ECS = ‘A brand new industry’

Demand has grown for emergency communication systems since 9/11, panel of experts says
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Thursday, September 8, 2011

NORTHFORD, Conn.—Before Sept. 11, 2001, few people saw the need for a comprehensive emergency communications system, according to Peter Ebersold, marketing director for Notifier by Honeywell.

However, he said, that was before first responders at the World Trade Center were not able to communicate well with each other because of such factors as the Twin Towers’ structure and the early damage they sustained, and because the buildings’ occupants did not receive the emergency information they needed.

Now, Ebersold predicted, “over the next five to 10 years, we’re going to see almost every facility install an emergency communications system as more owners and occupants realize that any facility can face a threat, whether it’s a weather event or a medical emergency, a chemical spill or an intruder, and multiple message paths and survivability of the system will be the essential components of any ECS system involved.”

Ebersold made his comments Sept. 1 as part of a five-member panel of experts at an Emergency Communications Media Forum webinar put on by Notifier, which is based here.

The webinar took place less than two weeks before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and addressed such questions as how mass notification has changed since that time. Other topics included intelligibility and the rising demand for ECS in new markets.

Panelist John Wojdan, president of Great Lakes Building Systems in Buffalo, N.Y., said it’s not just the military and colleges campuses that want ECS today.

“We’ve been very successful up here in western New York, promoting emergency communication systems for industrial complexes and now food processing facilities.”

He cited a change in the 2010 version of NFPA 72 “that allowed us [fire installers] to go in and use our fire equipment for mass notification purposes.”

He gave examples of instances where his company was called in to upgrade a fire system and they convinced those in charge that an ECS was needed.

“Before you know it, their fire system had now become a combination fire/emergency communication system. It’s very exciting now that we have a brand new avenue here, a brand new industry basically, to pursue along with our fire products,” Wojdan said.

Bob Kaczmarek, VP sales & marketing for FireTron Inc. of Stafford, Texas, said integrating the mass notification with fire systems is a whole new way of thinking for the industry.

He said in his 30 years of experience, “it’s always been taboo to use the fire alarm voice evacuation system” for such things as tornado warnings.

“Now,” he said, “we’re going back the other way in our industry and we’re using the voice evacuation system of the fire alarm systems to do these different things, and it really cuts the cost of systems down for the facility.”

Panelist Jack Poole, principal of Poole Fire Protection in Olathe, Kan., who has been involved in ECS projects nationwide and as far away as Japan, answered a question about how to insure that messages are intelligible.

He advised using a modeling program to help calculate the acoustical conditions of a particular space and determine how to configure speakers.

He also noted there is “a misconception” that “you need intelligible signals in every space of the building.”

For example, he said, in a huge warehouse “it may be a challenge to achieve intelligibility” because of its size and acoustic conditions.

One solution, he said, is to “provide audibility [in the warehouse] and direct the people to a location where they can understand the message as opposed to being out in the middle of the warehouse.”

Another panelist, Bob Farm, project manager for United Fire Protection in Kenilworth, N.J., talked about his company’s recent installation of an ECS in Penn Station, New York City’s busy commuter hub.

He said the challenges included working around train schedules in tunnels while installing equipment, and adding redundant signaling paths and separating circuits to “enhance the survivability” of the system in the event of a disaster.

“So even if you have wire or conduit damage you have the survivability,” he said.