The New First Responder

The New First Responder

How integrated paging and emergency solutions automate mass notification and communication tasks, reducing security workloads and human error

People are constantly on the move—particularly in busy transit hubs—and passengers need to know where they should be and by when. While visual displays play a critical role in communication, verbal pages can assist in last-minute updates or station changes that may be missed if conveyed only on digital signage.

Minimize Confusion

Couple those needs with the requirement to disseminate critical and emergency messaging while maintaining a high level of visual surveillance, and transportation security and communication centers have an ever-increasing level of responsibility to ensure passenger safety, reduce the opportunities for accidents, and minimize confusion during a crisis.

Until recently, much of this work had to be done manually, and despite new technology capabilities, security and life safety officers were burdened with how to respond to incidents in a timely and efficient manner. However, with today’s integrated paging and emergency communication systems (ECS), the number of decision points can be reduced to help automate the process.

The biggest factor contributing to that burden is that life safety, fire alarm, voice evacuations and paging solutions have long been disparate systems. Each system worked independently and had to be monitored separately. Add to that, security operations in mass transit are primarily driven by video analytics, with information coming in from hundreds of video cameras and sensors. The main goal of video analytics is to reduce workflow through programmable functions that automate as many actions as safely possible. Now, with changes to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) NFPA-72 code that allow for fire safety and ECS to use the Ethernet as a viable transport, paging and ECS can be integrated with other systems to permit interaction and automation of these monitoring tasks.

As the needs for mass notification have evolved, the integrated paging systems used for ECS have had to keep pace with new requirements and security measures, taking into consideration the type of audience and its needs. With the changes in the NFPA code, these systems play an integral role distributing critical information and alerts within the four different layers that these systems must address:

  • In-building ECS. Allows rail station personnel to send pages to specific platforms at a specific station and to specific areas within a building.
  • Wide-area mass notification system (MNS). Permits personnel to use the system to address people inside and outside a station.
  • Distributed-recipient MNS. Allows the system to send personal notification to mobile devices registered with the public transit authority.
  • Public broadcast measures. Sends an alert to key public entities, such as broadcast radio and television, to widen the circle of communication as needed.

Covering All Lines

A rail station security operation center is often responsible for covering multiple transit lines, especially in larger cities. Not only does station activity significantly increase during rush hours and special events, but also each area of a station may have unique needs and requirements that add to the large number of communication tasks to oversee. By gaining efficiencies and reducing workflow through ECS automation, the time needed to send messages manually is reduced, allowing transportation staff to focus on more critical tasks.

For example, transportation personnel may need to page a traveler or page a particular zone or platform to inform corresponding passengers of a departure or arrival. The first requirement these systems must address is the ability to communicate to a specific location. Through the ECS, each station can receive communication and audio tailored to that particular locale. If a train that normally disembarks at platform six is now disembarking at platform 10, the system will allow for a localized announcement of that schedule change to the platform(s) impacted. The officer only has to enter the information once with no other action or follow-up required.

Second, an integrated ECS system can send out automated safety alerts that are triggered by sensors and camera feeds. An example would be if a passenger waiting on a platform crosses the yellow safety line, a scalable and flexible paging and ECS integrated with the rest of the center’s security and safety systems would allow a tripped sensor to send an alert to the paging system. The alert would send out an automated, pre-recorded announcement over the loudspeaker on that particular platform telling the person to move back to safety—all without any manual involvement.

It is only if, after the warning message is sent and the person does not back up to safety, that the ECS automatically sends an alert and assigns a video image to a security officer. The system automatically queues up the appropriate loudspeaker, and the security officer would be able to speak directly to that specific platform and address the wayward passenger. “Sir, in the blue shirt, for your safety, you need to back up behind the yellow line.” The system automation streamlines manual tasks, gaining efficiencies, increasing the volume of potentially dangerous situations that can be addressed, thus preventing injuries.

Another example would be if security personnel needed to push out very specific messages to specific locations within a given station. If they don’t want passengers on the track level due to a situation unfolding, the system allows them to make special announcements to public areas or zones within the station, such as the station entry, requesting people to remain within the lobby area or exit the building to another location. In addition, the system allows for communications to be simultaneously issued at all mass notification layers.

  • Layer one sends the message in the building or station, telling people not to go up to the platforms and to exit building.
  • Layer two sends a message over a wide area, using the system’s integrated external paging solution to send alerts outside of the building to deter passengers from entering.
  • Layer three, which is personal notification, would allow a text message to be sent to registered cell phones informing them not to enter the building.
  • Layer four, which broadcasts radio and television, would automate messages to the public as needed, informing them to stay away.

Security centers also often have to oversee each of the stations’ public access parking lots, which are encompassed within the widearea layer two of mass notification. Many public access parking lots are equipped with call boxes that provide a person in distress direct contact with the security center. Tied into the paging system, an officer is automatically assigned to the call and is provided with a local camera feed for the area.

This immediately puts eyes on the call box, so the officer can see the person and the details around the situation. They can key the microphone and page the entire parking; bringing comfort to the individual confirming that assistance is on the way—and potentially deterring others.

The rail station security and communication centers are the epicenter of all message dissemination to passengers, operators and station agents. They are constantly bombarded with incoming information, making it increasingly difficult for officers to perform the largest priority of their job: ensuring the safety of all passengers and even the outlying public community.

By integrating paging and emergency communication systems that automate the coordination and distribution of low-level messages and sound the alarm where true emergencies have arisen, these systems become the new first responders and allow security communication teams to better prepare, manage and prevent tragedies.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Security Today.

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