Owners driving market for mass notification systems

Corporate campuses and manufacturing facilities are among those looking for ways to protect themselves from a variety of threats
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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

BURLINGTON, Mass.—Fear of newspaper headlines is helping drive the market for mass notification systems, Jack Poole, a fire protection engineer and member of the NFPA 72 Technical Committee, said at a recent emergency management seminar here.

Poole, speaking at the May 3 event sponsored by Notifier by Honeywell, said he was giving a presentation about mass notification/emergency communication systems (ECS) recently to top management at a telecommunications facility, discussing potential threats ranging from a gunman in the building to an accident at a nearby chemical facility.

He said one manager told him: “My biggest fear is having an event and us not having a good way to communicate [to employees and visitors] and waking up the next day and reading what’s on the front page of the newspaper. That’s what I don't want to happen.”

Poole told his seminar audience, which included fire dealers, engineers and some end users, that the “market-rich environment for mass notification” is not just college campuses and the military but also corporate campuses and manufacturing facilities. And, he said, “The owners are almost kind of driving it [the market] themselves,” out of concerns like the one voiced by the telecommunications executive.

The seminar was sixth of a series of eight such seminars being offered around the country, said Peter Ebersold, Notifier’s director of marketing. The remaining two seminars are later this month, one in Walnut Creek, Calif. and one in Redmond, Wash.

Poole advised seminar attendees: “If you’ve got someone who’s thinking about mass notification, one of the owners, drive them to Chapter 24 [of NFPA 72] to the risk analysis.” He said that only with a risk analysis can fire protection professionals and an owner determine what kind of mass notification/ECS is needed and how it should be designed.

“I truly believe that’s the first step we’ve got to do when have a client,” said Poole, principal and owner of Olathe, Kan.-based Poole Fire Protection.

Forming a stakeholder group is the first step in a risk analysis, he said. Members should include not only the end user and fire protection professionals but also the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), emergency responders and even the owner’s insurance company. “Prod them a little bit,” Poole urged. “Say, ‘How is this going to reduce my insurance cost?’”

Among factors the group should evaluate are not only the potential hazards faced but also the likelihood of each one, Poole said. “If they’re sitting in the flight path of an airport that has two planes land a week, that's a little different from sitting in the flight path” of a big international airport, he said.

Also, he said, the group should understand the “occupancy characteristics” of the building or campus to be protected. That means, for example, he said, an evaluation of how well acquainted occupants are with the layout. “If the message says, ‘Take shelter in the basement,’” Poole said, “Do they know how to get to the basement?”

He said also to be considered are the number of people to be protected and such factors as whether they have hearing or vision impairments, which can help determine the type of warning devices needed.