Connecting Mass Notification
Emergency communications are especially necessary when dealing with safety issues
- By Pat Scheckel
- Sep 01, 2019
The Internet of Things continues to grow, offering new
possibilities for organizations to communicate messages
and automate processes. This can be especially helpful
when dealing with safety issues. The more devices
and systems your organization can access and leverage
for safety, the better chance you have of keeping your people out of
harm’s way during an emergency.
The challenge becomes connecting all those disparate systems.
Organizations are facing a wide variety of threats, including active
shooter situations, severe weather, medical emergencies, cybersecurity
attacks and more. These events can put people at risk, disrupt daily
operations and result in catastrophic consequences for organizations
that are not adequately prepared. Different devices and systems tied
to the Internet of Things can assist in responding to and managing
these situations, but if they exist separately, you can lose precious seconds
when trying to alert people about an emergency or lock down
It’s in these situations where a mass notification system on the
backend can provide a number of benefits. When an emergency occurs,
an organization’s first responsibility should be to alert its people
that a potentially dangerous event is taking place. When it comes to
getting that alert out, the two most important factors are speed and
reach. Speed is how fast a message gets distributed, and reach is how
likely it is that everyone receives the message that is being distributed.
The Internet of Things can help greatly extend the reach of messages,
but a mass notification system can help link everything together to
also enhance the speed.
Triggering Events with Email
With the proper configurations, a mass notification system can receive
triggers from and send messages to the Internet of Things. One of the
ways some mass notification systems accomplish this is through email
monitoring. Connected IoT systems typically send emails to designated
addresses when certain parameters have or haven’t been met.
The mass notification system can then monitor these email addresses
for specific phrases.
If a particular phrase is found, it can then trigger broadcasts that
are sent to specific groups of people in a variety of formats.
For example, if an ammonia sensor in a factory detects a rise in
ammonia levels, it may send an email to a facility safety email account.
That account can be monitored by the mass notification system
to detect phrases from that sensor. When that phrase is detected,
it can then trigger an evacuation notification to let people know they
should clear the area until levels have returned to normal.
This configuration can be applied to any system capable of
sending an email, including earthquake detection, threat detection,
HVAC systems, CCTV cameras and more. Email is often the lowest
common denominator—most systems have this capability, making it
invaluable to security professionals.
Using Contact Closures
Another option for triggering devices and systems connected to the
Internet of Things is with contact closures. When a contact closure
is triggered, it can activate a mass notification broadcast. This can
be useful in situations where a small emergency is taking place but a
larger audience needs to be notified to help provide assistance.
For example, if someone is in a remote area of a facility and suffers
a heart attack, someone may need to open an AED box to use the
defibrillator. When the box is opened, the contact closure on the box
sends a signal to the mass notification system. The system can then
broadcast using audio, text and other visual elements to let other personnel
know that someone is experiencing a medical emergency.
Contact closures can also be triggered by the mass notification
system when properly configured. Door locks tied to the Internet
of Things can be activated along with mass notification messages to
initiate a building-wide lockdown. This can help keep the intruder
contained in a specific area and prevent them from causing harm to
others. It also reduces the need to put people at risk by manually
locking doors since door locks are activated remotely.
Building a Connected Ecosystem
Email and contact closures are two ways a mass notification can enhance
your emergency communications with the Internet of Things,
but the real power comes in connecting everything you can to help
spread information. The right mass notification system can provide
an open API as well as numerous integrations with existing technologies
to help simplify and unify your alerting process.
A simple process is often a speedy one, so by building a robust
mass notification ecosystem with the Internet of Things, you can trigger
a mass notification with the simple push of a button.
That button can be literal or metaphorical. The methods I’ve previously
described would be the metaphorical button—a configured
automated process that triggers alerts without you needing to do
anything. But sometimes eyes and ears are the most reliable sources
for identifying a threat, and a human touch is required to get the notification
ball rolling. That’s why connecting your mass notification
system to other devices can help speed up the time it takes to activate
messages and ensure they reach everyone who needs the information.
Virtual panic buttons and speed dials configured on IP phones,
physical standalone panic buttons, keyboard shortcuts and more can
be used to quickly distribute emergency messages.
IP phones, IP speakers, digital signage, desktop computers,
strobes and mobile devices can all be used to receive messages and
share information with intrusive audio, text, images and lights that
clearly communicate safety information during a security crisis.
Data from IoT connected devices and systems can also be automatically
pulled into those notifications. This could include readings
from sensors, a URL to view video footage or the location of a fire
alarm that was activated. This additional insight can help organizations
deliver more effective responses to the event taking place.
It’s important to assess the technology you already have installed
and understand how it’s currently being used. Look at how different
systems communicate with one another and determine if you need to
bridge a gap to help speed up your response times.
A mass notification system is not a cure-all solution for using
IoT for emergency communications, but with the right tools in
place, you can bring together disparate systems for
a more cohesive alerting ecosystem. By combining
your mass notification system with IoT, you can
achieve the most significant business outcome: a
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Security Today.