Most people still equate public address systems with the loud, tinny horn systems of the past. The quality and stability of these systems has certainly improved. In campus-type environments—whether they are true campuses in the educational sense or large corporate campuses—loudspeakers play an integral role for mass notification, and they need to be impermeable to the surrounding weather conditions.

Contractors have been installing address systems for some time. Still, changes have occurred through the advent and acceptance of Internet protocol and the need for interoperable systems, which bring further opportunities.

Karl von Kries, president of Technomad, a Boston-based manufacturer of weatherproof loudspeakers and PA systems, said the PA aspect of a mass notification system should essentially be plug-and-play, with a user-friendly, turnkey system design allowing contractors to have the system up and running quickly.

“Contractors should be able to go into a mass notification job for a community or on a multibuilding campus with few concerns, and those concerns are further alleviated with an interoperable end-to-end architecture from the origination point to the loudspeakers,” von Kries said. “IP-based systems for mass notification are gaining in popularity because of the reliability and flexibility for point to multipoint systems, where live voice or prerecorded messages are streamed to loudspeakers at multiple destination points. A contractor could use our Ethernet link kit to stream to multiple speakers in and around the perimeter of a single building and even throughout entire campuses.”

A big benefit of using a system such as Technomad’s link kit in an IP-based architecture is redundancy, which is achieved by adding twisted-pair connections to the system. The redundant nature of a mass notification system is crucial to ensure the message gets out in an emergency situation.

“The military uses twisted-pair link kit technology for redundancy purposes as messages are broadcast across a military base or camp,” von Kries said. “The twisted-pair configuration ensures that the system still works if the LAN connection goes south.”

Improvements in mass notification systems for the commercial security market are directly related to the military. The military has adopted these improvements partly because the legacy systems were both loud and unintelligible—similar to those shown in the old sitcom MASH. The newer versions actually make announcements sound good. In fact, sound quality has so greatly improved that PA systems for mass notification on campuses or in transportation centers or communities can be used for music playback.

Notifications also have drastically advanced. For example, Technomad’s Superconductor MP3 player and recorder adds reliability to playback of prerecorded messages by replacing computer-based hard disk systems, which eliminates the risks of viruses or crashes. Campus security and other security professionals can use the player aspect to loop prerecorded messages over PA systems to announce evacuations and warnings.

Such systems also offer more resiliency than prior versions, von Kries said. Since Technomad primarily serviced the military and its products were tested and approved as military grade, the weatherproofing ability is superior in contrast to older systems.

At what cost?

Price is one hindrance to such systems being specified and installed. The material types and assured quality have higher price tags, and these are not your average commodity type of product.

“Our systems are built using high-quality materials, and they have had the daylights tested out of them,” von Kries said.

The significance of the improvements in technology, coupled with the emphasis on improving emergency messaging systems, is causing universities, corporate campuses and even transportation centers to take a closer look at upgrading existing systems.

“The purpose of mass notification is to get the message out loud and clear and save lives in the event of a potential disaster, whether it’s a tornado warning, confirmed gunshots or another dangerous situation,” von Kries said. “Organizations around the world are paying more attention to how they get the message out, and the improvement in technology for this space is being noticed.”

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