FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY (FSU)
American Signal Corporation (ASC) is a premier provider of mass notification and emergency alert products and systems to college campuses across the United States. The company’s state-of-the-art CompuLert™ NEXGen Command and Control system offers seamless integration with established notification hardware and software, to provide solutions to campuses big and small.
Recently, ASC sat down with Dave Bujak, Director of Emergency Management at Florida State University, a division of FSU Public Safety and Police Department. The topic of discussion focused on CompuLert™ NEXGen, and how it’s helping FSU stay abreast of emerging demands in the mass notification market.
CompuLert™ NEXGen is being utilized as part of a comprehensive, multi-site emergency mass notification system on multiple campuses at Florida State University (FSU).
FSU first obtained ASC products in 2006, beginning with a small outdoor warning system for its main campus in Tallahassee, FL. The campus was outfitted with three ASC i-FORCE siren units, which were quickly integrated with the university’s voice-capable fire alarm systems, to extrapolate the effectiveness of emergency alert integration.
With more than 450 structures across all of its properties, FSU has begun upgrading all of its fire systems to include voice-capable alarm technologies. With this focus on innovation also comes the prospect of integration with ASC sirens through the CompuLert™ NEXGen infrastructure.
Today, with the help of government grant funding, the college has approximately 57 buildings with indoor fire alarms that are connected to 87 different pieces of ASC hardware. Further, all new construction and renovations involving fire alarms must include ASC interfacing capabilities. The college is constantly adding and expanding to include these technologies, with the prerogative of multi-system integration via CompuLert™ NEXGen.
SCOPE OF SERVICE
As FSU has focused on upgrading and integrating its emergency alerting systems, the task of creating consistency across multiple campus sites has arisen. The university’s geographically-separated campuses require autonomy, yet also demand the opportunity for central oversight.
Voice and siren collaborative systems on the Tallahassee campus were quickly realized on the school’s Panama City campuses, as well as at its marine lab on the coast and at its John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (The Ringling) in Sarasota.
Each of these four separate campuses and systems upgraded to CompuLert™ NEXGen, and in doing so gained the ability to monitor and maintain them locally, as well as remotely. FSU employs eight IT professionals on-site to monitor fire safety systems and, with the help of ASC personnel, has also trained these individuals for certified maintenance and repairs.
To the general public, the mass notification system employed by FSU is simply called FSU Alerts, reaching students, staff, visitors and local area businesses and residents who share proximity to the college’s campuses.
With three modes of alerting—Primary (fast), secondary (slower), tertiary (FSU does not control)—ASC’s indoor and outdoor sirens, combined with the CompuLert™ NEXGen control interface, stand as the first alert in a span of many mass notification channels.
“There’s a challenge in having multiple delivery methods. It definitely means better coverage when an alert is raised, but it also means you need more time to activate each alert system. FSU ties all of its mediums together through an “Easy Button”—once that button is pressed, all of our primary delivery notifications are activated.”
FSU’s Easy Button is actually a list of pre-approved scenarios and messages that are pre-programmed and pre-scripted. Redundant fail safes are in place with every alerting channel, to ensure delivery in any situation. One such redundancy involves the remote accessibility CompuLert™ NEXGen offers.
In being able to access real-time tracking and reporting of situations beyond a single terminal, FSU emergency management professionals can coordinate next steps from wherever they are, via phone, tablet or computer. Because CompuLert™ NEXGen allows operator to see conditions and system situations at all stations—from Sarasota, to Panama City, to the Coastline, and beyond—FSU can determine exactly when to hit the Easy Button and which pre-scripted alerts need to go out.
CONNECTIVITY AND INTEGRATION
Connectivity and remote access are the most critical features for activation purposes, as well as day to day maintenance and monitoring. For campuses like FSU’s—separated geographically and managed by different staff—being able to remotely assess and activate alerting systems is increasingly imperative.
For FSU, preserving autonomy while enabling consistency started with an upgrade to CompuLert™ NEXGen.
“With the old system, any polls or tests or reports we were running were local—making it each site’s job to constantly monitor and maintain. With CompuLert™ NEXGen, when systems go offline, batteries dry up or maintenance isn’t done properly, the controller can tell remotely, creating consistency throughout the system as a whole.”
The decision to upgrade its systems to CompuLert™ NEXGen came at a critical time for FSU. The college had begun outfitting its marine lab with notification and alerting capabilities, while ASC was subsequently rolling out the NEXGen platform. The rollout of NEXGen, coupled with the discontinued support for Windows XP-based applications, put FSU in position make an upgrade.
FSU’s other campus systems weren’t far behind and shortly, the entire college was operating with CompuLert™ NEXGen behind the scenes. And, for FSU, the upgrade came without any significant setbacks or challenges.
“NEXGen is an internet-based solution, so we had some minor networking challenges and VPN access challenges to figure out. Overall, however, there were no real obstacles when it came to upgrading. Everything works!”
Among colleges and universities, the emergency alert and crisis management teams talk to each other—FSU has connections all around the country. The chatter often revolves around current events in crisis management, however, more and more of the conversation has shifted to solutions… or rather, lack thereof.
“The fact is, there are problems with other systems and other companies. Problems that arise when companies no longer support a system, no longer makes spare parts, or when they go out of business entirely. The fact is, a lot of schools are now stuck! When I speak to my colleagues and they’re looking for a solution, ASC is a recommendation I can give. We have a tremendous investment in ASC hardware.”
For Dave, his colleagues include personnel at Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College. These colleges use FSU as a model for improving their own campus experience, which also means modeling their emergency systems after FSU. In fact, Florida A&M University recently constructed a new dorm and chose to invest in ASC sirens for mass notification, largely in part to a recommendation from FSU.
“Through conversations with our peers, we realized we’re justified in our decision to stay with ASC. There’s really no incentive for us to even consider moving away from the company at any point.”
ASC has a long history of dependable products. While other systems are reaching their end of life and need to be replaced, ASC products live on and are continually supported and improved. The platform is the same, so even when campuses add new units and expand, the methodology of how everything works is the same. Every new unit is just as compatible as the one before it.
“If ASC said ‘all new units must be IP-based,’ that would be a major change for us—we have a radio-based system. If a decision like this was made it would be a challenge for us to adapt to it. We’ve never had ASC do anything like this that puts us in a corner, but it’s happening with other systems.”
Emergency alert systems can’t afford downtime. CompuLert™ NEXGen increases the visibility of systems within a network, to help maintain secular locations and prevent downtime across all sites.
“If there’s a problem at one of our sites, we can jump on the phone and try to resolve it quickly, with minimal setbacks. In many cases, we don’t even have to get on the phone or talk to anyone else: we can talk to NEXGen and see what’s happening and we can say “a-ha!” it’s X problem, here’s how we approach this.”
Most institutions, colleges and universities have some sort of mass notification or alert system in place. Over the years, many institutions have selected vendors that haven’t kept up with the times. Instead of becoming antiquated like so many campus technologies today, ASC systems are continually adapted and refined to meet new challenges, providing longer life and a better return on investment.
“Part of the reason we’re able to keep a successful system up and running is because we’ve partnered with a successful company that has reinvested in itself and its products over the years.”
ASC continues to be recognized as a leading provider of campus mass notification solutions. With refined hardware and innovative software solutions like CompuLert™ NEXGen, ASC is able to satisfy the campus safety demands of schools like FSU, even when it means serving multiple locations, integrating with existing systems, offering high accessibility and maintaining a fault-tolerant design.