A hostage situation can occur almost anywhere, anytime. But communication systems alert a building’s occupants to evacuate or take other appropriate action. Effective security requires a multi-faceted approach and considers the environment and vulnerabilities inside and out, including those for staff and visitors who use the facility. Communications systems are integral, providing effective security and safety.

Schools, correctional facilities, universities, industrial and institutional sites are probably part of your electrical work. These customers can benefit from communication systems that keep personnel in touch, or provide instant paging and supervisory signaling. There’s higher demand for supervised paging, which offers the ability to alert a security guard or other personnel that a specific speaker is malfunctioning or not working.

There’s also a niche for electrical contractors to offer many of these products to clients with upper- and high-end custom or vacation homes. Consider the entire genre of sound systems, home theater, music and other entertainment functions of whole-house audio and intercoms.

Intercoms, paging and communication systems can consist of anything from the simplest telephone desk-style systems to the more elaborate digital and microprocessor-based control units. They can interface with paging systems for emergency signaling or duress functions, or serve as stand-alone emergency systems suited for an outdoor environment and a parking garage or remote location.

Low-voltage products come in a host of price ranges and functions for a myriad of applications. Just as with other low-voltage products, intercoms and paging systems have the flexibility that allows an electrical contractor to extend his niche just a little further into voice/data/video (VDV).

T&T Electric Co. Inc. in Pueblo, Colo., operates an Electrical Installation & Maintenance Division and a separate VDV Division, installing fiber optics, fire alarms, nurse-call devices, data communications, intercoms and paging and telephone interconnected systems.

“We target the high concentration of corrections facilities as well as schools and industrial customers with intercoms and paging systems,” said Tom Brown, senior project manager.

Intercoms and paging systems have seen technological advancements, he said, and can provide many easy-to-use features at a lower overall cost than before. Being able to offer electrical wiring, data and communications and other low-voltage work to customers as a turnkey package is a selling point in the company’s favor, he added.

Integrated building systems technology advances

New electronics and multiplexing capabilities allow equipment to do more than ever before. Small and unobtrusive telephone-style systems are less costly and still allow for anything from private conversation to whole-facility paging and addressing. But one of the biggest reasons for the growth is the need for integrated building and systems technology, including communications.

Integration of telephone and computer technologies and more enables communications systems to work with cameras or function with access control and even building automation. For example, pressing a designated key on the phone or intercom can activate an emergency signaling tone—an unobtrusive alarm that alerts occupants to vacuate slowly without forewarning an intruder.

The digital revolution has also made its mark. It provides clear communication and immunity from interference. Hands-free or two-way voice communication is available through an entire facility, or across wide geographical areas. Digital allows the system to be non-blocking, which means its stations may be used simultaneously and exchanges can be installed with copper or fiber optic cabling.

The convergence of intercoms and paging systems with telephones and computers continues to open up a world of application possibilities. The traditional school intercom handles two-way communication, but now a screen or window can pop up on the computer, indicating that a call has been initiated and from whom. The call can then be redirected via computer.

Communications systems have truly become state-of-the-art, and intercom and paging systems are an important part of the move to integration and providing a safe and secure environment. EC

O’MARA is the owner of DLO Communications Inc. in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in the low-voltage industry. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@flash.net. If you’re involved in fire and life safety systems, please contact the author.