Originally printed in Parking Today magazine, March 2013
As in most businesses, parking professionals continue to struggle over the best direction to ensure the operation’s success. On one hand, there is a need to provide the best possible service and safety for those that access your facility. On the other hand, market drivers continue to push towards a more automated system where onsite personnel are less and less relevant. So how do you balance these two demands, which seem to be pulling in opposite directions? One answer is to take a new look a product that has been a staple in the parking industry for decades-emergency phones.
Creating Reliable Communication Lines
Providing the best service possible always starts with communication, which is why emergency phones can be a critical driver for providing quality security and service to visitors. Emergency phones, many times referred to as blue light phones or help points, are outdoor-rated communication devices that can be secured into an enclosure that is attached to the wall or floor of the parking structure. These are ideal solutions for visitors to request assistance for a medical emergency, vehicle issues, suspicious person reporting and crime witnessing. Instead of dialing 911 via their cell phone and connecting with a first responder that could be miles away, emergency phones allow a person to instantly connect directly with the personnel on site at the facility.
Emergency phones can also provide non-emergency services to these same visitors. If devices such as gates, elevators, lights or electric car charging stations are not working, emergency phones provide visitors with an outlet to notify staff of these issues. They can also serve as a courtesy phones, allowing users to request directions and ask questions. Their presence alone can provide peace of mind to visitors and deter would-be assailants from taking action.
From an operational perspective, emergency phones can minimize the cost of additional security personnel to proactively patrol all of the levels and stairwells in the facility. Additionally, most emergency phones are modular in construction, meaning with little cost they can easily be upgraded with the latest components and integrations. When implemented correctly, they can also help minimize legal considerations by offering visitors another level of security and allowing security personnel to provide a faster response time.
UL 2017 is the Key
When it comes to emergency phones, not all are created equal. Security professionals understand that the most reliable, weather-resistant and future-proof products on the market are built for the regulations. This includes things like ADA and NFPA 72 Chapter 24 compliance (emergency communication systems). The key regulation, however, consumers need to look for when purchasing emergency phones is a UL 2017 listing for emergency signaling devices. This identifies emergency phones that are self-monitoring; meaning that if all or a portion of the device faults for any reason, the device’s diagnostics can immediately notify those maintaining the security system that there is an issue. This is of particular importance in parking garages, where conditions can fluctuate with the outside weather.
Some intercom companies have attempted to sell their devices as emergency phones, sometimes referring to them “intelligent intercoms.” From the outside they appear similar, but often these devices cannot hold up to the rigors of natural or manmade stressors, such as extreme temperatures or vandalism. Because these devices are not built with emergency situations in mind, they come with ratings such as UL 60950 that only covers basic office equipment like traditional telephones and does not include any type of proactive monitoring capabilities.
One device that is UL 2017 listed is the CB 2-e from Code Blue Corporation, which has been installed in parking garages across North America including Vancouver International Airport, Casino du Lac-Leamy (Québec, Canada) and and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (Grand Rapids, Michigan). This wall mounted Help Point® allows the person in need of assistance to push the emergency alert button and be instantly connected to the parking staff. The device can include either an analog or IP speakerphone technology and offers a bright LED light that notifies visitors of its location. The CB 2-e also can be outfitted with secondary security devices such as cameras and public address speakers to enhance the functionality of the device. Code Blue even offers a variation of the CB 2-e called the DFB 2-e that includes a temperature controlled AED (automated external defibrillator) housing that can be opened remotely by a security personnel when the button is pushed.
A unique feature of help points offered by Code Blue Corporation is the inclusion of auxiliary inputs on the speakerphone. Through an input port, a parking facility can integrate other safety devices through the phones connected. For example, a nearby fire extinguisher housing can be wired into the auxiliary port in such a way that when the housing is opened (either for a fire emergency or due to criminal activity) the contact closure is triggered and an alert is sent through the phone to alert security. Camera feeds can also be integrated to give the responder eyes on the incident as it is occurring.
“Emergency help points like our CB 2-e are so much more than just an emergency phones,” said John Lapham, Code Blue’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “With their advanced functionality, monitoring capabilities, and auxiliary components, these devices serve as critical hubs for the security infrastructure of parking facilities.”
Solutions for Any Facility
For some existing facilities, it may become difficult to run additional communication or power lines for emergency phones. Advancing technology has provided a number of power, communication and mounting options that make it easier than ever to implement emergency phones. One example is Code Blue’s NightCharge®, a unique switched-power network device that allows a help point to receive power through an existing power source (such as a light pole) that is only turned on at night. When the light is on, NightCharge supplies power to the phone while also charging a battery that during the day will power the unit.
From a communication perspective, emergency phones have several options to connect without running additional conduit to the device. IP wireless connectors and cellular modules are available to provide communication to and from the unit. These options also allow the device to providing full UL 2017 self-monitoring capabilities.
When it comes to open parking facilities and lots, there may not be sufficient wall spaces to mount emergency phones. That is why freestanding pedestal options are also available that can be mounted into the ground. This provides flexibility in placement of the phones and eliminates the logistical need to place them only at the edges of the facility.
Connecting to a Larger Ecosystem
Emergency signaling-rated devices like the CB 2-e help point also provide the ability to integrate into larger incident response ecosystems, providing security and first responders with more comprehensive tools for providing assistance. Using a product like Code Blue’s Blue Alert EMS (Event Management Software), security personnel can tap into camera feeds nearest to the emergency help point to assess the situation and communicate with the person who has pushed the button. Then, when the incident is done, the system will automatically archive the video feeds, voice communication and the responder’s written notes into a secure file for later reference.
Another critical layer of security in which emergency phones can integrate is mass notification. The ability for first responders to push critical messages out via emergency devices throughout a parking facility is integral to a comprehensive security solution. It is of particular importance for areas such as colleges and hospitals, where parking facilities are part of a larger ecosystem. Software, such as the new Blue Alert® MNS (Mass Notification Software) from Code Blue allows messages to be broadcast over public address speakers, emergency phones, and digital signs and monitors while also providing the ability to deliver email and SMS notifications.
As demands continue to evolve in parking facilities, and the need for automation grows, it is important to remember that devices like emergency phones remain a critical driver of effective and efficient communication. When properly built and tested for the regulations, they can not only provide a secure way to interact with those needing assistance but they can also serve as a hub for communication between the parking structure and a larger ecosystem.
Written by David Fleming, Marketing Manager for Code Blue Corporation.