From Security Dealer & Integrator (SD&I) Magazine, February 2017, Written by Don Commare, Vice President of Marketing at Inovonics
Nearly everyone has heard of personal emergency response systems, or PERS, which was designed primarily for at-home individuals, often seniors. It allows its users to call for help with the press of a button in exchange for a monthly fee collected by the PERS provider.
While similar in look and basic functionality, panic buttons in enterprise mobile duress serve as additions to commercial security systems, designed to provide a layer of safety to individual employees and staff while on corporate grounds.
Both PERS and mobile duress allow users to summon help with the press of a panic button, but in a commercial setting, the users are different, and so are the reasons for using it, as well as the kind of help being summoned. PERS, while perfectly suited for residential use, is not suited for commercial applications. Enterprise mobile duress systems are designed for commercial use, providing the necessary reliability to enable early warning that can immediately summon on-site or off-site security assistance.
Usually, a PERS panic button is carried on the user’s person, and is activated in the case of a medical emergency. Once the button is pressed, a console or base station connected to the user’s telephone is activated, and a call for help is made – most often to a professional monitoring center. After talking to the individual, the monitoring center determines the nature and severity of the emergency, reviews the customer’s pre-established profile, and makes a call to either 911 or whomever is listed as an emergency contact.
PERS has evolved to include mobile capabilities when linked with a cellular provider, or mPERS. When activated, the monitoring center receives a notification along with location information or coordinates provided by the device.
There is a version of mPERS – an app-based system designed for mobile phone use – which is used for security in limited applications. These systems are typically adopted by universities because of the high concentration of mobile users, and have been integrated with mass communication systems and escort services as part of a greater campus security program. App-based systems rely on a mobile phone’s location capabilities but do not have adequate in-building resolution to satisfy most commercial needs. These systems are also unsupervised, meaning there is no system monitoring to ensure sufficient battery levels or the alarm capture reliability typically required for commercial application. Likewise, they require access to a cellular phone, and in the case of PERS, time for direct interaction with the call center. For all of these reasons, PERS and mPERS have not been adopted widely outside of post-secondary education and residential senior at-home use.
Enterprise Mobile Duress
Although PERS shares a primary user interface – the panic button – with commercial security systems, they are used for different reasons. Commercial security systems are generally deployed in duress applications where the threat of physical harm is imminent. It is tempting to conflate the two applications, but while PERS and mPERS have similarities in the end-user interface, that is where the similarities end. The end-users are different, as are the reasons for using it, as well as the expected response.
Likewise, the necessary coverage area could not be more dissimilar. PERS provides at-home coverage, possibly extending into a small yard; mPERS provides coverage away from home, through a cellular connection. Both require incremental service fees, whereas there is typically no incremental cost for mobile duress after installation, because it is integrated into the existing security infrastructure.
In a commercial setting, employees are mobile, working in facilities which often require multi-building access, as well as a system that is fully operational without intervention the minute an employee enters the property. The requirement of in-building and between-building coverage places demands on a duress network not found in PERS. Personal communication is often not possible, so the response protocol must be pre-planned and immediate – activating the panic button must summon emergency responders without intermediaries.
When you add in supervision to monitor system health, battery level sufficient to send an alarm, and integration with other physical security systems such as video management and access control, the difference between the applications become much clearer.
Who Uses Panic and Enterprise Mobile Duress Buttons?
To help illustrate the differences between commercial security and PERS/mPERS, let’s look at the use cases for enterprise mobile duress in commercial security applications.
Just as intrusion and fire systems provide early warning against property damage and loss, mobile duress systems provide advance notice that someone needs help. They are a critical component of any security system concerned with employee safety, and because they are usually able to leverage existing infrastructure, they are cost-effective and easy to integrate with existing systems.
The markets for mobile duress include banking, where the threat of armed robbery exists; government, where members can become a focal point for resentment and/or retaliation; and human resources, where workplace violence has become an unfortunate reality. Here are some market-specific use cases for panic buttons in an enterprise mobile duress system.
K-12 Education’s need for mobile duress has been highlighted by high-profile active shooter events, which have exposed the weaknesses of security on education campuses. When an event occurs, every second counts. Within seconds, the activation of a panic button can alert the police, a student resource officer and targeted members of faculty and staff. It can also be integrated into the security system such that it can be used to trigger a lockdown, and even to begin sharing video from the school’s surveillance cameras with responders arriving on scene. Most modern education campuses are large and have only a limited number of security personnel onsite – mobile duress enables employees and staff to provide a discreet and immediate call for help.
Acute Care provides its own set of dangers to employees and staff. The Emergency Nurses Association reports that two-thirds of all nurses have been the victim of a physical assault, and that a quarter of all nurses have been assaulted more than 20 times in the past three years. Mobile duress systems are deployed in acute care facilities to alert security personnel and/or police, and have been proven to be effective in reducing violence. Nurses can call for help when assaulted, or to deescalate situations in hopes of preventing attack. Activation of a panic button can immediately alert hospital administrators and security on the devices they are already using – including two-way radios and mobile phones – no matter where the responders and administrators are. This allows the kind of targeted response necessary to resolve or defuse threatening situations.
Banking, Retail and Convenience Stores use panic buttons as a widely accepted means to provide employees with an easy way of alerting the police to a robbery without being detected by criminals – hence the names hold-up buttons and silent alarms; however, this is not their sole function. The activation of a panic button in a mobile duress system can also provide an alert to targeted members of staff, and can be used to implement safety measures without an intermediary, including locking doors behind the robber to prevent their return and a potential hostage situation, and the annunciation of an event in other areas, such as a break room, warning other employees not to enter an at-risk area.
Government users have a variety of uses for panic buttons, including to protect courtroom judges and in VA hospitals for many of the same reasons as in other acute care environments. They are used in a variety of government buildings to warn of everything from active shooters to severe weather, alerting popup messages, visual strobes, LED signs and public address interfaces.