The evolution of mass notification systems: Part 1Industry Insights 2011


August 2, 2011
Author: Joel Griffin

Mass notification solutions have evolved from simple air raid sirens to a complex set of integrated subsystems that include a variety of emergency warning technologies including voice over warning systems, computer pop-ups, and cellphone text alerts.

Though they have been around for a number of years, mass notification systems have become a key component in the modern security and safety plans of many education and corporate campuses.

Most people in the industry credit headline grabbing events, such as the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres with raising awareness and creating a need for the technology. These school shootings even led to the passage of the Clery Act by federal lawmakers, which require colleges and universities to immediately notify students and staff members about emergency incidents on campus.

However, according to Mike Flannery, director of commercial hardware for ADT, the evolution of mass notification technology has been gradual.

“As early as World War II we had the air raid sirens that everyone drilled to in school. Those things are very binary. You hear a loud noise, it’s an air raid siren, and you know something bad is going to happen, but you don’t know exactly what it is and you don’t know exactly what to do,” Flannery explained. “That’s where the modern mass notification technologies are much, much better because you get information, not just that something bad is about to happen. ”

Following air raid sirens, giant voice systems were deployed on military bases to make various announcements, which is where Flannery says the “idea of mass notification came to fruition.” In the 1980s, voice evacuation technology was added to fire alarm systems and the technology has continued to develop to the point where today’s university or corporate security chief can choose a myriad of solutions, such as digital signage, cellphone text alerts and computer pop-ups, to create a comprehensive system.

With so many technologies to choose from on the market, implementing a system that fits the needs of the application has become a huge challenge.

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See Desktop Alert’s Metis Secure emergency notification system in action