Newfoundland’s Memorial University is working on a telecommunications network that would use IP communications to send emergency alerts to landline phones, computers and cellular phones.
“The provincial government wanted the university to put in a system like this,” said Randy Rowsell, IT manager of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, which is the Corner Brook, Nfld. campus of St. John’s-based Memorial University.
The system will be based on BlazeCast, manufactured by Ottawa-based Benbria Corp., and Mitel Networks Corp.’s Dynamic Extensions software, which is an add-on to the Mitel Communications Director (MCD) private branch exchange (PBX) software.
Mitel and Benbria operate out of the same building. Both were founded by Terry Matthews, who started numerous Ottawa networking firms, such as March Networks Corp. and Newbridge Networks Corp., now part of Alcatel-Lucent.
Memorial University has been using Mitel products for more than 10 years, Rowsell said. The emergency notification system was purchased from Mitel as a result of competitive bidding. Rowsell said he was not authorized to name the other bidders or the amount Memorial University paid for the system.
“We usually do a price versus feature comparison,” he said. “This one was probably the cheaper solution as well as the most feature rich.”
Memorial University is still installing Dynamic Extensions, plus the Category 6 Ethernet cabling necessary to connect speakers to the system.
The intent is to let a staff member send an alert to the paging system, desktop computers and landline and cellular phones if there is an on-campus incident, such as a criminal roaming around with a firearm, a hazardous materials spill or fire.
“If we had an active shooter, we could send a message that says, ‘Push this button if you see the shooter,’” Rowsell said. “One of features we will use in Benbria is the ability to send an HTML screen to phones. We can control what’s on the screen of all phones. We could put a map right on the phone … if we wanted people to leave.”
Sir Wilfred Grenfell College started migrating to IP telephony about five years ago, Rowsell said. By next month, its telecom system will be fully voice over IP, using two redundant Mitel 3300 hardware units. It plans to retire the older Mitel SX2000 PBXs.
Using the Dynamic Extensions feature of MCD, the school plans to give every student a phone number, which can be tied to three or four devices, such as a landline, cellular phone or personal computer running Microsoft Corp.’s Office Communications Server, Rowsell said.
That way, when there’s an emergency a first responder can push a button and have a message sent to all phones, PCs and paging systems simultaneously.
Students can add their cellular numbers to a calling list so they could receive emergency messages by short messaging system (SMS) as well, Rowsell said.
“Emergency notification is a new trend in higher education,” said Jeff Nolan, Mitel’s vice-president of sales. “We have seen very strong growth through BlazeCast. The ability able to notify multiple devices and modes of an adverse event is a game changer in the unified communications industry.”
Nolan said users who add Dynamic Extensions to MCD can tie one phone number to eight different devices.
“No additional hardware is required and you don’t need any major management changes,” he said.
By using Benbria BlazeCast, he said, a university could warn students of an emergency by locking down the screen of a handheld device such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
“Oten kids are sitting on their iPhones with earbuds,” Nolan said. “They are not listening for pages.”