Magazine

Emergency Communications: Is it Time for VoIP to Shine?

By Alek Kireyenka

For DePaul University in Chicago, upgrading to VoIP emergency phones was not a hard decision to make. Founded in 1898, it’s the largest private institution in the city, with more than 23,000 students.
“Fortunately, I’m set in an institution that is big on safety,” said Bob Wachowski, the school’s Director of Public Safety. “There is a capital funding program in place, and DePaul has come a long way. The university administration is very supportive of my [department’s] needs, and that is unique.”
Wachowski recently upgraded its analog emergency phones to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) emergency phones. The new VoIP 500 Series phones are SIP-compatible and work on DePaul’s IP PBX system.
The units are ultra-bright all-LED Blue Lights, featuring exceptional 209 lumens peak rating and prismatic pattern to enhance visibility at greater distances. All-LED construction of the unit significantly increases its life span, providing reliable service for years to come.
Analog phones are being removed from college dormitories for a variety of reasons. Students don’t use them because they have cell phones. In an emergency, equipment failure due to the age of the analog phones can quickly turn into a liability. The cost to maintain legacy infrastructure might finally outweigh the upgrade option, prompting the change. Or it could also be a pure desire to standardize on IP.
Whichever the case, the problem is anything but trivial. Phasing out legacy emergency communications capability without a migration plan can cut the vital link between those seeking help and security personnel. The importance of such a communications channel cannot be overstated from both legal and public relations perspective.
So what are the options? Phones can be installed in dormitory hallways for emergency use. VoIP is quickly becoming a de-facto standard for communications on IP networks, so naturally office VoIP telephony, as it’s called, is viewed as an alternative for emergency communications. However, business-grade VoIP phones do not possess the necessary durability, are not designed with emergency communications in mind, and are not ADA-compliant.
The proper way is to embrace and benefit from IP while keeping reliable emergency communications a priority. Upgrading to VoIP emergency communications is an attractive and inexpensive option because most campuses are equipped with necessary IP infrastructure.
Emergency phones in classrooms
The situation in college classrooms is slightly different, yet it resonates with the issue of migration to alternative technology.
Traditionally, classrooms are equipped with announcement speakers only, leaving emergency communications out of the picture. But what if the students or staff inside a classroom need to reach out to campus security due to emergency?
With growing safety concerns on campus and massive adoption of mass-notification technology over existing IP infrastructure, it’s reasonable to offer two-way communication capability inside classrooms.
ADA-compliant, native VoIP emergency phones serve a dual role. On one hand, they are reliable and robust emergency communications devices with unparalleled flexibility to work on SIP-compliant VoIP networks.
On the other hand, these emergency phones are durable and loud paging speakers, capable of outputting more than 100dB. They also can be integrated with the WEBS Contact software, also from Talk-A-Phone, to form a powerful multi-layer mass-notification solution.
Selling the upgrade
As facilities are going IP for building-wide use, it becomes economical to install VoIP emergency phones in hallways, stairwells and elevators along with IP-based video surveillance and access control systems. Such phones are designed for emergency situations; thus, their primary function is to establish reliable communications in the time of crisis. ADA-compliant, their ruggedness also gives passers-by a sense of security.
“Our biggest crime is theft of unattended items,” DePaul’s Wachowski said. “But some of our issues occur late at night, so the phone towers assist the students.
“I recently met with the student government association to help [my department] promote use of them. Our campus tour guides already promote them. We like to make [sure that] every student is aware of the emergency call towers.”
IP does empower communications. And now that emergency phones are available with VoIP, security professionals can take full advantage of their IP infrastructure.
Alek Kireyenka, Marketing Manager for Talk-A-Phone, can be reached at akireyenka@talkaphone.com.

Article Abstract from September, 2011




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