As facilities specializing in healthcare, pharmaceutical development and clinical trials become increasingly more complex, implementation of a mass notification system has become a necessity. Providing emergency information to a large number of individuals across multiple sites has become a key component in disaster survival.
Unfortunately, some mass notification systems can be prohibitively complicated, which could prevent the user from optimizing the tool to its full potential to ensure total emergency preparedness. To complicate matters, the National Fire Protection Association’s National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) has recently been updated for 2016 with changes that affect the design of mass notification systems.
To get a grip on the guidelines pertaining to mass notification systems outlined in the 2016 edition of the NFPA 72, I spoke with Rodger Reiswig, the director of Tyco Fire Protection Products. Roger has nearly 30 years’ experience in the field of fire protection, and is an active member of a number of standards committees in the industry.
1. What modes of communication are used when a message is relayed through a mass notification system?
While many people associate a text alert with today’s mass notification system, it is usually made up of multiple modes of communication, whether that is an email notification or automated phone call, similar to a reverse 911 call. A mass notification system can include something as simple as updating the messaging on TVs in elevators or lobbies, which patrons look to for news and weather updates. For larger campuses, it could be a loud speaker, which can sound a siren notification or even an automated message.
2. Should risk analysis be performed prior to implementing a mass notification system in order to identify the likely scenarios in which the system would be used?
Starting with a risk analysis prior to implementing a mass notification system is the best approach to take. It’s critical to assess a business’ needs before setting out to solve its issues. Many providers will try to sell a single solution as the only tool customers will need, however, organizations won’t fully appreciate the complexity of different scenarios until they have assessed their unique needs and challenges.
For example, many government and military facilities don’t allow camera phones within their premise. Therefore a text messaging system will not be as effective as a loud speaker system and/or computer notifications.
The same could be said about a hospital. For example, in operating rooms, surgeons and nurses may not have cell phones to receive text messaging. A display board that can provide a message alert may be a more beneficial tool depending on the situation.
3. Can mass notification systems be used to disseminate non-emergency information to a large group of people?
Outside of preventative measures during a crisis scenario, a mass notification system can be used to share relevant day-to-day information. An office facility might have video screens in their elevators, which share the weather report and top news throughout the day. These screens are helpful because not only do they provide convenient information to passengers, but they can switch over to provide warnings in the case of a crisis. Since staff and employees grow accustom to looking at them, they will be more likely to see the crisis scenario message and follow along with the direction provided.
4. What are the benefits of incorporating mass notification into a traditional fire alarm system?
A mass notification system is really a “mass communications” program comprised of a number of different solutions, which can include a traditional fire alarm. A mass notification system has more functionality than a traditional fire alarm, as it can be used to notify people of not only emergency issues, but day-to-day updates.
Where a fire alarm system alerts people to vacate a building, a mass notification system provides means of communicating with all building occupants or targeted areas, about regular, proactive updates like store locations, sales and weather conditions.
Through distributed messaging systems, this technology can broadcast alert notifications and evacuation route directions in the event of an emergency. For example, in an active shooter situation, leaving the building may actually put more people in harm’s way in some cases. Depending on the situation, it may be safer for occupants to move to a different floor in the building to help better secure the area. The same could be said about a weather-related issue, where a display board or email notifications would share an alert to take shelter in a basement due to a tornado.
Outside of preventative measures during a crisis scenario, a mass notification system can be used to share relevant day-to-day information, including news and weather, whereas a fire alarm is sounded during a test or a negative scenario.
5. Can mass notification systems be tailored towards each specific organization’s needs?
The great part of an integrated mass notification system is that it can be tailored not only to the specific situation and messaging, but also the specific needs of the organizations.
6. What are the most important things that professionals – including hospital facility directors – should know about the NFPA 72, Chapter 24 – Emergency Communications Systems?
NFPA 72 allows for different types of alerts during a mass notification system activity or other events. When not an emergency situation, the part of a mass notification system used for voice alerts can be used for background music, and visual displays or text screens can be used for daily public information such as a lunch menu or weather information. Additionally, a mass notification system is capable of being used only in areas that need to be advised of current events, while leaving other areas quiet so to not disrupt people who do not need to be notified.
7. Would you say most major hospitals have existing mass notification systems, or is it a growing trend?
We are seeing a growing trend of hospitals looking to leverage a cohesive mass notification system in the light of recent security incidents in the US. While most major hospitals have some solutions in place, they may not be integrating them together or leveraging their functionalities as efficiently as possible. Robust networking and a central control system can connect single, multiple and remote facilities or entry points to enable seamless security across a large facility.
8. Should pharmaceutical companies and clinical research sites consider installing a mass notification system?
Pharmaceutical and clinical research sites can greatly benefit from installing a mass notification system. This will allow them to be alerted when certain doors have been accessed or left open for extended periods of time and help keep staff members safe during active shooter situations or exposure to test materials or contaminations.
9. Can you make any predictions based on the current edition about what might be included in subsequent editions of the NFPA 72?
The use of IP technology is evolving and NFPA 72 continues to monitor and implement changes for adherence of the technology. There are already changes underway to modify how systems transmit their events to supervising stations and how supervising stations relay information to first responders. The new cycle for the 2019 edition is underway and the closing date for proposals for the 2019 edition is June 29, 2016.
10. How will the upcoming Tyco webinar help individuals better understand the guidelines laid out in the NFPA 72, Chapter 24?
The attendee should come away with an understanding of how NFPA 72 Chapter 24 is structured. The webinar will also focus on what a Risk Analysis is and what NFPA 72 requires. Once that is determined, an emergency response plan can be created. The webinar will discuss key components to consider for the plan. Does your team have a full understanding of the NFPA 72 guidelines and how they related to mass notification systems? Share your thoughts and tips for emergency preparedness in the comments section below!