Towson U. Gets the Message Loud and Clear

A new centrally controlled fire alarm/emergency communications system ensures students, faculty, staff and visitors receive emergency communications during a disaster.

Practically every university, hospital and school near a major highway could be affected by a hazardous materials (hazmat) incident. Should there be a spill, leak or explosion of a toxic substance – either intentional or unintentional – school officials must be able to provide emergency information to everyone on campus so they can protect themselves.

In 2007, however, Towson University public safety administrators weren’t convinced they could meet this challenge.

“When weapons of mass destruction or the possibility of a hazmat incident came up, we had to ask ourselves if we could realistically notify the staff and student population of an emergency situation in time to make a real difference,” says Paul Parrish, Towson’s environmental health and safety officer.

This threat and the Virginia Tech shooting, which took place in the spring of that year, placed the school’s emergency communications system (ECS) project on a fast track.

Prior Systems Didn’t Provide Complete Coverage

At the time, the campus utilized a text messaging system to alert students, staff, parents and others. While such alerts reached a good portion of Towson’s population, university officials understood it was not a comprehensive solution.

“We also have an outdoor public address system consisting of five [speaker] towers,” says Parrish. “University Police recently installed them on select buildings to provide adequate campus-wide coverage, but we realized that this was not enough. We also needed emergency communications inside our buildings.”

The university already had standalone fire alarm emergency voice/alarm communications (EVAC) systems in half of its buildings. However, these systems operated independently, requiring users to be located within each building to activate communications.

According to Parrish, it was obvious the EVAC systems were not an effective option when faced with an immediate threat, such as a tornado alert or hazmat incident. Looking for guidance, Parrish approached the school’s fire protection contractor, Fireline Corp.

“I asked Fireline’s project manager, Mark Reedy, if there were any way to connect these EVAC systems together so we can make announcements from a single location on campus. He looked into the technical details and came to the conclusion that it could be done,” says Parrish.

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Integration of Different Equipment Controlled Costs

Per Towson’s specifications, Fireline worked to design a combination fire alarm/ECS with one point of monitoring and control. Making use of the individual fire alarm EVAC systems saved the school a substantial sum of time and money.

“Reedy’s firm installed the in-building ECS, which also is part of our campus-wide fire alarm system,” says Parrish. “Where the police department is responsible for the outdoor speaker system, I’m responsible for the emergency communications/fire alarm system.”

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