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AV Systems Can Be Emergency Lifesavers

In mid-teleconference, the meeting chair glances at the touchscreen control panel in front of him and sees: “Fire on fourth floor. Floors 5-10 leave building by east stairs, floors 1-4 use west stairs.”

It”s an increasingly common scenario, and one that AV professionals are moving quickly to make real. Messaging for every kind of content, from “evacuate” to “lunch is ready,” is becoming a key capability for AV and conferencing systems. In the process, it is creating an opportunity for AV integrators to add value to their offerings by anticipating client needs and delivering flexible solutions.

“Over the next five years we”re going to see a lot more of this,” says David Silberstein, CTS, Manager of Consultant Market Development and Technical Services, Northeast Region at Crestron Electronics. Much of the impetus for this change is coming from national Homeland Security requirements, he adds, although local police, fire, and emergency management authorities are also playing roles.

AV systems, including building-wide networked control systems for projectors and other assets, are being recognized as a potentially vital means of communicating with building occupants in an emergency. These systems offer both a means of reaching the entire building with a single message and a way of customizing messages for particular areas.

“In today”s world, we have a fire alarm,” Silberstein says. “It can be regionalized, but that”s the only real messaging that goes on.” In effect, fire alarms tell everyone in the building to go stand outside for an hour drinking coffee until the fire department declares all clear. That”s an incomplete response to an emergency, at best.

“What if I want to tell people to stay somewhere, or use the rear exit instead of the front?” Silberstein asks. A more effective solution involves recognizing the value of the networked AV assets on the premises. That can require “rethinking the way digital signage is deployed,” Silberstein says, “or the way my audio system is deployed, or rethinking my control system design.”

The AV system administrator who uses a network to check on the status of projectors throughout a building, for example, can use the same network to turn on projectors or other displays in specific areas and feed them timely, potentially life-saving content.

Most manufacturers of control systems, Silberstein notes, provide software that enables users to monitor and control their rooms. “The integrator has to provide this option to the client,” he adds.

Meeting this new priority, Silberstein says, also makes it “much harder for the consultant who is bringing all of these pieces together. They now have to work with fire safety where maybe they didn”t before. They have to make sure the paging system ties into the building”s sound system.”

They also need to learn and understand more complex rules, says Jim Colquhoun, VP of Technical Services at Audio Visual Innovations in Englewood, Colo. “We do find that zoned paging continues to be a request,” he notes, “but we must be careful to make sure that both we and our customers are very clear about the legal requirements for any system that they are considering and what regulations they are trying to meet.”

Fire safety systems in particular require distinct expertise, he adds. “Most states require specific licenses for that business. In addition, the National Fire Protection Association requires equipment that meets different standards.”