Best Practices for Public Address and Mass Notification Systems

As you investigate options for Public Address and Mass Notification systems, what are some best practices you can look for in deciding upon and deploying a system?

The System

First, there is the system itself – how it works in and of itself and with other systems. The standard developed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) is an excellent starting point. NEMA identified each area of consideration for a public address / communication system. A summary of those requirements is listed below, and you can find the full document here.

Easy Dialing

Dialing 9-1-1 may be an easily understood method of getting help; however, dialing 9-9-1-1 (for an outside line) or 9-1-1#, or any other combination that requires training and thereby increases the risk of failure in the event of an emergency.

System Interoperability

When multiple systems are designated to be used as mass notification systems, it is important that they interface properly with each other, in particular with respect to voice messages and the fire alarm system.

Prioritization Determinations

In the past, nothing took greater priority than a fire alarm. Today, mass notification inputs are permitted to take priority over the fire alarm, so it is imperative that operational interfacing between systems be considered. And, national and regional emergency services such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) provide emergency broadcasts of weather and other warnings that are often interfaced with local public address and emergency voice notification systems. Consideration should be given to utilizing these services especially in areas subject to severe weather.

Emergency Takeover

Once an emergency condition has been identified, the emergency communications system can prioritize communications so that, to the greatest extent possible, routine communications do not interfere with emergency notification announcements, for example, when a telephone in a classroom is in use, there shall be adequate means to deliver emergency voice notification to all occupants of the room.

Physical Protection

An emergency communication system and its components should not be readily available for abuse or misuse, nor should it be routinely susceptible to damage or tampering. Equipment or components that present a risk of total emergency communication system failure must be physically protected. Physical protection may include locked rooms, wiring in conduit, tamper-proof plates and screws, or direct supervision by facility staff.

The System Deployment

The second piece of the puzzle is ensuring that the system is deployed properly.

Site and Needs Assessment

An experienced systems integrator will conduct a site and needs assessment prior to putting together a proposal. The site and needs assessment should include a review of your legacy systems, budgetary considerations, and future expansion and anticipated needs.

Certification and Experience

Your systems integrator should be professionally trained on the systems which they are installing and should have demonstrated experience in working with your legacy systems, particularly if there is a desire to use existing equipment where possible.


Upon installation of the system, the systems integrator should conduct a thorough testing of the system which includes conducting emergency communications with local authorities.

End User Training

Finally, training should be provided for all administrators and maintenance providers of the system.

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