University of Florida Focuses on Life Safety

As emergency towers become ubiquitous across college campuses, the focus for many campus security experts shift from presence of product to quality of product

The University of Florida, located in Gainesville, Fla., is one such campus that is focused on acquiring excellent life safety products. the oldest university in florida, UF has a 2,000-acre campus with more than 900 buildings and over 49,000 students.

One of the campus’s current projects is the renovation and expansion of the Rietz Student Union that prompted the discovery of several ‘dead zones’ in the outdoor notification program. The outdoor broadcasting is part of the university’s emergency notification system, UFAlert. This indoor and outdoor speaker network broadcasts over a Cisco network through Singlewire’s Informacast system when an emergency develops. The notification system also utilizes email, Twitter and other social media networks to inform the campus community of any type of emergency—criminal, weather, fire, etc.

Bruce Engstrom, a telecommunications project manager, has been a part of the University of Florida for over 25 years. He is instrumental in the installation of all emergency towers and life safety products on campus.

Since the mid-90s UF has had a network of emergency towers. For the last 10 years, Engstrom has focused on replacing other vendor phones with products from Talkaphone in the emergency towers and integrating mass notification capabilities. No mean feat as the campus has over 200 emergency phones. But to Engstrom and team, it‘s a worthy project. “We started moving towards the Talkaphone phones based on the quality and reliability of the product,” states Engstrom. “Reliability and ease of installation and use are the most important qualities when I’m looking to install a new life safety product on campus.”

In any project like the Reitz Student Union expansion and renovation, the campus police department is consulted and then Engstrom springs into action—gathering quotes and insuring the install is up to the University of Florida’s high standards. For this project it was acutely important to find a product with the ability to broadcast to an outdoor environment. “The Talkaphone WEBS Towers are a good way to do that and a good way to test if we want to move to more of these types of towers,” Engstrom points out. “And having the Cisco compliant devices, which we had been working on with Talkaphone in previous years, was a big selling point.”

The WEBS Towers are able to integrate into the notification system already in place, UFAlert and Cisco Singlewire, with the added benefit of outdoor broadcasting. Near the top of each tower are four high-powered speakers capable of providing 360-degree coverage. A local microphone allows emergency responders or campus security agents to make live announcements during an emergency or for crowd control purposes.

In coordination with the WEBS Towers, the campus is also installing VOIP-600 IP Call Stations. The high-quality speaker and microphone components will ensure everyone in the area will receive clear and detailed information.

A growing trend in campus safety is multidimensional products. Emergency phones, such as the VOIP-600, are used not only as a phone but also as a security platform. Towers, such as the WEBS Tower can utilize mass notification, camera surveillance, be used as an access point and more.

Having worked with Talkaphone consistently for 10 years, Engstrom feels confident in the product. “Everything we’ve ever gotten from Talkaphone has been a quality product,” confirms Engstrom. As one of the newest products in the Talkaphone family, this is Engstrom’s first experience with the VOIP-600, but he’s anxious to see how the new product performs. “There was a learning curve for installation of the new phone, there were a lot more components [than the analog phones we already have],” says Engstrom. He goes on, “Talkaphone was really supportive.” The migration to IP phones is gaining a great deal of traction in life safety systems. The use of IP phones in lieu of analog allows an organization to consolidate network infrastructure and leverage software-level integration with systems such as video management systems (VMS), access control and unified communications (UC).

The towers are in a highly exposed area of campus and will have to endure the elements. This is a situation Engstrom has seen before. “We’ve had some problems in the past with [another manufacturer’s] products and the paint peeling off and rusting underneath,” explains Engstrom. The new WEBS Towers have extremely durable, vandal resistant exteriors to prevent any issues with destructive elements.

Being a part of the safety service on campus is immensely important to Engstrom. He hopes that having the outdoor broadcast towers will make the students and their families feel more secure on campus. Engstrom adds, “We’re really happy with the installation; we’re really happy with the product.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Security Today.


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