In part two of our It Really Can (and Maybe Should) Be Interconnected series, we will explore the rapid demand for building- and campus-wide paging systems. These paging systems are being connected to presentation systems so information has a wider breadth of dissemination in times of critical incidents. A paging and mass notification system is no longer a luxury, it’s a requirement.

The capabilities of these systems have become quite sophisticated. Paging products now include enhanced functionality that allows them to interconnect to a facility’s network and operate as a critical communication tool for all types of end user needs. With the Vocia family – our networked public address and voice evacuation system – Biamp is leading the way in paging and public address technologies. For example, Biamp has integrated paging with ambient noise compensation. This allows the paging volume to adjust automatically to the space’s ambient volume, ensuring pages are audible and intelligible, which is crucial in times of emergency.

Vocia is an award-winning, decentralized, networked public address and voice evacuation system, which includes system monitoring, redundancy, and an array of other functions. Design possibilities are nearly endless with the Vocia platform. Vocia systems are installed in airports, convention centers, transit stations, hospitals, universities, government and military facilities, corporate buildings, and museums, all over the world.

Let’s Focus On Why

As mentioned above, a well-designed public address and voice evacuation system has become a necessity. Now is the time to determine if there are there holes in your clients’ safety and security contingency plans. Often, clients are unaware of these gaps, and will remain so until they need an intelligible communication pathway. Your customers may not be thinking of earthquake, fire, or other emergency situations, and you will often find that they have no way to broadcast intelligible audio announcements with directions about where to go (or not go) and what to do (or not do) in the case of an emergency.

True Story

Not long ago, a sizable earthquake occurred in the Washington, D.C. area. As her office building shook, the CEO of a large company quickly realized that she had no directions in her contingency plan for what to do during such an event. She decided that she needed to make a company-wide announcement to provide safety directions. When she was told that the building was not equipped with a paging system, the panic really set in. Rewind the story three weeks:

A local area integrator was visiting the CEO’s firm to sell a video wall. He noticed a nine story structure under construction next door to this client’s building. While meeting with the client’s facilities manager, he asked who owned the new building. Much to the pleasure of the sales representative, the client owned both buildings as an expansion was underway. The sales representative asked, “What are you planning for a paging system in the new building? How do you page in the existing building, and how will you combine both buildings?” The facility manager responded that they didn’t need a paging system because they don’t make building-wide pages.

After the earthquake, we learned that the CEO became quite concerned about the gap in her contingency plan and the lack of a proper system to disseminate critical information during an emergency. The CEO informed the facility manager that he needed to fix this deficiency immediately.

Not unlike the scenario mentioned above, most corporations have no way to communicate instructions during emergency incidents not covered under their contingency plans. This challenge is amplified further in spaces where members of the public are guests to such a campus.

Campus Visits

I visit many colleges and universities. Often, these institutions confirm my suspicions: generally speaking, their mass notification systems aren’t sufficiently developed to provide a platform for clear, concise, and intelligible direction should a need arise. Mass notification systems are a collection of different systems that could be integrated and/or used independently to communicate in times of emergency. Note that I said mass notification systems are “a collection of different systems.” In my experience, colleges and universities rely too heavily on cell phone technology to inform students and faculty members in case of emergencies.

Take a campus – higher education, business, or a hospital – utilizing Vocia for not just its paging and public address needs, but also for voice evacuation and life safety. You could set up each building or outdoor area and designate it as an individual “world.” Within each world, you could have the paging areas predetermined by floor or by a specific function, such as private offices. This approach to determining how Vocia will manage the paging within the entire space can be repeated until the complete campus has been addressed. All these “worlds” are recognized within the Vocia system as the “universe.” The great thing with Vocia is that you can page within individual worlds or across the entire universe with either predetermined messages or live pages. And, these messages can run up to 30 minutes. Think about the advantage a university would have if, during an emergency, administrators could send individual pages to specific locations throughout the school’s campus. Now, think about the advantage a university would gain by having live paging capabilities, with almost no time limit on the messages being sent, along with the ability to send messages in almost any language needed.

Recently, I read that the cellular notification system used by many colleges and universities is an Achilles heel in communicating to students. Why? Administrators have difficulty convincing students to enroll in these opt-in systems, and encouraging student participation in an emergency notification system is only part of the problem. How are critical communications disseminated to unaffiliated individuals – such as guest lecturers or tour participants – visiting these campuses? When talking with college and university administrators, it is important to emphasize the need for a wide-reaching mass notification system that not only includes a cellular component, but also incorporates campus-wide public address, digital signage, integrated classroom video, audio interruption systems, and other components.

Stay Tuned

Future posts in this series will focus on concepts related to Biamp’s Networked Media Systems. We will explore how Vocia is a part of the larger integrated picture, as well as creative ways to extend the uses of Vocia beyond making general pages and/or disseminating information during critical incidents.