Last time, we discussed the importance of defining the mission in emergency communications, as well as the role of NFPA 1600 in the Accidental Deployment Offers Huge Emergency Planning Lessons blog. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how carefully-planned emergency communication system (ECS) messaging can help mitigate threats – and, in many cases, save lives.
Once an organization has completed its risk analysis in compliance with NFPA 1600, all stakeholders should be well aware of the various threats that the facility faces, whether they’re man-made, such as active shooters and vandalism, or natural, such as severe weather and earthquakes. Now that all the probable threats are laid out, how does the organization deal with them?
For schools, corporate campuses, healthcare facilities and more, it’s not enough to simply purchase and install an ECS; they must also be fully prepared to use it. Here are some of the main considerations integrators must keep in mind when working with ECS customers:
Specific messaging. Most leading emergency communications solutions offer eight or more distinct pre-defined messages, as well as the ability to provide live messaging. Most often, officials choose to have the first message be a pre-recorded alert that simply tells people what is happening (e.g. fire, tornado, etc.). This is quickly followed up by a live message that includes additional information, such as what to do, where to go and where exactly the emergency is taking place.
Communication method. A spoken announcement isn’t always the only (or best) way to get the word out about an emergency. It’s all a matter of getting relevant, pinpointed messaging to the right people, at the right time. Also consider whether other media would do the trick, including email, text messaging, TV feeds, social media, etc. Some facilities are even incorporating their computer screens and magic boards into their ECS, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
Tone of messages. The tone of an ECS message can be just as important as its content – especially in loud, crowded environments like college campuses. Keep in mind that male and female voices can convey very different tones; for example, female voices can seem more soothing, which is why they are predominantly used in informative messaging. Male voices, on the other hand, can be interpreted as more stern, so they are more often used for providing direction in an emergency situation.
Message length. Remember to keep most messages short and to the point. In an emergency, people need to know what’s happening and what to do as quickly as possible – especially if panic is setting in. Brevity is especially important if the message needs to repeat in several languages. However, do not forget that all pre-recorded messages should be followed up with a live message offering information and instructions that are specific to the emergency.
Stakeholders. Who is in charge of operating the ECS? Who will be making any live announcements through the system? Are they fully trained on how to use each feature? At each facility, someone needs to be responsible for the system and be prepared to quickly and confidently use it in an emergency situation. Depending on your customer, this might be a fire marshal, police or security official, or even school principal. To become familiar with the system, ensure that each stakeholder trains, tests – and repeats, frequently.
A plan of action. In many facilities, such as a high-rise apartment building, panic during an emergency can be deadly. Consider what information should be provided to residents, students or other occupants before an emergency ever occurs. For example, security officials could let occupants know that, in the event of an emergency, they’ll hear a pre-recorded alert, followed by a live announcement with further instructions. In certain settings, it’s better to only give a pre-recorded message, which allows various officials or stakeholders to take the appropriate subsequent action. This might work well in a school, where teachers follow a predetermined plan following the first ECS message.
As you walk each customer through these considerations, look to NFPA 1600 as a guideline. It will help end users hone in on the messaging that will result in exactly the response they’re looking for. By carefully considering all facets of an ECS, you’ll help your customers better protect their facilities, and minimize panic, injuries and loss of life.
About the Author
John Stofa has worked in the fire alarm and fire sprinkler industry for more than 20 years and is NICET certified. He joined Honeywell Fire Systems (HFS) in 2006 for which he currently serves as its Municipal Account Manager. John was a volunteer/call firefighter in the States of New York, Connecticut and Vermont and has been a professional EMS provider in New York State for 10 years. John holds a Bachelors degree in Fire Science, an Associate degree in Fire Protection Technology and is currently studying Fire Protection Engineering.