By Brad Kamcheff
Most public and private organizations focus attention on securing their built environment, the facilities where people work and, in some cases, live; where students are educated; and valuable data and equipment are stored. It’s often possible to overlook the need to protect people and assets outdoors.
Outdoor security may include protecting a college student on an early morning campus run; a nurse walking to a bus stop at the end of a late night shift; or possibly securing parking structures, athletic fields, landscaped gardens or performance amphitheaters. One constant best security practice shared both indoors and out is the need for multiple layers of technology. No single solution meets all requirements.
Tower Visibility Extends Security Perimeter
Security personnel use technology to gain as much information — both video and audio — as they can get to protect outdoor assets that may be miles from the nearest dispatch center. One essential tool that blends both sight and sound is an emergency station. They’re easy to spot topped with bright blue lights that serve as a beacon to people in distress.
With the touch of a button, a station’s embedded video intercom provides a direct link to a security officer or local first responder. Stations are compatible with modular towers, compact wall boxes, or may be mounted directly to building surfaces. Whatever the preferred mounting method, these are always on and available 24/7. The stations can be an excellent fit for many outdoor areas such as pedestrian trails, building perimeters, or virtually any remote area. They are also valuable indoors in unattended lobbies, elevator banks, and stairwells.
Emergency stations have become very popular in parking facilities which are increasingly unmanned. According to federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 7% of the country’s violent victimizations and 11% of property crimes occur in parking lots and garages.
In addition to emergency communications, stations enable parkers to remotely seek help with issues using automated ticketing and payment processes or to get assistance for vehicles that won’t start. Stations provide an alternative to mobile phones that may have reduced or non-existent reception in many subterranean and above-ground concrete parking garages.
Network-based stations improve the versatility of a facility’s security officers by enabling them to answer calls from an on-site station, off-site security operations center or while on patrol using a mobile app. No matter where they are monitored, the stations’ megapixel cameras stream valuable video from the immediate area to help dispatchers best respond to emergencies.
Once an emergency call is placed, the stations’ blue lights flash to bring attention to the site. Using system master stations, dispatchers immediately know the precise location of calls.
Most units have a second button for non-emergency calls. This further adds value to the system allowing the user to self-determine if their need is Emergency, or just Informational. Informational calls receive a lower priority within the system than Emergency calls. This further assists dispatchers in providing the proper response and prioritizes those in an emergency to the top of the call list.
Extended Emergency Station Benefits
Emergency stations save money and add convenience. Unlike telephone-based systems, intercom stations require no POTS lines, eliminating monthly phone bills. Both dispatch and phone lines remain open as intercoms provide a secondary communications path. Emergency and master stations can tie-in to a SIP IP PBX server to forward calls to an external phone number such as an off-site call center. Another benefit: SIP compatibility allows master stations to be used as a telephone, replacing VoIP phones and helping to clear desktop clutter. Braille signage on emergency stations and adjustable call button heights meet recommendations by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Again, the best outdoor security is multilayered. Emergency stations easily integrate with existing outdoor video camera systems. Towers can use CCTV arms for adding a surveillance camera to gain additional visual data. Intercom master stations may be toggled between the identifying view from the embedded station cameras and an “associated areas” view of a CCTV camera. Video from station cameras may be captured by video monitoring software and/or recorded directly onto a device’s microSD card. Unlimited station capacity enables an organization to cover the largest sites or multiple locations in separate cities or states.
Master intercom stations also integrate with access control systems to open doors and gates, control elevators, and many other tasks.
Stations are easy to install and set up. Rear access panels on the back of the two- or three-module towers make it easy to run wires. Using an organization’s standard structure cable, power is drawing over the network, saving on equipment costs. A peer-to-peer communication system shares resources among stations eliminating the need for a centralized administrative system or a server.
Here are a few tips to gain more benefits from an emergency station:
- Pre-record custom messages, such as “tornado warning,” to be shared as necessary over the stations’ speakers
- Place stations so at least two are within view at any one time to provide a distressed person a choice of which one to use
- While the use of the stations is highly intuitive, create a tutorial for employees or students as part of a larger education process on outdoor security
Accessibility Where Smartphones Are Limited
The proliferation of smartphones and tablets have led to complementary emergency communications technology. There are hundreds of emergency apps, many developed for specific sites with maps and contact information. They may be used to report a crime or contact security during an emergency. Facility administrators may contact people with text, voice, and email messages, including warning people en route to stay away until a dangerous situation has been resolved.
However, only people who have enrolled in the system database and downloaded the app may use the solution, potentially eliminating many employees, students, and visitors. And there are other potential downsides to the apps. Weather, topography, and the proximity of cellular towers can affect signal quality. Smartphones are of no use if the battery is dead. And they can also be difficult to remove from a pocket, purse, or backpack if a person is fleeing during an emergency.
Outdoor security requires well thought-out plans incorporating multiple layers of protection. Properly integrated, these layers can improve people’s outdoor safety while creating a sense of well-being. Emergency stations have become a vital security layer by enabling people to get the assistance they need when they need it.
Kamcheff is marketing manager for Redmond, WA-based Aiphone Corp. For more information visit the website at www.aiphone.com/home.
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