The Need to Hear and be Heard

Have you ever tried to watch a movie in a movie theater and the sound suddenly stopped working? Or you attended a musical concert, but the sound system failed? What happened? More than likely, the movie or concert stopped until the sound and audio were fixed. Or if it could not be fixed, you likely departed and your money refunded. After all, it is pointless to watch a movie or attend a concert without sound. You are not getting the whole experience.

That should be the same with your security system – it should always include audio so that your security team has full situational awareness to make the correct decisions in response to an incident, every time. But that is often not the case.

When you selected your video surveillance system, it was likely never a question of whether you would use video, but more so, which manufacturer you would use. The same can be said with your access control solution. Of course, you will employ one, and the decision lies in which vendor to work with.

However, sometimes audio and communications solutions are not included in a security system or solution. That is a big mistake, and here is why.

Audio for Everyday Use
Think of the way that security teams communicate with employees, guests and vendors who enter their facility each day. Communication involves several of our many senses, particularly the sense of hearing, the sense of sight and the sense of touch.

To protect a facility, a security officer needs to use all available senses to communicate, to understand, and to quickly make smart and informed decisions.

Video surveillance allows a security officer to see a scene. Yet someone who needs assistance is not likely to run to a video camera for help. Instead, they are more likely to yell: “I need help!” or “Hey!” or “Help me!”

Audio is often a standard feature in video cameras, unless someone is standing directly next to the video camera’s microphone, the communication is not clear.

Access control can only do so much, as well. It works well for known credentials and every day, normal situations.

Hearing is an incredibly valuable sense. It allows a security officer to hear the words that people say, to understand intent and actions. It even allows for hearing when an individual’s face is obstructed from the camera feed or with a face mask.

Audio for Emergencies and Evacuations
Hearing is also valuable for facility emergencies and evacuations. In those situations, employees may know the standard evacuation procedure, but how do others know what to do and where to go? What if it is unsafe to evacuate? Clear audio is critical to communicate how to respond, including whether to leave the building and where to go.

Once a building is evacuated, public address messages via IP speakers can keep everyone informed about how long they might need to stay out of the building, when they can go back inside or whether they should go to another area.

Post-event, audio helps to correctly re-create the incident and the response. A person’s recollection of an event can often be unreliable. They could say: “I don’t recall,” or “I didn’t see it.” Audio can hear what happened and add clarity to the event and the investigation.

Audio Examples
To control entry, today’s enterprise security systems need clear voice, access control and video surveillance working together to mitigate security risks. Only then can a security officer manage the event with better situational awareness, and with a more informed, faster response. The officer can see, hear, speak to, and manage any situation or threat.

Here are several ways that intercom solutions can control entry to a facility and help keep it secure.

  1. At entrances to commercial buildings, audio via IP intercoms can help security teams identify visitors via both audio and video, before they gain access to the facility, and guide them to where they need to be. They also assist in responding to emergency situations with both pre-recorded and manual announcements at the door.
  2. Industrial stations often have large perimeters, and here is where IP speakers complement well with physical barriers, sensors, CCTV and other security measures, allowing security teams to listen to and see activity. Automated messages at the perimeter can be broadcast to alert the individual, via voice, to leave the area.
  3. In hospitals, IP intercoms at doors and entrances can allow facility staff to communicate with patients and visitors remotely from reception and intake desks. Once inside the facility, those same intercoms can provide access and clear communication to entrances to restricted areas, cleanrooms, isolation rooms and maternity wards.
  4. In retail stores, IP intercoms and speakers can enable communication between office and sales staff. To control entrances, intercoms can be used at the door on a loading dock, for example, to allow security to see and speak with people moving in and out of that area.
  5. Intercom solutions in prisons and correctional facilities provide clear audio and video assistance for visitors, cell communications and with prison management systems to enhance a security guard’s insight into situations and events. Intercoms can be placed at door and gates to communicate with inmates and to control access to restricted areas, gates, sally ports and door locks.
  6. In K-12 schools, visitor entry can be controlled at the exterior doors, with an intercom solution that a receptionist or security guard can control inside the school. When visitors or vendors push the button outside, their images and the audio from their voices can help determine why they want access to the school. The intercom enables a two-way conversation to help the receptionist or guard determine why a visitor wants access.
  7. On university campuses, an intercom solution can control entry at main entrances, in addition to serving as an additional layer of security at administrative offices and other areas with overly sensitive information, but they are also ideal for use at delivery bays or other secondary entrances that have a lot of traffic.
  8. Manufacturing facilities need to keep downtimes to a minimum and steady production, without security issues related to uncontrolled entry. Intercom solutions can control access to multiple doors. They can also provide general information throughout one facility or to specific warehouses, production areas or other areas, while also helping security teams to respond to emergency situations with pre-recorded and manual announcements.
  9. In multi-tenant facilities an intercom solution can allow tenants, a concierge and security officers to identify visitors quickly and easily before granting access. The ability to hear and see the visitor allows for more accurate decisions.
  10. Visitor identification and area restriction are two important security concerns for government buildings at the local, state and federal levels. Intercom systems can provide that visual and audio verification help deter unauthorized staff or visitors from entering secured offices and areas.

Audio’s Essential Use
Audio is not new to the security industry. IP speakers, intercoms, two-way radios and emergency help stations have been available (and deployed) in many facilities for years.

Audio should be included in every security solution that you employ, in conjunction with video surveillance and access control. The integration of video, access control and audio offer actionable insight into risks and potential physical dangers that a silent security system does not.

Simply put, in 2024, a silent security system cannot be an effective security system. Every risk, resilience and security program must ensure the ability to hear, be heard and be understood in every situation.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2024 issue of Security Today.


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