7 Steps to Effectively Deploying Panic Alarms: Part 1

Mobile duress systems provide an additional layer of safety to staff as well as valuable information to first responders.

According to OSHA, roughly two million Americans are victims of workplace violence every year, and campus environments such as hospitals and colleges are a challenge for security administrators to protect because they are open to the public at all times.

Further complicating the task of keeping people safe is that today’s workplace demands mobility because staff are always on the go. Enterprise mobile duress (EMD) systems are designed to be used in campus settings to provide an additional layer of safety for people by using duress transmitters and integrated software applications to manage the alerting function to responders. However, not all EMD systems are created equal, so it is important for security administrators to understand how to specify and deploy a system that will best fit the needs of their campuses.

1. Determine What You Need
As with any security solution, the first step in selecting the right system is to determine the key requirements for the application. With EMD applications, one of the most important parts of the needs assessment is deciding the locations that need to be covered by the system. Violence can occur in any location within a building, including hallways and stairwells, or anywhere on a campus such as parking lots or common areas. Because of this, and the fact that employees require mobility to do their jobs, it is important to define all the areas that require system coverage.

Other key needs to evaluate include determining which employees require protection with a dedicated mobile duress transmitter. For instance, in a hospital, security administrators might determine that only staff in emergency and behavioral health departments require mobile transmitters but those in the critical care department do not. There are some areas of campus environments that may be more prone to violence, and security administrators may elect to cover those areas and staff exclusively instead of covering the entire staff roster. Areas such as a pharmacy, where valuable assets are stored, any place where cash is exchanged, or areas that have a high mix of public traffic, such as a hospital emergency room, can all be considered higher risk. Since violence in the workplace may also be the result of a volatile home situation following a staff member to work, human resources may express a need to protect people dealing with restraining orders or other potentially violent circumstances.

Consideration should also be made regarding the current emergency response for workplace violence throughout the campus. An enterprise mobile duress system should possess the flexibility to operate as a standalone notification tool or tie into existing communication, evacuation and other response protocols that are already engrained in the campus policies and procedures. They should also provide a means to escalate notification and prioritize alert distributions based on event criticality.

Cost and potential savings are always key considerations when evaluating any system, and an EMD system is no exception. Evaluating your investment should begin with an assessment of how well the system addresses the key needs outlined above, such as system coverage, number of staff with dedicated transmitters, notification options, and how well it integrates with existing response protocols within the campus. Cost savings, on the other hand, might include reducing employee turnover, workers’ compensation claims, and even costly litigation related to workplace violence. Both are viable considerations for specifying an enterprise mobile duress system into a campus, but the ultimate decision should be rooted in the system’s ability to keep people safe throughout their entire workplace environment.

2. Select a System Based on Your Needs
At its simplest, an enterprise mobile duress system consists of four components:

  1. a wireless duress alarm transmitter used to send an alarm in the case of an emergency
  2. a wireless network to carry the alarm signal
  3. a collection device, sometimes referred to as a head-end, to receive the alarm
  4. an integrated software application to manage the alarms and disseminate alerts to responders

There are a number of systems in the market that offer mobile duress solutions using this basic framework. Because the main purpose of an EMD system is to ensure the safety of the people carrying the duress transmitter and determine their location during an emergency, some are better equipped than others in a fit-for-purpose evaluation. Of those systems that tout mobile duress capabilities, several are asset tracking systems commonly referred to as “RTLS” or Real Time Location Systems. While those systems can increase efficiency in terms of asset tracking or patient flow, they might not be ideal for protecting people on a campus.

Wireless communication, no doubt a key element, is also an area that needs further understanding. The term wireless has many connotations. Most people associate it with cell and smart phones for voice and data communications, with wireless devices powered by Bluetooth technology, or with Internet connectivity in the form of WiFi hot spots. Navigating the ins and outs of wireless technologies and understanding which ones are best suited for an EMD system can be daunting. The three main wireless types used by EMD systems today are WiFi, Infrared (IR) and 900MHz radio frequency (RF).

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