Published In February 2001
Bells and whistles don’t always sell low-voltage products. It’s the tried-and-true equipment that has become indispensable to commercial, industrial, and institutional customers. This equipment holds a market, and intercoms and paging systems are a perfect example. New they’re not. They’ve been around for decades, providing simple communication and entrance control, as well as a multitude of other functions. But these industry stalwarts are by no means relics. Intercoms and paging systems include technological enhancements and improvements that make them a popular element of successful turnkey integrated systems solutions. In schools, at entrances, and coupled with closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance and cards or proximity access control, intercoms play a leading role. In correctional facilities, two-way intercoms, including hands-free devices, secure critical areas and keep the lines of communication open. For emergency signaling, paging systems are integral to safety. In parking facilities, campus scenarios and other remote areas, intercoms and paging systems extend a necessary lifeline. One of southern Colorado’s largest electrical contractors, Pueblo’s T & T Electric Co., Inc., finds intercoms and paging systems a logical and natural extension of its electrical and low-voltage packages. T & T Electric has an electrical installation and maintenance division and a separate voice/data/video (VDV) division. The VDV division handles fiber optic installations, fire alarms, nurse call systems, data communications, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and intercom, speaker, and telephone interconnected systems. Turnkey for T & T Electric T & T Electric prides itself on being able to turnkey a job. More often than not, intercoms and paging systems are part of an installation. The company’s work includes residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional customers. And, T & T Electric takes advantage of a local market—one of the largest concentrations of prisons in the state is in Pueblo—handling security, fire, and communications work for the Department of Corrections and other area institutions. “Computer wiring, telephone systems, and communications are a big niche for us,” said Tom Brown, senior project manager. “Intercoms and paging systems are a part of the package we offer the corrections facilities and schools as well as other customers.” T & T generally uses products from a number of different vendors, including Dukane Corp., St. Charles, Ill., and Atlas Sound, Phoenix, Ariz. Brown said that, like other VDV technologies, intercom and paging systems have advanced and are feature rich. “New electronics and multiplexing capabilities allow equipment to do more than it ever could before,” he added. As the digital revolution captures everything in low voltage from CCTV and recording to signal transmission, it has also made its mark on intercoms and paging systems. Jeron Electronics Inc., in Chicago offers a fully digital master-to-master intercom in its Spectrum series of security intercoms. The benefits of digital include clear communications and immunity from interference. It also offers hands-free or private two-way voice communication throughout an entire facility or across wide geographical areas. Digital allows the system to be non-blocking, which means all stations may be used simultaneously and exchanges can be installed with copper or fiber optic cabling for added versatility. Elizabeth Chesnul, general manager of Jeron, attests to the increasing popularity and application for this product niche. “There’s a general need for better communications, and an ever-increasing need for security, and that’s where intercoms and paging systems come in,” she said. Today, their increased capabilities lend intercoms and paging systems to more applications than ever, from the routine to the offbeat and unusual, according to Sid C. Flothe, owner of Delta Communications Co., Lakewood, Wash. Delta manufactures a product line of intercom and paging systems under the DeltaCom Intercommunications Systems name, but also custom-tailors equipment. Dial-in access capabilities, hands-free communications, and caller identification functions enhance the versatility of intercoms and paging systems, Flothe said. “In a school setting, for example, the caller identification function lets the room number come up with the call. You can talk, listen, and monitor areas, which greatly enhances security and safety.” With the mixing of technologies, especially communications and transmission, higher levels of safety and security are a given. “The convergence of intercoms and paging systems with telephony and computers provide a whole host of applications that didn’t exist before,” said Stan Witt, director of marketing for the communications systems division of Dukane Corp. “They’re more complex, but easy to use. For example, the traditional school intercom normally handles two-way communication, but now, a screen or window can pop up on the computer telling who initiated the call. That call can then be redirected, via computer, to the proper location. Administration can also integrate systems with pocket pagers for instantaneous communications.” Witt added that supervised paging capabilities alert responsible parties to system problems that may hamper communications in an actual emergency. Dukane’s STARCall intercom paging system delivers overhead pages to an entire school or office, specific rooms or single zones. The telephone handset also provides two simultaneous voice paths into every zone—handset and speaker. It is a direct link to immediate assistance and with a telephone in the classroom, educators can directly dial medical services, security, or other responsible parties, including parents. On school campuses or parking facilities especially, communication systems are a must. One particularly risky area is a parking garage, according to Greg Bolduc, general manager of Code Blue Corp., Holland, Mich. “Many schools and universities don’t have adequate security, and the Campus Security Act has prompted these institutions to install new equipment,” he said. Code Blue manufactures a host of emergency signaling and communications products targeted at campuses and parking facilities as well as other applications. These products are visible and allow for instant, hands-free communication. Often, intercom and paging systems must withstand the harshest environments, including severe weather or vandalism. Vandal-proof intercom stations with compression driver or cone loudspeakers from Atlas Sound, provide clear communications with rugged dependability in detention and correctional facilities. They are also used in remote guard and security stations, entry and exit gates, perimeter doors, and parking garages. “Today’s systems can withstand physical abuse with die cast speakers and other rugged components. They also have a higher level of fidelity and output in a small, unobtrusive package,” said Tony Satariano, vice president of sales, commercial sound and retail for Atlas Sound. O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications, Inc., in Chicago. She specializes in writing about the security market. She can be reached at (773) 775-1816 or domara @flash.net.