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IP Intercoms Assist Classroom Support and Emergency Response at UNC Charlotte

Author: Chris Coffin

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

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By Chris Coffin, CEO, Digital Acoustics

Originally published in our Jan/Feb 2008 issue.

Finding a solution to an ongoing problem about reporting malfunctioning audio/visual equipment at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte unexpectedly resulted in a solution that would eventually be used for emergency communications on campus.

Steve Clark, Director of Classroom Support, is charged with providing support to 21,000 students and 1,400 faculty members across a sprawling 1,000-acre campus. With such a large user base scattered among 74 buildings, the existing one-way message system connecting classrooms with the support center was proving to be a bottleneck. In addition to problems going unreported, if professors did contact the help desk to report technical difficulties, the descriptions were insufficient to solve the problem without going on-site.

In an effort to improve the classroom technology support UNC Charlotte educators receive, Clark began to search for a cost-effective intercom system. “Our hope was to establish a simple-to-use, two-way communication system within our classrooms. We evaluated PC-based software solutions that required extra microphones, individual configurations, and extensive user training, as well as various network-based intercom systems with some nice features, but which usually required an expensive hardware infrastructure.”

The solution Clark settled upon was the ii3 Internet Protocol (IP) Intercom from Digital Acoustics. “Since many of our classrooms don’t have PCs, we realized a software solution would not meet our requirements. And Classroom Support needed an inexpensive hardware solution. We chose the Digital Acoustics product because configuration is extremely simple, the cost is cheaper than adding new equipment to the network, and installation is as simple as plug and play.”

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Support at the Push of a Button

337 ii3 IP Intercoms were installed in classrooms across campus, providing educators with the equivalent of a standard Push-to-Talk Intercom. Plugged into UNC Charlotte’s existing local and wide area networks, the intercoms provide instant two-way communication between the classroom and the help desk using standard network audio protocols. Using the Digital Acoustics intercoms, UNC Charlotte educators relay issues directly to Clark’s support staff with the push of a button.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the Office of Classroom Support discovered a new use for the intercom solution. An electrical problem on campus caused an explosion that knocked out power at UNC. “People were frantically posting signs and sending voicemails to stay away from the building. It was a logistical nightmare,” Clark said. The lack of power caused a number of communication problems and tested the University’s emergency preparedness. “I went to the Provost and proposed the use of Digital Acoustics intercoms in those types of emergencies,” Clark added. “The idea was well received and we’ve been working to equip every gathering space with these intercoms. We had our wakeup call before Virginia Tech, but that incident cemented how important it is to have a multi-pronged approach in place for handling emergencies.”

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Immediate Response Achieved

With instructors reporting they are “extremely happy” with the improved response time, a top priority for UNC Charlotte is to place ii3 IP Intercoms in the majority of classrooms on campus, as well as at satellite locations. With more than 300 units installed, Clark’s goal is to reach 100 percent saturation during the 2007-2008 academic year, including classrooms with minimal technology as well as high-tech locations.

In addition, UNC Charlotte recently installed and successfully tested a warning siren which provides a warning sound and verbal mes¬sages to people who are outdoors on campus, in the event of an imminent emergency. Emergencies may include weather related threats, hazardous materials releases, or acts or threats of violence.

Clark said, “In the Virginia Tech crisis, no single individual had a clear picture of what happened two hours earlier. Intercoms can assist in that type of situation. The enterprise console lets you listen in and gather information. If anyone hears an explosion, a gunshot, or even a cry for help, they just press the button once and there’s a connection to the police and the control desk monitor. I can think of no better way to let faculty know that support is available than by providing a one-button help request system with the ease of use that this one offers.”

Chris Coffin is CEO and Co-founder of Lake Forest, IL-based Digital Acoustics. Chris is responsible for developing the senior executive team creating innovative IP intercom and paging solutions for the security and communications markets. He welcomes comments at chris.coffin@digitalacoustics.com. More information is available at www.digitalacoustics.com

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