Emergency sirens, horns, and audio announcements may be a good way to get people’s attention, but they often don’t convey the nature of a security alert and what people should do. They also may interfere with other activities if they are being used for reasons other than emergency notification. Voice, email, text messages and website alerts can broadcast alert information widely, but only to parties who are in the distribution list or who know where to go online… and who are carrying a phone or other message-able device.
So it’s no surprise that many companies are looking at digital signage as part of their security alerting strategy; for many, security alerts are the initial driver to deploy visual signage.
Technology analyst Lynn Bunn, Bunn Company, says, “Visual display is increasingly used in safety alerts and mass notification to augment other communications approaches such as email, text and SMS messaging, audio announcements, alarms, etc.”
One advantage to digital sign alerts is that they can also be visible more quickly than broadcast messages. For example, at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, the local campus police can trigger an alert, and, reports Spencer W. Graham, II, Manager of Operations for Information Stations, the Interactive Video Network and Web Services at WVU.
“Within about nine seconds, the security messaging will pre-empt the normal digital display information loop. By contrast, it can take 30 to 45 minutes to queue up email and text messages to our 11,000 subscribers.”
Who’s Sign-Alerting and Why?
“If you want to create a digital signage network, you have to start with emergency messaging,” says WVU’s Graham. “It’s not hard to sell that idea. When we talk to administrators and other decision makers, no decision makers want to be the one who said ‘we didn’t need that.’”
The incident often comes to mind most often when talking about alerting and is the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. And even though gunfire and other violent incidents are thankfully rare, there are other classes of more frequent events that can justify this kind of instant-publicizing.
For example, there’s weather and environmental alerts, like major rain, snow or ice storms, floods, tornados, earthquakes, bridge failures — all of these are conditions that might cause a facility to plan to shut down, or cause flight or road traffic delays, creating the need for notification. Manufacturing plants may need to issue alerts regarding potentially dangerous spills or other accidents.
“Corporate locations in the mid-west United States can alert employees if there’s a tornado approaching,” notes Steve Lamphear, Global Key Accounts Manager, X2O Media, which provides software, network management, and content services for real-time visual communication applications.
“The need for security alerting crosses all industries,” says Morgan Williams, Digital Signage Account Manager, KIPP Visual Systems, Inc., a visual communications technology provider. “With any brick-and-mortar facility, there’s a chance something can go wrong and need to be alerted.”
Doug Chase, product manager at digital signage company Four Winds Interactive, reports that their customers’ most common need is to provide alerts about security breaches, natural disasters, and equipment failures.
Companies that already have signage networks are looking at tying them in to local police departments for emergency notification, reports KIPP’s Williams. This is similar to how many locations have been connecting their premises video surveillance networks to the local fire and police departments.
Alert-issuing may be done by manual trigger, with either templated or an ad hoc message. Or, says Four Winds’ Chase, “The software can look for triggers, like checking the weather RSS feed from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for temperatures greater than 100 degrees, or an alert from a machine in the building that is emitting its status continuously.”
Gearing up for Digital Security Signage
As with all digital signage, it’s important to pick displays that are a match for the environment and expected usage levels, says Chris Connery, an analyst covering the digital signage industry at DisplaySearch (an NPD company). “Do you want a commercial-grade display, or will a less expensive consumer-grade display be good enough? Check which type of display technology is used, and the warranty — the technology impacts the service life. Will a given display be running 24x7 in a public environment, and need remote-control capability?”
Also, Connery points out, commercial displays often need higher brightness, and may have options like protective glass.
“In terms of brightness, consumer displays are normally 400 to 450 NITS (a NIT is a unit of visible-light intensity), while commercial ones are now up to 1,000+ NITS.”
Plan for on-going testing of your security messaging, says Four Winds’ Chase. “This isn’t just to be sure it works — seeing it being tested reassures people that the system is working. The real ROI is peace of mind.”
And while security may be the driver for deployment, remember that your company will get everyday value from a digital signage network, whether for information, revenue-generating ad content, or a mix. “99.9% of the time your digital signs are in standard mode, but it can switch over instantly if you need to issue an alert,” says WVU’s Graham.