The commonwealth of Virginia recently passed legislation requiring colleges and universities to establish comprehensive first-warning and notification plans by January 1, 2009. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech, has selected Virginia-based Inova Solutions as part of its emergency mass notification system. This month, university officials will implement over 200 OnAlert displays as a means to instantly communicate vital information to large groups of students, staff and faculty in public areas.

Virginia Tech's initial project includes 220 OnAlert displays for mass notification in classrooms and common areas. When no emergency message is needed, the displays show accurate time and date to ensure synchronized school operations. The displays are powered by existing network connections using standard Power over Ethernet (POE) technology. Centrally networked, the comprehensive system is easy to install, manage and send emergency messages as needed, according to the company.

For schools considering mass notification systems, here are a few considerations:

  • Use multiple technologies to deliver emergency messages, such as Visual Messaging, SMS/Text, e-mail and Public Address. This multi-tiered approach allows for communication overlap in the event of weak cell phone coverage or limited reach of other systems.
  • Coordinate public address and visual messaging systems for optimal reach, especially for large congregation spaces like student unions, cafeterias and lecture halls to minimize the impact of noise often accompanying a crisis and support the disabled population as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • For visual displays, LED screens deliver crisp, clear messages to large areas.

    LEDs are brighter than LCD screens and can be read easily at more than 100 feet, even through smoke and dust. (LCDs have up to 20-foot viewing range and limited viewing angle.)

  • LED displays are durable, with an expected life of 10 years (three times that of LCDs)

    LED displays consume far less power than LCDs. Ethernet-powered displays can use redundant network power to survive outages.