Mass notification systems (MNS) are at the cutting edge of emergency response planning technology. Their purpose is to go beyond simply alerting people to the existence of potential or real disaster by ringing bells and making prerecorded announcements. In a modern MNS, both the people at risk and those charged with protecting them can be alerted using e-mail, phone calls, text messages, and announcements specifically targeted to a person's location and/or response role. (Note: Such systems should be in conformance with National Fire Protection Association Standard 72, which governs national fire alarm and signaling codes.)
A case in point: Gamewell-FCI's E3 Series Expandable Emergency Evacuation system includes MNS functions that can be a major aid to responding EMS agencies. This is because "the Gamewell-FCI E3 Series system can be configured to meet the NFPA 72 standard as either a stand-alone fire alarm, an in-building voice evacuation, an in-building MNS, or a combination system," says John Weaver, Gamewell-FCI's marketing director. "When configured as a combination fire/MNS system, it overrides the fire alerting function to allow zoned live or recorded emergency messages." The E3 Series combination fire/MNS system can also send localized messages and site status information through standard central station dialers or IP connection, or via a central control unit when integrated to a wide-area MNS.
That's just the beginning: The E3's in-building MNS features can be integrated into the Gamewell-FCI FocalPoint graphic workstation, which provides specific alarm information to agencies with authorized access, including EMS. "Situation status messages as well as localized information regarding hazardous areas, conditions of occupants, and more can be communicated real-time via e-mail, phone, radio, or other distributed recipient technologies," Weaver notes. "This should include EMS personnel so they can either provide treatment to those in need of urgent medical care, with the goal of satisfactorily treating the presenting conditions, or arranging for timely removal of the patient to the next point of definitive care."
The FocalPoint system also provides location-specific information on the presence of hazardous materials or processes catalogued for documented sites. This data can warn EMS responders to take appropriate precautions before they enter the incident scene.
Of course, such functionality doesn't happen spontaneously, For EMS agencies to have access to MNS data during emergencies, they must have previously arranged to be connected to the system. In other words, if your agency wants to be connected to a college-based MNS so that you can receive accurate situational data, you must establish these connections and access permissions long before disaster strikes.
"All relevant EMS agencies should be involved along with other first responders and public safety officials in the planning stage," says Weaver. "In this way, a command and control function can be established that includes EMS among the recipients of the alerts and 'situation room' real-time communication and coordination. This can usually be done by interfacing existing communications infrastructure."
Granted, it takes time and effort for EMS agencies to contact large facilities equipped with MNS, and to arrange to tap into these systems before disaster strikes. But the effort does pay off.
"The Gamewell-FCI E3 Series system installed at the U.S. Army base at Ft. Knox was put to test during an ice storm in January 2009," says Weaver. "Many aerial power and telephone lines collapsed under the weight of the ice. The base used radio technology incorporated into the local E3 Series system's MNS to help ensure critical information reached all personnel. This included their relocation plan and setting up shelters. Although a specific medical emergency did not result from this weather calamity, the base command and control system ensured that EMS personnel were alerted and on standby to support as needed."