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On the Circuit

Jan 2, 2013 5:17 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

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We were in production when inconceivable tragedy savaged Newtown, Conn. At the time, we were already working on a scheduled supplement on emergency AV; we did struggle to find the will to finish it—the topic of safety systems seemed so very irrelevant, or at least inadequate. However, this topic has become more important since adoption of the 2010 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code—for reasons that actually could save lives in situations where each second may mean one saved life. This significant rewrite of the code set in motion a very different way to design and implement emergency notification, beyond the traditional fire bell. The skills of our industry will be crucial because voice intelligibility and visual notification will be central to the modernization of these systems.

There has been and will be much talk of the role of armed guards and staff in making public buildings, especially schools, safer. There has been less talk—I have not actually seen any yet—about the role that emergency notification and response could play.

Here is what CBS News reported about the emergency response: “At about 9:30 someone in the front office keyed the microphone on the school’s public address system in a frantic attempt to sound a warning. As the 911 calls were made, and just before 9:36, a police dispatcher radioed the first alert.” Six minutes from the time people knew something was very wrong to the time authorities knew. It struck me—indeed haunted me—that when the police arrived at Sandy Hook, the shooter stopped.

I would not presume to suggest anything about what could or could not have changed this terrible outcome. But each of us naturally thinks about what we know in that helpless time after tragedy. I think about there being just one microphone in one location that could alert the other staff and students. I think about how at my daughter’s school they practice what to do once they know there is an emergency. They don’t practice how to communicate that an unexpected and confusing emergency has started or how to reach authorities as swiftly as possible.

I’ve been in a famous earthquake, evacuated from three fires, and sent home in an historic ice storm. My colleagues live with extreme weather in the Midwest and recently in New York. All emergency situations can benefit from technology—or more importantly from good systems design that asks the “what ifs” and engineers through the faults.

That’s what I had to think about as we took the inserted supplement to press. Maybe in some small way it can spark your interest. Maybe you will think of something to help make your fellow citizens a little safer through educating yourself, asking questions, and daring to suggest to your clients that emergency notification could be built into a new or retrofitted system.

We gave you a few resources to get started and a couple of case studies that demonstrate that there are clients who understand this need.

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