In the midst of a fire or disaster, citizens, students and employees need information on what to do and where to go.

Public safety, combined with a spate of legislation, is driving a push to buy and install emergency mass notification systems.

Involved is a variety of technologies because most end-users see a need to get the message out to citizens, students and customers through a variety of means. There is also a movement to standardize mass notification across regional areas. The security and communications approach also is spreading to enterprises, especially those on sprawling campuses or through computer networks.

For example, and five surrounding counties, including Bucks, , and , and , just launched an interoperable regional alerting system that can alert more than 5 million citizens residing in the nation’s fifth largest metropolitan area. It is based on Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN), known as ReadyNotifyPA ( for emergency mass notification. The background technology is from Cooper Notification.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and Bucks and Montgomery County Commissioner Chairs James F. Cawley and James R. Matthews, along with Delaware County Council Vice Chair John J. Whelan, announced ReadyNotifyPA in early April.

“Providing information to the public as quickly as possible is one of the most critical factors in saving lives and preventing injuries during an emergency, “said Mayor Nutter. “I am proud…to announce a public warning system that will greatly enhance emergency response in Bucks,

This is the second stage of the ReadyNotifyPA launch in and the surrounding counties, which is being deployed to the public. The first stage was launched to emergency management and public safety officials in the Southeastern Counter Terrorism Task Force last August. ReadyNotifyPA allows emergency management officials in southeastern and , to send e-mail, text messages, phone calls and faxes to the public via cell phones, pagers, Blackberries, PDAs and other mass notification media during an emergency.


The regional platform is fully integrated through the Roam Secure Information Exchange (RSIX). RSIX enables colleges and key businesses to tie into the county platform. For example, , a Cooper Notification customer, can tie into the and Delaware County RSAN systems. Similarly, a large oil and gas refinery in , is integrated with the system via RSIX. RSIX also automates a variety of alerts such as severe weather, traffic and river flood stage monitoring systems.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force is responsible for implementing ReadyNotifyPA. They funded this free service through a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Whether we are dealing with floods, winter storms or threats to homeland security, emergencies don’t stop at our borders,” said Delaware County Council Vice-Chair John J. Whelan. “Implementing a public warning system that transcends county lines will make our region better prepared for any kind of emergency.”

Houston TranStar, the Greater Houston Transportation and , has also launched its Roam Secure Alert Network for emergency notification. Transportation and emergency management personnel in Greater Houston can now quickly and reliably communicate via e-mail, text messaging and other channels and collaborate as they provide the transportation and emergency management services to the public.

As a partnership of four government agencies responsible for coordinating the planning, design and operations of transportation and emergency management in the Greater Houston region, Houston TranStar can use the technology for interagency notifications of localized roadway flooding, chemical plant explosions or public transit route diversions.

Priority one for is providing for the public safety of its more than 3.8 million diverse residents who live throughout its 1,728 square miles, said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. He serves as director of ’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. The mass notification system will also be used internally for transit issues by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County to improve communication with individual bus drivers.


As tragedies and public safety issues become more apparent, so has legislation to implement mass notification systems on campuses and public areas.

For example, recently passed legislation requiring colleges and universities to establish “comprehensive, prompt and reliable” first-warning and notification plans by January 2009. While other states are considering similar legislation, many campuses are proactively developing emergency mass notification systems to protect their staff and student populations.  The process can be complex.

“Comprehensive notification systems rely on multiple technologies to deliver time-sensitive critical information. Because campuses and public spaces need to make different decisions based on their size, location and layout, warning and notification systems will vary,” explained Gerry Gorman of Inova Solutions.  “All of these systems need to include a combination of visible and audible messaging to address the specific needs of students and staff in various locations.”


Use multiple technologies to deliver emergency messages, such as SMS/e-mail, public address and visual messaging. Students often do not read text/e-mail messages in real-time.  Plus, they may be required to turn off cell phones in class, and large buildings often reduce cell phone coverage.

Coordinate public address and textual messaging systems for optimal reach, especially for large congregation spaces like student unions, cafeterias and lecture halls to: minimize the impact of noise often accompanying a crisis and support the disabled population as required under the

For visual displays, LED is better than LCD screens to deliver crisp clear messages to large areas. LEDs are brighter and can be read easily at +100 feet, even through smoke and dust. LCDs have up to 20-foot viewing range. LED displays are more durable, with an expected life of 10 years, three time longer than LCDs. LED displays consume far less power that LCDs and Ethernet-powered displays can use redundant network power to survive outages.


Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) displays can be highly flexible, networked and centrally managed, and have impressive viewing capacity. PoE devices are easy to install and maintain, and are extremely energy efficient. In fact, PoE-powered displays and clocks can save up to 75 percent in energy costs compared to AC-powered displays, without sacrificing brightness.  The flexibility factor is huge:  Because there is no need for an AC outlet, the devices can be placed almost anywhere.

Organizations that need to communicate quickly with dispersed communities in public access areas such as college campuses, K-12 schools, hospitals, mass transit facilities and utility companies, see value in PoE. The devices are an economical, flexible and environmentally friendly source of power that enables emergency messaging to be managed centrally and remotely.”

There are mass notification systems completely driven over an enterprise network.

For example, Enterasys Networks’ Enterprise Notification System (ENS) transforms any network into a highly effective real-time notification system for every online user.  The on-demand alert system reaches every online user in a building or on a campus, regardless of whether they are a pre-registered student/employee or a visiting guest/contractor. Everyone connecting to the organization’s data network – managed or not – is automatically presented with on-screen emergency response instructions. The approach may be used to deliver important community emergency information such as AMBER alerts and weather information targeted to a specific area. ENS assures rapid delivery of consistent message information in a cost-effective manner when it matters most.

“Unfortunately, today’s government offices, school campuses and commercial buildings are environments increasingly at risk of violent crimes, terrorism, and natural disasters around the world,” said Rob Arnold, senior analyst for Enterprise Communications at Current Analysis. “The ENS enables more pervasive communications that complement existing voicemail, e-mail and text messaging approaches. The closed-loop system is unique by allowing online users to acknowledge receipt of the message while also providing a 'silent' feedback channel to first responders.”

A recent situation at in illustrates the pre-registration problem. In September 2007, a gunman on campus resulted in the university community being advised via a text messaging system to stay in classrooms and remain in buildings and offices until the campus could be secured. According to university spokesperson Dominic Scianna, before the incident 2,100 people had registered for emergency text messages. Now, there are 9,000. has a total student and faculty population of more than 21,500. Less than half of their community is pre-registered to receive text messaging alerts even after a major campus incident.


Once implemented, any authorized employee, emergency responder or law enforcement official can access the emergency mass notification system via an easy to use graphical interface following simple, intuitive instructions. The authorized individual creates the notification message, determines its severity (i.e., color-coded threat advisory), selects particular buildings/floors that will see the message, then transmits the message in seconds with a single click. All Web communications for every online user or temporary visitor will be redirected to the Web page, which displays the real-time notification message. Once the message has been read and acknowledged, the user/guest is routed back to their originally requested Web page in just one click. The system can also be configured as a “silent alarm” to enable teachers or employees to notify authorities of an emergency situation in real-time.

Designed to work with any existing multi-vendor data network infrastructure, ENS protects previous investments and requires no major reconfiguration or disruption to current network operations.

There is no doubt that college and university campuses are seeking emergency mass notification systems.

According to Simon Berman of AtHoc, a college campus is a world unto itself. Every day, a large population of students, professors and staff engage in a wide variety of activities and are constantly on the move in and around a campus. The environment is open, accessible and dynamic. Yet the same attributes that make a college campus unique present huge challenges for those tasked with protecting its population during an emergency. 

The , (UCLA) is representative of the daunting task facing university officials as they plan for and deploy an emergency alerting system. As one of the country’s largest universities, with a population in excess of 45,000 people, UCLA took a proactive approach to risk mitigation and emergency response. In addition to employing a highly trained security team, it embraced technology as part of the first line of defense. 

UCLA looked beyond traditional campus alerting solutions and reviewed how some of the most security-minded organizations in the world handled emergency alerting. In its research, UCLA identified a working list of criteria required for an emergency alerting system. At the top of that list were:


  • Unified and redundant multi-channel alerting
  • Scalability and speed of alert dissemination
  • Accurate and up-to-date contact information


UCLA evaluated numerous offerings and selected AtHoc IWSAlerts to expand its campus-wide emergency alerting capabilities. Deploying the system on-site, UCLA branded the system as “Bruin Alert.” Bruin Alert is now up and running to help protect the campus. 

No single alerting channel is likely to reach all people on campus. UCLA addressed this reality by selecting a multi-channel alerting system.