Internet protocol (IP) plays an increasingly large part in communications. Recently, schools have been adopting it, as IP has proven itself to be a beneficial, affordable and reliable technology.

IP is the system that allows electronic devices to find each other over a network. This Internet backbone also is responsible for enabling a local network to send multiple data and communication signals over the same cable. Schools are using IP for their audio requirements.

Evolved well beyond simple paging, many view campus-wide audio as a way to protect students and staff members by directly tying into other security and life safety systems.

“Places such as universities feel pressured these days to notify students as to what is going on,” said Andy Stadheim from Barix AG, Zurich, Switzerland, which specializes in research, development and the manufacture of IP-based audio and data. “Many have been using text messaging and cell phones, but what happens if a class is having a test and those devices are turned off?”

Such a common-sense approach helps explain why many are turning to other methods of notification.

“Right now, most schools are focused on security at the building level, things like access and control,” Stadheim said. “But, as we move forward, you will see more of a push down to the classroom level, and that is where the integration with audio comes in.”

The Annuncicom 100, an intercom device with voice over IP and SIP capability, is one of Barix’s most flexible products, according to Stadheim. It can be integrated as a centralized wall intercom to initiate security-related broadcasts on a university campus. SIP enhances the stability of devices operating on IP-based networks, thereby making them reliable enough to be used in security systems. Many universities are using these IP-connected devices with Barix’s Exstreamer 100 audio decoders for campuswide, point-to-multipoint emergency messaging, without the need for an expensive central server that requires constant upkeep and maintenance.

The Exstreamers, at various destination points, receive a centralized intercom call from a campus security office and decode the message. The message then is broadcast over existing PA systems in campus buildings, such as dormitories, gymnasiums and classroom buildings, to get the word out as quickly as possible in critical situations and with high audio clarity. The system also can be scaled to reach the individual classroom as the university’s budget allows, potentially adding SIP capability through an indexed directory with telephone extensions.

Stadheim also sees the use of IP cameras in conjunction with card access becoming more common.

“IP security cameras are at the building level right now, but we see them being used where the access-control points are,” Stadheim said. That would enable schools to not only monitor access, but to have visual data to back up the door-event records.

Since all notification is run over the same IP network, such systems have the ability to operate in conjunction with one another on an as-needed basis. One could have a panic button that a teacher presses, which would automatically set off a campuswide announcement, causing all devices on this network to move into emergency mode. They could accept and release the emergency announcements and automatically lock down buildings.

“Intelligent IP-connected devices performing everyday tasks in the classroom, and also integrated into a larger campuswide or community-based emergency system, is where I see things heading,” Stadheim said.

This type of system is beneficial for announcing natural dangers, such as storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and fires, and it also can alert students and faculty members to security issues, such as the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. In fact, such situations have finally pushed many to look for new, cost-effective, more comprehensive security announcement capabilities.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.