Achieving Clear Communications
The need for clear communication is always a necessary part of security
- By Bruce Czerwinski
- Mar 22, 2023
Technology within the security industry has adapted to numerous changes through the years, from the early days of analog devices to today’s IP-based solutions, networked cameras, and access control solutions, in addition to analytics, cloud-based products, virtual security guards, and more. In fact, no facility would operate without security technology. Even more, technologies such as metal detectors, facial recognition, panic buttons and software used to analyze key words in social media feeds are becoming more commonplace.
That technology is necessary due to the number of sophisticated risks that security teams face each day. Every area of a facility, inside and out, including doors, rooms and open spaces, and the fence-line at a perimeter, is necessary to successfully operate a business and keep employees, visitors, and vendors safe and secure.
Yet, no matter what security technology is in place, the need for clear communication always remains.
IP Networked Communications
Think about how we hear, how we are heard and are understood. From a young age, we learn to respond to a voice or sound. We all instinctively turn our heads towards a loud sound. Sound and voice add information to any situation, to help us determine if the situation is dangerous, or if everything is OK.
In a security situation, the benefits of audio are numerous. Audio can detect noises that are not within direct view of a video camera and thus can prevent dangerous situations from happening. Someone waving at you as you walk into a room could be misconstrued as them simply saying hello and being excited to see you. Only their voice and the words that they say and that you hear can help you to understand that what they really mean is “Stop! There’s danger ahead!”
Signs or other visual cues are effective, but people could easily become confused about them, especially in an emergency. Only audio can add “ears” to your “eyes” in any situation.
Specifically, audio via IP network communications allows a security team to capture sounds (and information) that video alone cannot provide. What can your security team hear, to help them to make a better-informed decision and response?
1. Names and other identifying information
2. A spoken language
3. Mood, emotions or levels of aggression
4. Sounds of a security breach, such as an alarm or a door opening
5. Notification that first responders have arrived on the scene
What are some of the benefits of allowing your security team to hear and to be heard? With intelligent communications as a security technology, they can:
1. Capture accurate information from a variety of audio and video sources.
2. Listen in to an area to determine the nature of the event more quickly.
3. Make informed decisions regarding the appropriate level of response.
4. Maintain communication with all parties throughout an event.
5. Enable detailed post-event scene analysis and evidence collection.
6. Have complete situational data for training and re-training security staff.
A Peace of Mind
Another benefit of IP communication solutions is peace of mind for employees who may be working alone in a building. Solutions that have voice activity detection, also known as speech activity detection, can detect the presence of a voice. The feature samples the peak amplitude detected at a microphone, every 30 milliseconds (ms) and converts it to decibels (dB). If the sampled amplitude is continuously above a trigger amplitude for a set duration, then the intercom can give immediate contact with 10 of the most frequently used numbers or functions.
Even more, a silent alarm or scream alarm feature can be used in a facility to handle persons that can become threatening. An office can be equipped with an intercom station, plus an alarm button and when an alarm button is pressed, a special tone signal is heard in neighboring offices. The intercoms stations will then display the alarm sender’s location, and those colleagues can activate a listen-in function to determine what is happening and contact security, if needed.
Overall, with IP communication solutions, your security guards can hear what their security cameras see. Employees and visitors can be heard, and assistance can be provided to them faster than before. Clear communications can extend your security perimeter away from a door, entrance, or fence-line and allow your team to safely mitigate risks from a distance.
In what specific areas in a facility can IP network communications be used? In manufacturing plants, high-definition audio solutions ensure that plant operators can communicate to the entire plant or to selected zones. Employees alerted efficiently, when an alarm triggers.
In buildings and facilities, audio and intelligent communication solutions provide instant communication in an elevator, at loading docks, at the reception desk, and in parking garages, to help employees, visitors or vendors who need it.
In hospitals, audio and intelligent communication solutions allow access and crystal-clear communication to restricted areas, cleanrooms, and isolation rooms. They also allow quarantined patients in isolation rooms to communicate with staff without the risk of infecting others.
In a warehouse, delivery drivers can receive instructions on package receiving locations, and operation teams, via audio and video with an intercom, verify a delivered shipment.
In retail stores, instant voice communication is the key to delivering a quality customer experience, and intercom solutions and speakers provide direction to customers, help security guards to perform their jobs better, and enable communication between office staff and sales personnel.
In a parking garage, IP horns can direct customers on the garage’s floors or rooftop, near the elevators, and in the stairwells.
In a school, ceiling speakers can communicate instructions to teachers and staff without them leaving the room or their students.
Audio solutions in prisons and correctional facilities provide communication assistance for visitors, cell communications, and with prison management systems to enhance a guard’s insight into situations and events.
In a sports stadium or large venue, messages played via network audio speakers can communicate with large numbers of people simultaneously. It can transmit pre-recorded or live messages to zones or to the entire facility. For instance, it could play reminders of social distancing rules during the recent pandemic or assisting with crowd management.
Once you are ready to evaluate an IP communication solution such as an intercom or IP speaker, it is important that you select one that provides clear and intelligent communications, no matter the environment.
It is meaningless to install a communications system if the audible announcements and delivered messages cannot clearly heard or understood, in every situation. Therefore, it is important to select a solution that offers audio and voice technology that allows people to hear, to be heard and understood in every situation.
Imagine these scenarios:
- A visitor approaches an office entrance that is just off a busy street. They press the intercom button but have difficulty hearing and being heard.
- Workers in the warehouse need to speak to the front office but when they place the call, they have trouble hearing or being heard over the forklifts and fans.
- A delivery truck pulls up to a gate with a sign that says, “Turn off engine before pressing intercom button.”
What is wrong in these scenarios? Intercoms and audio solutions are not delivering crystal-clear audio, every time. If an intercom does not allow the user to hear clearly and understood, how can a security team depend on it for essential business functions?
Having clear communications requires intelligent software features that adapt to the nearby environment. They include acoustic echo cancellation, which enables both people to talk at the same time, even at high volumes (95dB). Automatic gain control will take a voice that is too loud or too weak and level it out to an undistorted and clear signal. Automatic volume control will detect the noise level in the area and automatically adjust the volume to ensure easily heard voices. Noise cancellation reduces the background noise and means that the user does not need to speak directly into the microphone to be heard.
For the very best audio quality, the physical design matters, too. A traditional intercom speaker design will include two overlapping stainless-steel plates, which will trap some of the sound waves between them and create distortion. Instead, the speaker grille should incorporate an anechoic, circular design where there is no reflection of sound waves as they pass through the station’s faceplate. The result is crystal-clear audio at any volume.
The exterior should also feature a solid aluminum, die-cast frame and an acoustically transparent poke screen so that someone cannot tamper with it.
When the solution features built-in video, the camera should incorporate a wide-angle lens and strong low-light performance to deliver excellent image quality, day or night. A wide Field of View will capture more of the area around the intercom station, and a 30-per-second frame rate provides a natural look for any movement caught on the camera.
Last, the solution should employ a fast data processor, which translates into stability, uptime and a long product lifetime. That efficiency in data processing also provides the opportunity for additional product integrations and future development.
Overall, by investing in a communications platform that provides the best possible audio quality, you are equipping security teams with a powerful tool that can mitigate security threats and provide value for many years to come.
Successful Use Cases
There are many successful use cases of IP communications, including a highway tunnel, a manufacturing facility, and corporate workspaces.
The Túnel de la Línea in Colombia is a highway tunnel that is located between the cities of Calarcá, Quindío and Cajamarca and Tolima. It crosses beneath the locally famous “Alto de La Línea” in the Cordillera Central or central range of the Andes mountains, easing traffic on one of Colombia's main east-west road connections (the National Route 40), which links Bogotá with Cali and the Pacific port of Buenaventura. At 28,386 feet (5.3 miles), it is the longest road tunnel in Latin America.
Clear communications are essential in highway tunnels for employee and passenger safety, especially in an emergency, such as an evacuation.
The project management team was looking for a solution that would provide clear communications in the tough conditions of a tunnel, which includes extreme noise and temperatures (low and high) and high humidity levels. The solution also needed to be vandal resistant. Other objectives included providing operational efficiencies and a better decision-making process for emergencies.
The tunnel now has IP intercoms every 164 feet for everyday and emergency communications inside the tunnel. The tunnel’s team can integrate and map the intercoms with other security systems, to give security the ability to manage not just video but also audio under the same control interface.
In Norway, BAMA Gruppen AS, a leading distributor of fruits and vegetables, high noise levels from running engines of 1,600 trucks each day previously made it difficult for security staff on the other side to understand the truck drivers.
A gate entry solution is a critical component of BAMA’s overall physical and cybersecurity solution and having an operational gate-entry system is mandatory.
BAMA now has a gate-entry communication solution that not only eliminates challenges with poor audio quality but also has integrated HD video. Now, drivers can easily identify themselves to security teams. In addition, IP video intercoms have increased security awareness for staff, with real-time views of the gate entry and therefore, increased overall perimeter protection.
In West Bend, WI, the West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. is a 125-year-old company that provides insurance coverages and services to home and auto owners, as well as business owners in all 50 states. It operates its headquarters on 160-acres of prairie land in West Bend, with remote offices throughout the United States, where many of its 1,200-plus associates work most of the time.
The security team is using intelligent communications solutions to provide clear communication at its facility’s vehicle entry gates and perimeter doors.
In addition, IP Network horns and loudspeakers are used to broadcast messages to the 1,200 employees spread out in offices across the company’s three campuses.
IP Communications in 2023
When it comes to security technology, it is easy to think that you have what you need. Yet today’s risky environments require more. Are you capitalizing on the security technology that allows your security teams to hear and to be heard? Are you communicating clearly within your facility? Today’s IP communication solutions via IP intercoms and public address systems allow you to provide crystal-clear communications that extend throughout the facility and out to the perimeter. It is a powerful tool to provide safe, secure, and inviting environments for your employees and visitors.
This article originally appeared in the March / April 2023 issue of Security Today.