Aussie system to speed up schools' response to emergencies

After an extensive period of development and testing, a Queensland company has taken to market a system designed to make it easy for organisations with sprawling campuses to more quickly respond to emergencies.

The system, which has initially been targeted at the education market, is named 'Critical Incident Management' or CIM. It was released early this year by SmartSpeak, a spin-off of Queensland-based Azentro.

The heart of CIM is a dashboard that displays an interactive map of an organisation's campus. "From a single source in real time you can see events as they unfold on that campus and also track acknowledgements of events," explains SmartSpeak's Michael Bishop, who helped design the system.

"So an example: If you think of a map with all the buildings in a school on it. If there was an event in a building — a fire alarm went off or a teacher manually activated an alarm — that building would turn red."

A school's critical incident management team would be notified and be able to see at a glance which area of the school is affected.

"Then basically they can begin their collaboration around responding to the event — what type of resources are required, what's taking place and so forth," Bishop said.

"There's a live chat facility so different stakeholders, whether they're inside the college or outside the college or in different areas, can collaborate around this event. There's also a conference call facility.

"If a student was injured there could be real-time collaboration between a staff member on an iPad who is waiting at the gate of the college for an ambulance, and there could be someone else in student services taking measures to contact the student's parents."

As an incident unfolds events are recorded so that a school's response can be analysed afterwards to discover potential process and policy improvements.

CIM can be integrated with fire systems as well as other in-building systems such as campus bells and lift alarms, Bishop said.

"Another typical scenario might be that it's reported there's someone on college grounds that perhaps shouldn't be. You can select the affected area from the map and essentially place the school into lockdown.

"The way that the lockdown facility works you would still have your red area on the map which is where the actual incident is taking place and then all of the other nearby blocks would turn to an amber colour, which signifies that they haven't acknowledged the event yet.

"An alert triggers off a sequence of events; and one of those events might be using the paging system and the telephone handsets in the school to deliver a message to the teachers. That message might be what action to take, such as locking down the classroom or moving students to a safe area. Once that message is received they're asked to acknowledge it by pressing a key on the telephone."

Acknowledgement would change the colour of the building on the CIM map to notify the critical incident management team that the message has been received.

The system can significantly increase the speed of responding to an emergency, Bishop said.

"The school can focus on the area that hasn't acknowledged [the alert] instead of having to send a staff member to every building as many businesses would do today," he said.

"In a worst case scenario, when emergency services arrive they can be shown on the college map 'these are the areas we haven't been able to get a message out to'."

CIM comes with a Web services API which opens up the possibility of integrating with other applications and a variety of building automation systems. One example of an integration that SmartSpeak has worked on is with TASS — The Alpha School System.

"TASS is basically the student database," Bishop said. "That integration gives the school the capability via CIM to send an SMS broadcast to parents and they can nominate which year groups, or right down to parents that have children in a block that affected at the time — so the system's aware of what classes taking place at what time in what buildings ."

It is possible to integrate building control systems using the C-Bus network protocol. "One integration we're looking at doing at the moment is integrating with the electronic locking system on the doors," Bishop said.

"After a school is evacuated we could remotely lock down certain parts of the school and have notification of that [on the CIM map]."

The locking system integration is due to be complete around June, Bishop said.

The initial CIM customer base is primarily educational organisations, Bishop said. The company only went to market early this year and the first customer was Sheldon College, a preschool to year 12 college in Queensland with some 1500 students and 200-250 staff.

There has also been interest from unexpected sectors, Bishop said. "One direction we certainly didn't think about upfront that's since come to us is large companies that are interested in equipment monitoring," he said.

"If you think of a large printing plant or even a mining organisation —if a piece of equipment goes out of service that can be very costly expense for the business. So what they want is a map that can facilitate the monitoring of equipment and then notify certain personnel of if equipment goes down. That might involve getting a message out to a fault team to attend the site to fix that equipment."

The full potential of the system is still yet to be unlocked, Bishop said. Because of its role in emergency situations, development and testing has taken years.

"We decided as a business we wanted to have assurances behind the product and its performance before it was something we would release to the public," Bishop said. "We've certainly spent the time and hard yards, internally testing scenarios to make sure the product performs as expected."


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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