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Ryley Wilcox
Ryley Wilcox
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I found my passion for journalism during my sophomore year of college, writing articles here and there for the North Wind. Since joining the staff this past semester as the news writer, I have been able...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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North Wind Editorial BoardFebruary 27, 2024

NMU updates mass notification

Over the past five years, NMU has been phasing out an over 20-year-old fire alarm system in a $2.9 million project to install a new system with added mass notification capabilities.

re-Monitor.WinterKeeferMass notification gives the university the ability to talk directly or send prerecorded messages to buildings from inside a select building or from Public Safety in the case of an emergency situation, Director of Public Safety and Police Services Mike Bath said.

Mass notification is integrated into the fire alarm system, allowing communication to either selected buildings or all campus buildings with the most updated fire alarms. Dorms are not on the mass notification system but have a fire alarm system integrated into the same server.

“Obviously with new technology you have the ability to upgrade, and at that point the University made the decision to put in mass notification,” Bath said.

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Bath explained that mass notification added another measure to other emergency alert systems on campus, including the text alert system and NMU laptop takeover capabilities that allow Public Safety to broadcast messages over all NMU laptops in case of emergency situations. The old fire alarm system was no longer upgradable.

“The unfortunate thing is 20 years from now we’ll probably be doing something again. Or, we’ll update this system but there’s always something coming new,” Bath said.

There have been three main phases to the mass notification project, Steve LaBar, architectural specialist for engineering and planning  said. The first phase began in June  2012 with requests for qualifications and contract bidding for an installer and electrical contractor. After contractors were determined, department heads were contacted to let them know an overview of the process.

“We had to keep the building’s existing fire alarm systems up and running while we did this. For safety reasons we can’t just knock down one and be working on it for two months while there’s no fire detection in the building,” LaBar said.

Much of the project was completed in the early mornings when students were not in class, he said. Meetings were also held with the State of Michigan’s Bureau of Fire Services electrical division to ensure equipment was up to code.

“It’s huge with what you hear nowadays, with events that occurred nationwide in other universities. It’s a win-win for everyone I think,” LaBar said.

There are 11 prerecorded messages available to broadcast over the mass notification system at a push of a button, said Fire and Security Specialist Lee Gould. These pre-recorded messages include fire alerts, shelter-in-place, major evacuation notices and active shooter notifications.

“The mass notification’s nice because before technology got there, if the fire alarm went off you assumed it was a fire. But, maybe the fire alarm went off because there was a tornado coming and we wanted people out of that building or we wanted people to shelter in place, you don’t set off a building’s alarm for that reason,” said Gould.

“Now we have a way to catch your attention in that building and tell you we’re under a severe threat of weather.”

The mass notification system is strictly to be used in emergency situations, Gould said. It will not be used for general announcements or by unauthorized personnel.

“If there is anything emergency-related we can use it but that is its only use,” he said.

The new fire alarm system also notifies dispatch of the exact location and time for both emergency alerts and maintenance needs, Gould said.

“A dispatcher hears it, sees it, they know what’s going on. It also gives them procedures and policies in place to read exactly what they need to do,” Gould said.

Most times the alerts are maintenance-related, he said. If a detector is dirty or needs repair, the alert will ensure maintenance before failure. Public Safety works closely with Engineering and Planning to continue keeping systems on campus up-to-date.

“It was a big collaborative effort,” Gould said.

Public Safety encourages students to sign up for text alerts at nmu.edu/publicsafety and like Northern Michigan University Public Safety and Police Services on Facebook.

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