The first emergency warning systems were developed to respond to war and massive fires. As time, building standards, technology and life safety systems advanced, fiery disasters became the exception rather than the rule. Therefore, reactive warning systems evolved to become emergency communication systems (ECSs) and an opportunity for electrical contractors as part of a security system installation.


An ECS quickly generates a message at the exact site of an emergency and provides information that assists people in taking life-saving action, according to Timothy Means, director of product management for Metis Secure Solutions Inc., Oakmont, Pa. 


“ECSs are targeting information to specific locations, making intelligible voice announcements and minimizing message delivery speeds to ensure that emergency information is relevant to the situation,” he said.


While traditional fire alarm systems are also localized and great at getting people’s attention, they do not provide detailed information. And, although some manufacturers of fire safety equipment make voice evacuation systems, they can be very expensive. 


“Today’s modern ECSs provide a marriage of information, location and speed that legacy systems do not,” Means said.


Trends and drivers


Interoperability is both a technology trend in and a driver of the ECS market. It is the market’s Holy Grail. 


“Interoperability, which is obtained through an application program interface embedded in the system, enables disparate systems to work together and send the relevant information to building inhabitants and those outside the building,” said Ted Milburn, vice president of marketing for Cooper Notification, Sarasota, Fla. 


Market demands also include reliability and more effective integrated systems. 


“Owners want the ECS to be integrated with existing paging systems, as well as with fire systems, command centers or other personnel alerting systems,” he said.


Building owners also are examining combination fire and ECS systems in an effort to reduce operating and installation costs, eliminate duplicate functionality, and improve security and reliability, said Mike Madden, national sales manager for the Gamewell-FCI brand from Honeywell Fire Systems. 


“While traditional paging systems are not supervised and easily breached, combination fire and ECS are designed for higher survivability, and any faults in the system are immediately reported by the fire alarm component,” he said.


As with other security system components, such as cameras, ECSs developers and planners are incorporating more Internet protocol-capable endpoints, Means said. 


“This can be done either through the manufacturers developing proprietary hardware or through integration with third-party devices, often on the ECS software platform,” he said. 


The advantage that networked devices have is the ability to provide data about their status and operations, which can then be used to automatically inform key personnel about ongoing events. ECS devices communicating on multiple networks can also provide a higher level of redundancy. 


“One of the most exciting technology trends is the use of independent, self-healing mesh networks. These robust wireless networks enable continuing operation when phone, power and network resources go down,” Means said.


And when tied into other building systems, the ECS can flag and report loss of power, identify access control events, provide key video surveillance to observe inbound calls for help, auto-announce the activation of hazardous material sensors, and much more. 


“The ECS provides an integration platform because it can centralize data from other building systems and inform the appropriate audience,” Means said.


How the EC fits in


According to Milburn, the market is struggling to decide whether the ECS belongs with fire, security or building management. 


“Although responsibility has historically fallen on the fire group within a facility, it might be shifting to security as safety concerns increase,” he said. 


In this case, the electrical contractor will be dealing with ECSs more and will need to learn about them to effectively include them in security system projects. Therefore, the electrical contractor needs to demonstrate the ability to add an ECS to a fire alarm system when discussing a project with the owner or designer. 


“And when bidding a project that includes an ECS, the contractor needs to select a vendor or manufacturer that is capable of supplying all of the necessary components for both the fire alarm and ECS systems and have the ability to integrate them,” Madden said.


With overall aggregate market growth year over year of about 6 percent, Milburn said, the ECS market offers contractors an additional opportunity to expand offerings in the security market. And, although the cost of an ECS is relatively minor when part of a new building construction project, the contractor must be aware that, pulling wires can be difficult and costly in a retrofit to an older building. 


“Let the customer know that, when budgetary restraints are an issue, ECSs can be phased in and built out over time,” Means said.