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Ara Beurekjian

9-11 first responder: Mass notification 'might have made a difference that day'

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Friday, May 4, 2012

I just got back from an emergency management seminar in Burlington, Mass. sponsored by Notifier by Honeywell. The May 3 event opened with remarks from Thomas Von Essen, who was New York City’s fire commissioner at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, about the importance of mass notification/emergency communication systems.

Von Essen spoke for only about 10 minutes, but hearing from someone so involved in the experiences of that terrible day about how mass notification/ECS might have changed the outcome in some way really made his message hit home for me.

Von Essen said that after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993—when a truck bomb exploded below the North Tower—the emergency plan “was to keep everyone in one building if something happened to the other one.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, that plan proved fatal for some occupants of the South Tower, which was hit after the North Tower. Von Essen said that because of the plan—and the erroneous belief the South Tower was the safer place to be, even though it ended up collapsing first—when occupants of that tower reached the lobby, emergency responders sent them back up.

“Many people followed instructions. Those people were lost that day,” he said.

After 9-11, Von Essen said, “I saw a presentation on mass notification and emergency communication systems [which allow for a variety of real-time response plans based on a range of different emergency events], and I thought, ‘Wow, this is what might have made a difference that day.’”

The seminar was sixth of a series of eight such seminars being offered around the country, Peter Ebersold, Notifier’s director of marketing, told me. “It’s really an opportunity to get out and educate,” he said. The remaining two seminars are later this month, one in Walnut Creek, Calif. and one in Redmond, Wash.

The seminars, which are being taught by Jack Poole, a fire protection engineer and member of the NFPA 72 Technical Committee and which offer CPD credits, are drawing everyone from fire dealers to engineers to end users.

I got the chance to speak to some fire dealers attending.

Among those I met was Ara Beurekjian, president, Fire Command Systems of Peabody, Mass., which started in 2010 and has four employees.

One interesting project that his company is currently working on is a new Residence Inn by Marriott at Fenway Park in Boston, home of the Red Sox. He said that project involves the installation of a new Notifier smoke/CO detector with a sounder. The fact that the new product was available “was one of the factors that allowed us to provide a solution for them,” Beurekjian told me.

He said the advantages include the fact that it’s a single device, it’s fully intelligent and involves less wiring, so is easier to install and less costly for the end user.

I also spoke to Jim Yantosca Sr., founder of Northeast Integrated Systems of Malden, Mass., and his son, Jim Yantosca Jr. The company will have been in business 30 years this August and has between 15 to 22 employees.
Among the company’s clients are high rises and higher education campuses in Boston and the surrounding area.

They said mass notification is becoming an increasingly robust market in the area, and that a mass notification system can readily be added to an existing fire alarm system, even if it’s two decades old or so. Northeast made such upgrades at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. and at Northeastern University in Boston, Jim Yantosca Jr. told me. “We had them up to a situation where they could use mass notification within days.”

I also talked to Jack Welch of Wel-Design Alarm Systems of Wilbraham, Mass., a company founded by his father in 1978 that now has about 18 employees. The company, whose biggest verticals are education, prisons and hospitals, also opened an office in Rhode Island last year, he said.

He said one trend he’s noticed in fire right now is that a lot of public projects that were put on hold during the recession now suddenly have the green light. “The public sector in the fire world” is where there’s a lot of business right now, Welch said.