helping them all to stay engaged is a valuable service to offer them.”
It’s critical to understand how related systems will interface with each other. VoIP speakers and strobes, but also Building Access, Gun Shot Detection Systems, Video surveillance, Digital Signage.
Yes, you do need to follow code
Not only is it critical that you and your clients are on the same page, you need to also ensure you have a thorough understand of both local and federal codes.
Fire alarms and their specific codes require you to determine certain priority levels ahead of time. You have no choice but to just do that research and follow through.
“Understanding ADA requirements has affected many parts of a mass notification system,” Ritchie says.
Also, develop the plan for how authorities will be notified of a crisis. Will they be informed when they arrive to the school or facility? Will the mass-notification system send room-specific information to police prior to arrival on site?
When the system is designed and installed, understand who’s job it will be to come up with crisis protocols and the creation of all the alarm states. Will you use “canned” voice announcements or will the principal or dean record the announcements which can help avoid panic.
Power is also key
Ritchie says the supervision of the components — knowing what devices are online or offline, knowing the specific power requirements for certain devices — is a critical element of installing any mass notification system.
“Not understanding the maximum current draw of a device and overpowering a device during an intermittent issues outside of the norm; displays getting brighter when they should have dimmed, multiple devices on the same supply using the same current and overloading the power supply… these are all issues I’ve seen that need to be avoided no matter what.”
Charles Crane, Senior Account Executive, Adtech Systems, says IP based systems can consume a large amount of PoE power.
“It’s critical to verify the power needs of IP-based endpoints (Wall speaker/clocks, phones, etc.) don’t exceed what the switch can produce. When developing alarm conditions, know that if you want every endpoint to strobe, you will call for the maximum power a given switch can put out.”
Consider robust PoE switches or even PoE injectors on critical endpoints.
“Also, understand whether the ceiling speakers are 70-volt or 25-volt speakers. Don’t forget any transformers that might be needed,” Crane says.
Understand that you need a layered approach
When you install and test a mass notification system, it’s under a perfect environment with air quality and lighting control, etc. But when they’re used, it will be under an emergency situation. So don’t design something which depends on the power being on, someone sitting at a specific desk, etc.
It’s easier said than done, but you need to make sure each element of the installation has a failsafe and works together in a textured approach with the other elements.
If something is based on cellular conditions, consider that there is typically a “dead spot” or multiple in every building, so it make sure the element is boosted with a cell booster or other solution.
There always needs to be multiple layers of communication that are accessible.
If using dedicated notification system appliances, do they interface with the VoIP call manager or will two systems need to be connected?