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Safety Works Here

New Building Codes Make Voice Evacuation Sound Like a Better Option  

 by Lencore

 Few realize it today, but the phrase “Safety First” originated in the railroad industry. Hoping to curb the number of accidents this two-word phrase was emblazoned in a multitude of locations and in various manners both spoken and written in the mechanical works and on the rails. The intention was to bring pause in any instance and trigger a careful consideration of next steps. A rush to any result without remembering what was most important may result in harm to the greatest asset in any organization: people.

Sometimes we think of rules and regulations as unnecessary red tape or an impedance to our goals, but the original intent is generally founded in protecting those in the public and private sector from harm. The deflating effect of being dictated to, buried under a lot of strict stipulations, may cause the recipient of instruction to do the bare minimum to meet the code. But if anyone were to shift their perspective away from “following the rules” to “protecting our people,” it would yield a much more secure result.

In the construction and facilities management world, new revisions to National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) building code 72: Fire Alarm and Signaling may cause some to bridle at the cost of updating facilities to meet new emergency communications clauses. But a look at the headlines will prove the necessity of these changes. In order to provide safe environments and the community at large, NFPA dictates that in the event of an emergency, voice communications must be intelligible, operate on redundant systems in case of equipment failure and presented in at least two media, visual and aural, in most cases.

Rules are rules, and they can cause irksome strain. Still, when the human safety appeal is made to those responsible for building operations and safety of occupants, new priorities arise. The sense that together they must protect people from their organization and the public at large provokes operators and managers to demand safety and reliable control of the messages sent by emergency communications systems.

In accordance with these priorities, in 2010 NFPA expanded the scope of monitoring and performing emergency communications to include not just fire but also weather-related and human-related threats. Subsequently, as part of the NFPA 72 code changes, intelligibility was introduced as a significant factor when informing the targeted audience of the emergency event. The code dictates that all audience members must be reached, with a clear, direct message and it must be communicated in not just one but multiple formats to create redundancy of messaging, ensuring the communication was received.

Code changes are often slowly adopted. However, many states have already partially or fully adopted the new code, and in areas where it is yet to be adopted, an Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) can adopt parts or all of a code at any time and apply it against projects in the early phases of construction or retrofitting.

Most could agree these are good rules to abide by. But many facilities managers are asking, “Where do I begin?” There are many technologies that meet the code, but it’s unclear what to look for in terms of features and ongoing security and support. Before a security update is launched, important determinations must be made about which indoor and outdoor areas need to be covered with sound and visual announcements and how those systems will be controlled and operated.

From an operation standpoint, once an emergency procedure is set up and a chain of system announcers and controllers are determined, it’s critical to speak to these users about the methods of communication with which they are most familiar. Which communication system devices do they use most often: mobile phones, public address microphones, other telecommunications devices or a touchscreen operation system are all options.

Next, it’s important to perform an analysis on the demographics of those to whom a facility wants to communicate. How would they best receive a message in two formats? Live or pre-recorded voice announcements duplicated by the emergency communications system delivered via text messages, visual announcements on video displays, email, social media, or many other options are all possible with today’s technologies.

Once the input and output devices are settled, users must establish prioritization of messaging. Which device takes precedent in the event of an emergency? The CEO’s mobile or the security guard’s phone at the entrance to the building? A good emergency communications systems provider can provide you with a list of priority arrangements.

Talk of all of this technology might make some wonder about budgets and costs. But the networked communications offerings of today can actually provide great flexibility and effectiveness. Working either with legacy platforms or implementing new speakers for voice communications, U.S.-based manufacturers such as Lencore can use networks to easily meet new codes. Voice and any number of communications can be triggered easily via Lencore’s i.LON control devices.

There may be many new ways to spread the message of “Safety First” today, but the core value remains the same: protecting people is everyone’s top priority.