Crystal clear on all channels

With Desigo Mass Notification, Siemens has developed a flexible solution for routine and emergency communications that incorporates modern communication methods. A boarding school in the U.S. was recently equipped with this ground-breaking and efficient technology.

Kent School, a private boarding school founded in 1906, is located in the charming town of Kent, Connecticut, a two-hour drive north of New York City. Here, 570 students from all over the world are being prepared for the rigors of college. Ninety percent of the students are boarded on campus, living and learning in 19 buildings spread over some 1,200 acres

Mass notification as a critical task

For years, the school used a mass notification system to quickly notify students, teachers and staff across the sprawling campus. Such systems are common in schools and universities in the U.S. They can be used to raise the alarm in dangerous situations such as tornadoes, earthquakes, gas leaks or even mass shootings. But the technology can also be used for important routine announcements.


These systems often comprise individual solutions from different suppliers. Safety officers must usually invest a great deal of time and effort getting messages out over all the available channels. Because every minute counts when danger looms, the parallel use of different solutions often causes delays and even confusion, for example when background noise garbles the message over an aging public address system. It does not take much for rumors to fly, causing uncertainty and even mass panic in the worst of situations. 


The technical infrastructure at Kent School was highly heterogeneous and the mass notification system did not work reliably. In 2015, school safety officer Brian Hunt saw a vital need for new technology. “In dangerous situations, early warning is absolutely critical for maintaining control,” says Hunt from experience. “Additional information must be disseminated without delay so the recipients know exactly what to do, such as when the danger is most acute.” 


The school wanted a smart solution from a single source and therefore turned to Siemens. The Munich-based enterprise is known in the U.S. as one of the leaders in life-saving evacuation and voice-alarm systems. After evaluating the campus and its existing systems, Siemens experts recommended installing a Desigo Mass Notification system directly connected to the fire control panel and equipped with integrated intelligent voice communication and individually addressable indoor and outdoor loudspeakers.

Numerous communication channels

Desigo Mass Notification is able to use a number of different communication channels. Messages can be displayed on flat screens, LED displays, and desktop computers as well as sent via SMS, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Acoustic messages go out over loudspeakers, fire safety system alarms and by telephone. Because the system is modular and scalable, users can customize the individual solution precisely to fit their needs. Should requirements change, the system can be adapted at any time. 


The solution chosen by Kent School is built on the Desigo CC building management platform and features an Easy Button function that enables safety officer Brian Hunt and his colleagues to initiate preset alarms. The alarm is issued over high-performing Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) loudspeakers as well as via text and e-mail messages. Additionally, individual situation-specific messages can be sent over the channels mentioned, including using a text-to-speech function that turns text into spoken language. The alarms are also displayed on the computers connected to the school’s network. Users must confirm they have read the message before they can continue to use their computer. Siemens also set up a general alarm function for Kent School: It prompts all students, teachers and staff to assemble at defined locations. Siemens has already retrofitted three buildings on campus, with two others to quickly follow. Furthermore, a Total Building Solution extension has been launched, including video surveillance and building automation disciplines.


Safety officer Brian Hunt is very satisfied with the turnkey mass notification system whose entire installation was performed by trained Siemens technicians. “Before, it had been a challenge juggling the mix of different products from various manufacturers,” recalls Hunt. “Working with Siemens, we were able to bundle all the campus applications under one roof and to blend the individual solutions into a harmonic whole. Everything works seamlessly.” Hunt adds another very important point: “Reliable and competent partners guarantee accelerated servicing of these critical systems, giving us much-needed peace of mind.”


Picture credits: Siemens AG

Unlike conventional systems, mass notification systems use many different channels to convey vital information. In addition to existing building safety, alarm and communication systems, they also take advantage of the most broadly used web-based communication technologies. With the ability to notify individuals over ubiquitous smartphones, computers and visual displays, a large number of people can be alerted extremely quickly.

Especially in an age marked by increased danger, mass notification systems can make a significant contribution to safety.

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