A high-rise fire in Chicago. Homeland security’s color-coded terror alert system. Routine evacuation of airport terminals. Notification of potential bad weather to office workers in southern Florida. Before that, the tragedy of New York’s World Trade Center.

Security executives and law enforcement officials now realize that community alerts, warnings and evacuation announcements must be accurate, delivered very quickly, easily understood and sent in a diversity of ways. Even more challenging, such messages many times must vary in their content based on the location of people (the east building or floor seven vs. the north building or floor 38) and the role of people impacted by the warning or involved in the evacuation.

Quincy, Mass.-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a worldwide membership organization providing fire, electrical and life safety information, has increasingly encouraged facilities to better prepare themselves, their tenants, employees and visitors for emergencies and evacuations.

Although not mandated for all buildings, NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, requires that workplaces, healthcare facilities, educational institutions and other occupancies provide evacuation/relocation plan information and routinely schedule and hold drills when practicable.

Alerting and evacuation technology, especially recent introductions, now plays a crucial role, too.

Common to new tech approaches: quick, customized messages delivered to specific people using numerous message-receiving devices.

One example, based on wireless communications and community coverage, comes from MadahCom of Sarasota, Fla., which has developed a wireless audio/visual emergency community alerting system called WAVES CAS. It broadcasts safety sirens, live and recorded voice messages and visual alerts via wireless networks that warn and inform groups of people what to do in an emergency or disaster.

Within the design is a high-speed notification system that can automatically contact people by telephone, pager, FAX and email.

Officials at The Smithsonian Institution, the Statue of Liberty and more than 100 military bases use the approach to routinely message and update personnel as well as alert them in the case of an emergency.

Another unique technological approach takes advantage of the proliferation of networked personal computers and laptops within an office building or facility.

Amsterdam Airport (Schiphol), the fourth-largest in Europe, now uses an emergency alert server to instantly inform and instruct airport employees and visitors of emergencies and evacuations. The server software, from Netpresenter, a European firm with a New York City office, can send an emergency broadcast to every personal computer, television or plasma display in a facility or campus of buildings. Different messages can be targeted to meet complex requirements. In addition to the airport, organizations such as Ford Motor Co., Philip Morris, Unilever and Volkswagen use the technology.

Placing emergency notices on computer screens also fits into another challenge of emergency communications. NFPA stresses the need to have occupant familiarity with emergency and evacuation plans through knowledge and practice.

For security executives, that translates to continuing training and awareness by employees. By using software such as Netpresenter, screensavers sent from the security operation remind employees of their need for constant vigilance.

Some emergency communication advances extend into specialty end-user areas such as school security.

For instance, various school districts worked with Honeywell Building Solutions of Minneapolis on automated emergency notification, which enables schools to instantly broadcast information about an emergency situation to parents and guardians through the communication devices of their choice such as email, cell phone and pager. Parents can update contact information via a Web interface. Schools provide alternative methods for parents who do not have Internet access.