Connected: Emergency notice system is 'smart'

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You're sitting in a conference room at a local university. Everything seems safe -- and generally it is. But suppose one of the chemistry labs in a nearby building has a fire or chemicals are mixed and create toxic fumes.

Certainly your safety is more assured if you can be alerted to the problem quickly and told what to do to get to safety. Traditional alarm systems do part of the task; but with a university or other large institution, the task is more complex. Depending on where you are on campus, or even within a specific building, the types of warnings might be different, and the instructions might change.

That's where Metis Secure comes in. This Oakmont-based company produces emergency notification systems that are more intelligent than your typical alarm or call box.

There are several key parts of the Metis Secure emergency warning system -- a PC software-based system and the alerting devices. The alerting devices look like large thermostats; but they're really two way communications devices that can be controlled remotely.

According to Mark Kurtzrock, president and CEO, these devices work in conjunction to send the right message to the right place in a matter of seconds.

In the case of a chemical spill or gas leak, somebody in the lab can walk up to the alerting device, typically situated on a wall in or near the lab, and call the accident in by voice to the main security desk. At that point the security personnel can look up in the Metis system to see where the leak is and find a floor plan of that section of campus, including where all the Metis alerting devices are. An alarm can then be sent giving specific instructions to each Metis device based on where it is in relation to the problem. In a situation that Mr. Kurtzrock describes as typical, he might tell people on one floor where to go to evacuate, while determining that people on another floor would be safer by staying put.

The Metis system also provides a call-for-help function, especially in areas of weak, limited or overburdened cellular phone service. If somebody is hurt, seriously ill or in distress, he presses the button on the Metis device and tells the dispatcher what's wrong.

Mr. Kurtzrock suggests that likely places to see the need for this type of system are campuses -- especially those with hazardous materials, like most major universities -- industrial facilities and high-rise buildings. If hazardous materials are on-site, the Metis system can even build their locations into the database, to ensure bigger problems don't happen as a result of a single incident.

A key to Metis' approach is redundant communications paths -- if one is blocked, another is likely to work. Most companies rely on several sets of wires for redundancy; but Metis uses several technologies -- Ethernet (aka plain old computer networks), wireless mesh transceivers and FM subsignals. That way if the wires are affected, say burned in a fire, one of the wireless methods may continue to operate properly. The system also can work with traditional fire alarms, video cameras and LED signs to create a single emergency notification system.

The system is ready to go live at Slippery Rock University and Carnegie Mellon University.


You can reach David Radin or sign up for his tips at www.megabyteminute.com .


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