Connecting Mass Notification

Connecting Mass Notification

Emergency communications are especially necessary when dealing with safety issues

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 a building.

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 safer workplace.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Security Today.

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