Notify the masses: NFPA brings 7,000 to Boston

Thursday, June 7, 2007

BOSTON--"Mass notification" was a prominent point of discussion at this year's National Fire Protection Association's World Safety Conference and Exposition, which took place in the new Boston Convention Center here June 3 through 5.
From the booth of large fire company CooperWheelock, which recently acquired Madahcom, to that of smaller sound solutions company Evax, mass notifications and voice evacuation systems and components were showcased.
Beth Welch, manager of media relations for Gamewell FCI and Fire-Lite, said "we've been talking about these systems for years, but this year it's not just us talking, now people are asking us about mass notification." However, she noted that "there are other trends that are just as important, such as improvements in the software that goes into the systems to make it more user friendly [a new network graphic annunciator is featured in Gamewell FCI's E3 series], and survivability [systems that can keep working if one panel is disabled]."
"There is great interest in the whole issue of safety on campus, and mass notification is one piece of that," said Chris Woodcock, SimplexGrinnell director of marketing and communications, at the Simplex booth, which sat at the front of the show floor and featured a look back at 25 years of Simplex products. However, he noted, "there is a need to look at the full breadth of life-safety systems technology and processes to provide the best protection."
Gary Pollack, formerly of GE Security, recently joined Atlas, a division of commercial sound company Mitek Corp, as director of mass notification. In his new role, Pollack is charged with bringing a mass notification system to market. Atlas did not have a booth this year, but may in the future, Pollack said. "There's a tug of war going on between communications and fire companies about who will control the voice component of a mass notification system and I don't think that's been decided yet," he said.
GE Security was demonstrating its EST3 Mass notification and event management systems. GE has done a lot of work along these lines for the military and expects to quickly move into more commercial applications. "It's not a long putt for us to offer a comprehensive mass-notification system," said Shawn Laskoski, marketing leader, fire and communications for GE Security.
At the new convention center in Boston, one could get a sense of the scope of the show at a glance, as the entrance is one story above the show floor and the entire show floor is visible from the entrance. Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of communications, reported that more than 7,000 people, including exhibitors, attended this year's show. "There were 300 exhibitors and 150,000 gross square feet of exhibition space," she said.
In addition, Boston offered something at this show that other convention centers should emulate, free wireless Internet access from the show floor.