Canadian Consulting Engineer

Mass Notification Systems

March 1, 2011
By Dan Bilodeau, Siemens Canada, Building Technologies Division

Mass Notification System (MNS) involves leveraging an organization's infrastructure by ensuring that their current systems, devices, protocols, and procedures operate as one unit, sometimes at the touch of a button. A mass notification system...

Mass Notification System (MNS) involves leveraging an organization’s infrastructure by ensuring that their current systems, devices, protocols, and procedures operate as one unit, sometimes at the touch of a button. A mass notification system can be an instant communication pathway to people through underused assets; a system comprising existing systems.

Most of the safety benefits of mass notification systems are clear. They are a fundamental tool in enabling a quick and effective response to any emergency or other dangerous situation.

Mass notification systems allow emergency responders to manage groups of people whether the situation is caused by dangerous weather conditions, threatening individuals, or hazards resulting from a building electrical or mechanical failure.

The systems are used in many different settings such as college and university campuses, commercial buildings, hospitals, military bases, and industrial facilities. The best systems can be customized for the unique challenges of an organization.

Integrating MNS with other systems

There is a wealth of capable devices that are not currently configured for mass notification systems, such as fire systems, security systems, HDTV, phone systems and smart phones, indoor and outdoor voice systems and digital signage. These can all be combined with the organization’s IT network. The applications of mass notification systems can handle many daily tasks automatically, including essential communications within the organization, plus internal and external mass notifications.

Hospital administrators, for example, have started integrating MNS with their other communication systems. One application includes the coordination of staff to special triage areas during a sudden influx of injured patients, as in the case of a severe traffic accident.

Different groups – different messages

A properly implemented MNS allows an organization to reach different groups of people using the most appropriate method for each situation; it has the possibility of sending different messages to separate groups if necessary. The range of options includes using systems within the buildings, devices on the exterior of the site, and individuals’ personal mobile communication devices.

Some organizations, for example, connect the MNS to the computer network, allowing the system to provide discrete alerts to individuals right at their desks. The messages tell recipients not only the nature of the emergency, but also detailed evacuation instructions, such as to avoid a specific stairwell or section of the building.

Video monitors throughout the campus can be instantly converted to message centres which also provide maps and exit instructions that are updated in real time as the situation evolves. Electronic message signs provide the same function on the exterior of the buildings within a campus setting.

Linking the MNS to individuals’ mobile devices allows two-way communications, which enables tracking of key personnel during an emergency situation. Real-time updates from responders are processed and distributed to the rest of the network.

Non-emergency uses – maintenance and traffic flow

A well designed MNS provides the same level of service in situations that are not emergencies. For example, college and university campuses can re-purpose the mass notification system’s control of exterior electronic signs to manage traffic flow during large events such as football games.

Some campus-based organizations are using a mass notification system to coordinate maintenance personnel. The two-way communication allows the organization to set up electronic reporting for maintenance tasks, thereby reducing paperwork and saving time. Sorting and evaluating the maintenance data is also more efficient and allows the facility managers to identify potential problems early on. cce

Dan Bilodeau is an emergency management specialist with Siemens Canada in Calgary. He was a guest speaker for BOMA at the Buildex Calgary conference in 2010. E-mail


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