2009 Campus Technology Innovators: Emergency Notification

EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION
Innovator: Carnegie Mellon University

CMU implemented a location-based warning system that delivers emergency alerts to classrooms, labs, even basements across campus-- 50 times faster than cellular/text messaging.

In the wake of recent shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, just about every major university has invested in a new emergency notification system in the last few years.

At Carnegie Mellon University (PA), technologists decided to take a different approach: Working together with local solution provider Metis Secure, they built a crisis alert system designed to distribute notifications into specific rooms of specific buildings in the event of emergencies. This new system is particularly unique because of its hardware/software platform, and its combined use of FM-bandwidth radio waves and mesh WiFi networking to speed vital messages and instructions to the campus community.

Vendor & Product Details

Here's how the system works: In select buildings on campus, wall-mounted devices are connected wirelessly back at the campus security office. When a dispatcher identifies an emergency, he uses the software to pinpoint precisely which devices he wants to use to sound the alarm. That alarm can take any number of forms: flashing lights, a piercing siren, a voice recording that plays through a speaker, and text that appears on an LCD screen. The same text information can be synched with e-mails and SMS messages as well.

When a broadcast is made, it travels over both FM radio and mesh network channels. The wireless mesh component enables Metis Secure devices to reach zones that don't ordinarily receive wireless signals by pulling data from other Metis Secure devices nearby.

Planning for the project began in early 2006. Project lead Madelyn Miller, director of the university's Environmental Health and Safety department, was looking for a faster, more reliable way to target emergency information to specific locations, something that the school's existing emergency notification solutions could not do. Cell calls, text messages, and e-mails, for instance, had message delivery times in excess of 30 minutes. Complicating matters was the fact that in some spots on campus, broadcasts were not reaching recipients due to poor cellular and police radio frequency reception.

The Metis Secure team had worked with companies with extensive experience making weather warning radios for the maritime industry, and was exploring the concept of broadcasting warnings via mesh and using a digital subcarrier Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) on FM bandwidth. Metis Secure built prototypes for testing in 2007, combining digital FM chips as well as spread spectrum mesh networking technology. CMU signed on the following year.

As part of the project, CMU students conducted studies on industrial design and human computer interface issues relating to emergency notification on campus. CMU's Mellon Institute, a huge stone building, was selected as a "worst case" test bed because of the number of difficult-to-reach areas such as basements and subbasements. Beta testing was conducted during a six-month period last year.

Today, messages sent through the new system take less than 10 seconds to deliver. What's more, the system is not plagued by reliability or interference issues that other products might have. Since the system is not dependent upon exclusively cellular or WiFi communications, it has built-in redundancy. Finally, an optional two-way radio call-for-help feature allows users to turn any of the Metis Secure devices into a direct line to a dispatcher at the campus police.

While the system was still being rolled out at press time, a full-fledged working system will be installed in the Mellon Institute by the end of this year. Down the road, Miller and her colleagues say they hope to create a consortium of regional universities with Metis Secure systems that can share best practices for emergency communication.

This article originally appeared in the 8/1/2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Download Center

  • Industrial Premium Library

    Empower your workforce with the manufacturing, industrial maintenance, operations, HSE, compliance, and professional development skills they need to complete their tasks efficiently and safely. Not only will you boost productivity, reliability, skills, and morale but you’ll also onboard faster, and retain your best employees while meeting regulatory standards. Vector Solutions offers over 1,800 award-winning eLearning courses designed to keep your employees safe, transfer knowledge of fundamentals, and develop industry and job-specific skills that reduce downtime, maintenance costs and more.

  • Safety Metrics & Insights Webinar

    EHS professionals have been tackling the subject of how to best measure performance for many years. Lagging indicators like the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) and Days Away Restricted Transfer Rate (DART) are a good place to start, but you shouldn’t forget about the leading indicators that your workforce does every day to prevent incidents from occurring. Learn about some of the most common KPIs of safety programs and how Vector EHS Management software can be used to track these metrics in this webinar.

  • Risk Matrix Guide

    Understanding the components of a risk matrix will allow you and your organization to manage risk effectively. Download this guide for details on risk matrix calculations including severity, probability, and risk assessment.

  • OSHA Recordkeeping Guide

    In case you missed it, OSHA recently initiated an enforcement program to identify employers who fail to electronically submit Form 300A recordkeeping data to the agency. When it comes to OSHA recordkeeping, there are always questions regarding the requirements and ins and outs. This guide is here to help! We’ll explain reporting, recording, and online reporting requirements in detail.

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - September 2022

    September 2022

    Featuring:

    • ESG
      EHS Will Guide Future ESG Success for Many Organizations
    • MACHINE GUARDING
      Handling Material Handlers: Training Beyond PIT Requirements
    • EHS SOFTWARE
      The Missing Link with EHS Software
    • HEARING PROTECTION
      Noise Surveys from the Trenches
    View This Issue