With increasing emphasis on getting emergency messages out to identified populations as well as allowing people to call for help more quickly and easily, the emergency telephone has suddenly taken on the profile of the burst of features in personalized cell phones.

Emergency telephones at colleges, universities, hospitals and airports, for example, have for a long time allowed people to press a button to call for help. Emerging tech updates now include integration to security video, so cameras can instantly turn to the phone to capture images; running the phones on the IP backbone or wirelessly; hooking up the phones to solar panels for standalone power; and equipping the phones so they can also broadcast mass notification messages throughout a campus or to a specific geographic area.

Whole communities are catching up.

For example, the City of Gainesville, Texas, is working with Emergency Com-
munications Network of Ormond Beach, Fla., for what the town calls CodeRED or Reverse 9-1-1. It’s a high-speed telephone emergency notification service, which gives city officials the ability to deliver pre-recorded messages to targeted areas or the entire city at a rate of up to 60,000 calls per hour.


The twist in this application is that businesses and residents must “opt-into” the system. These people must add their own phone numbers directly to the system’s telephone database. Another downside: A fast moving storm would probably hit the city before residents could receive warnings from CodeRED.

In some communities that use reverse 9-1-1 calls to spread warnings, technology is more slowly making inroads, thanks to the challenges of cellular telephones. About 16 percent of households no longer are tethered to the traditional phone system, according to Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association. For law enforcement, it is easier for 9-1-1 when the phone can’t move – a static location, a given location.

For emergency telephone systems that are on stanchions or mounted to garage walls, it is both a way for people to call for assistance but, more recently, a way to integrate with security video and mass notification.

In the college and university arena, new federal law, embedded into reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, requires that “current campus policies regarding immediate emergency response” be built upon a security protocol in which the proper authorities are enabled to “immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or staff occurring on the campus.”


Although emergency phone systems were once used solely for students to initiate calls to security authorities, now authorities are mandated to be equipped with the technical capability to immediately initiate calls and communicate emergency information to members of the staff and student body.

A solution comes from Loyola University of Chicago, first covered in March by Security Magazine, in which security leaders there strive to maintain their urban campuses while continuing to advance its mass-notification capabilities.

Loyola selected an IP-based Wide-area Emergency Broadcast System from Talk-A-Phone. Whether security authorities want to loudly broadcast information through the open air to the campus at large, or, to specific areas as-needed, officials can control the scale of their mass notifications with the technology.

The Emergency Phone Connection

Loyola’s mass notification system will be built upon an already existing network of ADA-compliant emergency phones. The university’s emergency phones are located in a variety of places including exterior walkways, residence hall entrances and in the buildings themselves. In addition to being able to have high-power concealed horns in a emergency telephone tower, there are numerous designs such as high-power speakers for venues where clear one-way communications are desired and the power of two concealed high-powered side-speakers, allowing 180º coverage.