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Integration turns PA systems into campus security solutions

Integration turns PA systems into campus security solutions
Public address systems are commonplace on university campuses. As a mature technology, advancements may not be groundbreaking; however, integrating it with other security and safety systems could give it new life.
On a vast university campus, a public address or announcement (PA) system is used to make campuswide announcements. We don’t often think of the safety or security implications of such a system, but integrated with alarm, video surveillance, access control, etc., a PA system has the potential to be much more; it could give campus security operators the ability to turn it into an integral part of a holistic safety and security solution.

PA systems going IP

In today’s security world, almost every system, if not all, can be connected to a network. A PA system is no different. “The PA over IP solutions have been improved,” said Bob Mesnik, President of Kintronics. “The latest IP amplifiers provide more power and the intercoms include full duplex sound. The software now supports IP cameras, and voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone interfaces as well as special automation that provides if-then responses to certain inputs.”

Despite the increased benefits of a PA-over-IP system, cost could be an inhibitor — the cost of an IP system can be higher than some standard central analog systems, Mesnik pointed out. However, the ease of installation could help to balance out any cost concerns.

“The IP paging solution is easier to install since the wiring is easier. The amplifiers and intercom units all connect to the network. The lower power models use power over Ethernet (PoE), so are very easy to install. In many cases, the ease of installation and the ability to provide many zones provide benefits that justify the increased cost,” he explained.

Integration with video surveillance

In general IP paging and intercom systems are used to direct people in emergencies, control doors and control other situations such as crowd control, according to Mesink. However, integrating such systems with others leaves the door open to new uses and can push a technology to its full potential. For example, integrating a campus’ PA system with security systems such as video surveillance could give campus security operators more control over emergency communication.

“Paging can be integrated with IP camera systems. There are paging and intercoms that can be attached directly to IP cameras. This can work if the cameras have audio in and out,” Mesnik explained. “Small amplifiers are used to power speakers that can be used with the cameras.”

It is also important that the video management software (VMS) supports the audio. “Some VMS will provide an alert if they detect a button activation from the IP camera. The VMS then allows the security person to see what is happening and then talk to the person near the IP camera,” he explained.

Alternatively, paging can operate by itself and assist an IP camera security system. “For example, the Digital Acoustic intercom system is independent of the VMS and uses its own Windows paging software. In this case, the security person can receive an alert from an intercom and be notified on their Windows computer. The software also allows the security person to view a nearby IP camera. This is not quite as integrated as the first method, but can provide additional security,” Mesnik said.

Paging systems can also utilize speakers placed near IP cameras to warn people away from a secure area. This comes in handy on a college campus, where the environment is open and anyone can wander onto the premises. “Since some speakers can also be used as microphones, it is possible to have a conversation with a remote person using the paging software,” he added.
Bob Mesnik,
President, Kintronics

More direct communication

The large size of a college campus can make communication with and monitoring different buildings, floors and areas difficult. Intercom systems, however, can be integrated with door access control systems and used to control doors. This would allow persons such as delivery people or visitors to contact a main office, where security personnel could then grant or deny access.

Intercom systems can also be used to monitor sounds in classrooms. With hundreds even thousands of classrooms on a college campus, monitoring each one is difficult. Even with video surveillance and access control, sound could be the determining factor to knowing whether or not those in the classroom should there. An intercom system would allow the control center or office to monitor the classrooms and investigate if any unusual noises are heard.

A paging system could also be used with bell systems, giving university operators the ability to indicate change of class or special notifications. “Since IP paging systems can provide as many zones as you need, you can have specific announcements sent to certain buildings, floors or areas of a building,” he said.

Additionally, Mesnik pointed out intercoms can be used with emergency call buttons in administration offices. “If a person becomes unruly, the administrator can push the call button that notifies the central office. The central office can then listen to the conversation, without the other person hearing anything, and then react to the situation.”

Paging the future of PA systems

As mentioned before, the technology for PA systems, intercoms, amplifiers, etc., is already mature, but that does not mean improvements and advancements can’t or won’t be made. What we can expect from mature technologies, though, is finding new ways of using them. While college campuses get smarter and the drive for increased ROI continues, we can expect that further integration of systems, including PA systems, will continue to help increase security and safety, while also, maybe, increasing security and safety efficiency and effectiveness as well.
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