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Changes in Emergency Communications: Improving Safety/Mass Notifications in Schools

Posted on: November 11, 2020

A decade ago, schools relied on a manual pull lever and ringing bell to alert students, teachers, and other occupants of an emergency or fire. Today, this antiquated technology has been replaced by faster, more responsive, and more intuitive communication devices.

Now, fire alarm panels are incident command centers that can instruct students and staff on how to react to a wide range of on-campus emergency situations. Alerts or messages can be sent to students and teachers on virtually any network connected device — computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.

And by upgrading to the latest emergency communications tech, you can ensure compliance with the codes and regulations set by The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

How mass notification systems work

A mass notification system is an emergency management tool that delivers detailed and localized information via pre-recorded or live instructions, visible signals, text, graphics, or other communication methods to building occupants.

For example “Edwards Fireworks” Incident Management Software can use smart phones, computer popups, video crawlers, emails, and school portals, to send emergency messages to staff, teachers and students.

Depending on the incident at hand, there are four tier levels:

  1. Tier 1. Immediate and intrusive — Involves the use of sirens, indoor/outdoor loudspeakers, fire voice evacuation instructions, electronic signage (all code compliant).
  2. Tier 2. Personal Alerting — Involves notification via SMS Text (cell phones), computer pop-ups, tone alert radios, email broadcast (internet) and automated voice dialing.
  3. Tier 3. Public Alerting — Relies on Sat/AM/FM radio broadcasts, location-specific text messages.
  4. Tier 4. Locally relevant alerting — Involves the use of handheld bullhorns, radio call phones, and two-way radios.

Effectively communicating the danger at hand is crucial to your evacuation plan. To ensure your school facilities are up to code and equipped with the latest fire and life safety systems, be sure to consult with a trusted service vendor in your area.

Emergency communications work in tandem with other fire & life safety systems

Building chiefs must make sure all fire and life safety systems are functional and compliant. You should also recognize that systems are designed to work in accordance with each other.

Your emergency communications system represents one aspect of your overall fire and life safety strategy. Other elements include staff training, smoke detectors/sensors, suppression devices, LED strobes, sirens, etc.

To create a custom emergency response plan tailored to the needs of your campus, students, and staff, consult with a knowledgeable fire and life safety vendor. An experienced leader in the industry can quickly assess your strengths and weakness, analyze existing systems, upgrade old tech, install new systems, and help you devise an effective emergency response strategy.

Issues with existing emergency communication systems in schools

When it comes to how schools handle emergencies, there are two glaring issues that must be addressed:

  1. Intercom emergency communications —Across the Pacific Northwest and much of the country, many schools continue to rely on standard intercom systems to broadcast emergency communications. The issue with using an intercom system is that they typically do not have the capability to monitor circuit integrity. This means that the electrical circuitry powering/transmitting the intercom broadcast has a low fire rating and may malfunction or breakdown as a result of heat or burn damage. As a result, your ability to communicate with your staff and students may be jeopardized if a fire breaks out suddenly on your campus. Fire alarm systems on the other hand, have supervised circuits that are consistently monitored for wiring faults — appropriate staff are notified when a fault exists.
  2. Lack of school staff emergency training — While most jurisdictions require schools to have an emergency response plan, they don’t require the staff to be trained or certified. School staff should be instructed on how to use the emergency systems for different incidents including fires, severe weather, flooding, hazardous chemicals, gas leaks, shooter on campus incidents, bomb threats, etc. A properly trained teacher will be more informed and confident when making split-second decisions about when to evacuate or just shelter place, saving lives in the process.

The National Fire Protection Association has now adopted Emergency Communications (MNEC) in Chapter 24 of the NFPA-2010 edition making (MNEC) mandatory. Edwards EST-3 and EST-4 Voice Systems are MNEC code compliant and have the ability to integrate emergency notification components based on your campus’ needs.

By equipping your campus with the latest emergency communications technology and ensuring your staff receive proper training, you can dramatically improve the overall effectiveness of your school’s emergency response plan.

PSI: Emergency communications systems and monitoring for schools in the Pacific Northwest

Performance Systems Integration (PSI) provides AAA fire and life safety service to schools, property management, hotels, hospitals, and other businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Whether you need to replace your school’s intercom system with Edwards EST-3 and EST-4 Voice Systems, or need help creating a custom emergency response plan, our NICET-certified technicians will work diligently to ensure your facilities are safe and up to code.

As COVID-19 persists, we continue to monitor and comply with the regulations set forth by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, and remain steadfast in our efforts to protect schools and businesses across Oregon and Washington.

To find out more about our fire and life safety services, or to schedule a free life safety and code compliance analysis in the Pacific Northwest, call our Oregon/SW Washington Office at (503) 641-2222, or our Washington State Office at (425) 947-1149, or contact us online.

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