Voice Evacuation vs. Mass Notification — Which Is Right for Your Commercial Space?
The 2010 edition of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code was the first edition to allow the use of fire alarm notification systems to communicate other information in buildings during the event of non-fire emergencies. This information is typically distributed throughout a building via visual and audio methods.
In-building emergency notification methods include fire alarm voice evacuation systems and mass notification systems (MNS). While these are two distinct functions for NFPA 72, both may well be folded into a single comprehensive safety system. Usually, MNS requirements may also be integrated into a fire alarm system.
Basic Fire Alarm Notification
The primary purpose of the fire alarm voice notification system is single and straightforward — to inform occupants of the existence of a fire and manage safe evacuation. This may also include dispensing specific instructions for evacuation by particular routes to avoid contact with smoke or fire. However, the end goal for any fire alarm notification system is to clear the building of all occupants.
The Next Level: Mass Notification Systems The Mass Notification
System concept was primarily initiated by the events of 9/11 where there was a lack of organized systems to sustain communications within a building and to guide occupants to safety.
Mass Notification Systems may activate from a variety of threats other than a fire. Events that might trigger an MNS include an active shooter on the premises or nearby, a riot or civil disturbance in the immediate area and severe weather, such as a tornado or an environmental hazard like a toxic spill. Some MNS events can be quite mundane, such as a water pipe rupture.
To Evacuate or Not
While instructions issued by a fire alarm voice notification system are limited, a Mass Notification System may give more detailed information as to the exact nature of the alert and the recommended action. Unlike the fire alarm system, an MNS alert may not instruct occupants to evacuate. Instead, a “shelter in place” scenario may specifically advise occupants not to leave the building, and in some cases, may precede a lockdown of the premises to exclude an external threat.
In-Building Vs. Wide Area
The hardware utilized in a Mass Notification System includes many of the same elements in a fire alarm voice evacuation system. However, MNS equipment can be broken down into in-building system networks and wide area systems.
Generally, the in-building notifications will piggyback on the fire alarm notification system’s network. However, the audio and visual appliances that disperse alerts for each system will be clearly distinct from one another.
For example, fire alarm strobes will be visually marked as “Fire” and will not used to signify any event other than fire. However, MNS strobes will be indicated by a more generic marking such as “Alert” and may be activated to inform occupants of a wide variety of other issues as mentioned above.
Wide-area notification systems are appropriate if the covered area extends beyond building interior to exterior grounds, connecting walkways, parking areas or a campus environment. The use of wide-area systems may integrate high powered speakers to extend the range of an audio alert.
Outdoor strobes may also be installed on the grounds. More and more wide area systems for MNS are utilizing greater technology. For example, distributed recipient mass notification systems (DRMNS) take advantage of communication methods familiar to the public, such as texts received on cell phones, mass e-mailings and the use of reverse 911 notices.
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