Mass Notification and emergency communication was first defined in 1997 by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in an investigative document termed: “Khobar Towers Report”. The report was developed in response to the deadly terrorist bombing of an American Military housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

In summary, the report concluded that significant loss of life could have been reduced and even avoided entirely if there were an effective means of alarm and “mass notification” in place at the housing facility.

A mass notification system provides information and instructions about emergency conditions in a building, area site, or other space. The objective of an MNS is to protect life by indicating the existence of an emergency situation and instructing people on the actions they should take through concise, accurate, timely, and well-directed messages.

This article is provided to highlight the strategic advantages of installing a governmental recognized UL- 2572 compliant solution.

Getting Started

When developing an MNS solution, the first step is to perform a risk analysis to determine the technology that is best suited for the facility. Often, the security team provides a list of typical emergency and non-emergency incidents that they address throughout the life cycle of their campus.
NFPA Standard 1620 defines a risk analysis as follows: “to characterize the likelihood, vulnerability, and magnitude of incidents associated with natural, technological, and man-made disasters and other emergencies that address scenarios of concern, their probability, and their potential consequences.”
The goal is to anticipate and define the circumstances under which a mass notification system shall be utilized to protect lives. Once you have done that, the next step is to establish an appropriate response for any noted incident.

Fire Alarm Emergency Voice Communication Systems

Since mass notification systems provide information and instructions about emergency conditions in real time, the live audio and text messagecontent typically drives the specific user requirements.

As such, both audible and visual signal based emergency communication solutionshave been steadily growing in use over the last 40 years.

The building code requires that fire alarm systems provide emergency voice communication in lieu of bells or horns in both high rise and large assembly occupancies. With the development of mass notification, the utilization of the fire alarm emergency voice communication system for incidents other than fire has become prevalent. System integrators now look to UL-2572 compliant solutions when integrating with existing fire alarm system structures. This has come mainly from the need to provide live voice instructions to occupants in buildings, especially for large assembly and high-rise facilities where the uncontrolled evacuation of people creates more risk.

Fire-alarm voice evacuation systems evolved from basic paging systems to an integrated emergency voice evacuation broadcast system that is operated from the display and control centre located at the Central Alarm and Control Facility (CACF).

Fire Alarm Systems Integrated with Mass Notification Technology

In the late 1990s and especially in the early 2000s after the terrorist attacks in New York City, the industry focus shifted to providing rapidly disseminating information to mitigate casualties during emergency incidents.

Fire alarm systems are required to provide both survivability and emergency operation performance.

They are afforded with emergency power and supervised circuits that report off-normal conditions on their system if they occur. Therefore, utilizing fire alarm for mass notification provides a higher level of survivability than just connecting to a disparate computer or VOIP based telephone system. Fire alarm systems are regulated to provide both signal audibility as well as emergency message intelligibility.

This means that when integrating security and IT messaging systems, fire alarm systems provide a higher level of performance.
There are many factors that affect the intelligibility in voice messaging design, including:
• Reverberation generated by the various surface materials and furnishings of a facility;
• Speaker properties such as sensitivity, power output, and coverage;
• The speaker layout in a facility based on room dimensions and surfaces

Mass Notification/Fire Alarm Integration Advantages

Since fire alarm systems must be supervised and wiring faults must be reported, the user confidence in the system performance is ensured. This is especially important when utilizing a fire alarm system for mass notification incident broadcasting. The emergency response team will be confident that the system will operate as intended during the incident.

Fire alarm systems are combined with various peripherals such as sensors and speakers which are considered “safe” units. In a “safe unit”, regulatory testing is performed to ensure that unit construction will withstand the test of time and internal wiring of the unit does not have to be supervised.

Safe units are verified with their control equipment through compatibility testing during the manufacturer listing phase, and regularly on-site via system tests and inspections performed at specified intervals. For example, the National Fire Code of Canada requires monthly operational tests of the fire alarm emergency voice communication systems.

Fire alarm systems undergo the most comprehensive laboratory testing to ensure survivability. Examples are as follows:
• Environmental dynamics: high temperature, low temperature, and high humidity;
• Power supply lines transients such as varying nominal, under, and overvoltage inputs to the system;
• Enclosures performance tests such as quality construction and resistance to electromagnetic interference;
• Emergency backup battery tests such as the charging circuitry is evaluated for its potential to provide 24 plus hours of battery backup for both lightly and fully loaded system configurations.

Fire alarm systems and their real-time operating systems and dedicated firmware also provide sophisticated scheduling options and advanced logic constructs to allow customizable programmability as required.

Software is guaranteed to perform in a consistent manner without fault and with predictable timing.
The software written for fire alarm control units often follows standards adopted in other life-safety critical environments including avionics, health-care, and nuclear facilities.

For the reasons mentioned above, mainly the remarkable reliability of all hardware, supervision of all external wiring, well designed real-time embedded software routines, and system design and programming flexibility, fire alarm systems have become the de-facto platforms for Mass Notification Solutions.

Mass Notification Market Potential
According to recent market research, the global market for Mass Notification Systems is predicted to be $2.41 billion by the end of 2013 to an estimated $6.41 billion in 2018.

What’s Next in Emergency Communication Systems?
• Development of smart messaging algorithms based on phonomies and human behaviour during emergency situations;
• Revisions to the Canadian Common Alerting Protocol (C-CAP) as an industry standard for MNS reporting;
• Adoption of the new CAN/ULC-576 mass notification equipment standard by the local authorities;
• Integration of Building Information Modeling and Geospacial Information Systems as applied to emergency response visualization tools;
• Increase in the use of wireless tactical emergency graphical display systems.

The core objective of MNS is to save lives and reduce hardship by providing timely emergency messaging to all intended recipients. Manmade and natural disasters are unavoidable; the key to providing a successful solution is to understand the risks, plan in advance, and leverage proven technology.