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What is Mass Notification?

Mass Notification is a term first used by the U.S. Department of Defense in the Khobar Tower Report to describe a system that issues live or recorded messages instructing occupants of protected areas on how best to reduce their risk of personal harm in potentially life-threatening situations.

The DoD document that brought Mass Notification to the forefront of modern building design is Unified Facilities Criteria 4-021-01: Design and Operation of Mass Notification Systems. This document establishes minimum requirements for Mass Notification to be used for the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and modernization of all DoD facilities. UFC 4-021-01 defines Mass Notification as:“…the capability to provide real-time information and instructions to people, in a building, area, site, or installation using intelligible voice communications including visible signals, text, and graphics, and possibly including other tactile or other communication methods.”

Backup power supplies, redundant wiring, and fail-safe peer-to-peer networks — time-tested features of fire alarm systems — are also essential to be well-designed.

Mass Notification systems. Meanwhile, code-driven development and stringent standards-driven testing provide the built-in quality that make fire alarm panels and devices among the most reliable electronic equipment available today.

Mass Notification demands a robust communications infrastructure that goes far beyond what’s typically found among garden variety paging systems. Even output devices like speakers and strobes require special consideration. In fact, circuit integrity monitoring — an established fire alarm requirement — provides the reliability necessary to ensure that the Mass Notification system remains viable and ready for service at all times. So it comes as little surprise that a fire alarm based solution is the most economical choice when adding Mass Notification applications to basic building fire alarm requirements.

Fire Alarm and Mass Notification: Common Ground

While fire alarm and Mass Notification address different kinds of dangers, they share similar objectives.

Fire is a specific threat that usually has a single point of origin from which it spreads. Fire alarm systems are designed to manage building evacuations based on this scenario, and may incorporate the use of voice audio communications in larger facilities.

Mass Notification, on the other hand, deals with different threats. Building evacuation isn’t always the best solution in the face of coordinated terrorist attacks, or sweeping risks from chemical spills, or all-encompassing dangers of natural disasters. These situations require different management strategies that take a multi-dimensional approach.

While fire alarm and Mass Notification systems appear to serve different purposes, they both share a common goal – to warn people of danger and provide them with information they need to stay safe. More importantly, fire alarm and Mass Notification systems share a need for the same basic equipment and other requirements including: recorded messages, HVAC control, integrity monitoring, routine maintenance, and agency listings.

These common requirements permit leveraging the mandated survivability and inherent reliability of fire alarm systems for Mass Notification purposes. Thanks to its functional pedigree, the fire alarm infrastructure is eminently well-suited to provide the robust backbone needed for Mass Notification activity.