Craig Dever

Choose your mobile coercion devices wisely

When selecting a system, make sure it’s supervised, on a dedicated network and designed for life safety, so it works when you need it.

Ed. Remark: This article was previously posted on Campus Security

Is it more dangerous to have an unattended mobile coercion system than no system at all? This is a question that every security director will have to weigh when choosing between the available options for mobile coercion. Whatever claims are made for a mobile coercion solution, it almost goes without saying that the first requirement is that it must work. If a device has a dead battery, is turned off, or is simply inactive, it doesn’t matter how accurate the location capability is: no alarm is sent at all. The only way to ensure that a mobile duress system is operational is to use a monitored system on a dedicated network, designed to reliably provide alarms.

“Mobile coercion is a critical part of school safety and has been a priority for me for years,” said Guy Grace, president of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools. “During my time as safety director for Littleton Public Schools, we used mobile coercion, and it was fantastic. But any wireless life safety system must meet the same reliability requirements as its wired counterparts, as well as the same regulatory standards. Oversight is needed to meet those requirements and standards. comply.”

Craig Dever

Craig Dever

What is ‘Supervision?’

Supervision refers to the ability of a mobile coercion system to monitor its own health. They should be able to tell you that you have full coverage and that everything is working properly. This requires a secure, monitored wireless network. Since reliability in a life safety system can be a matter of life and death, there is no room for error. If a component in a mobile coercion system has a problem, it should send an alert so it can be fixed immediately.

This means something as simple as alerting system administrators when a device’s battery is low so they have enough time to replace it. It also means that the system must send alerts to campus security personnel if one of the devices has been tampered with, so that a malicious person cannot intentionally disable it. In a fully controlled system, each device also sends a constant stream of check-in messages. If the head-end does not receive a check-in message from a device within a predetermined interval, it considers it inactive and also sends a warning.

The interval between check-in messages should be short enough to ensure that inactive devices can be replaced or repaired without compromising safety. “There should be no more than 200 seconds between check-in intervals, and surveillance should span every device in the infrastructure,” Grace says.

Mobile coercion needs a special network, possibility of integration

Full supervision also requires a dedicated network for your mobile coercion system. Because supervision alerts and check-in messages are sent over the same network as alarm messages, they must be delivered with the same life-safety level of reliability. However, a dedicated network does not mean that a mobile coercion system should not be able to integrate with the security system already in place. In fact, the opposite is true. It must be flexible enough to work with virtually any existing security system, and integrate enough to allow for a variety of responses.

For example, when a mobile alarm button is pressed, it can be configured to initiate the school closure procedure. But the assurance that the system is operational and alarms are going through must be a priority. Necessarily, any mobile duress system relies on wireless protocols to transmit alarms. Mobile coercion solutions that use wireless technology not designed for life safety, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, can sometimes provide the location but not the reliability to ensure the alarm messages are delivered. And if those systems are unattended, there’s no way of knowing if alarms are missed or if the system is even operational.

Mobile coercion apps on cell phones are probably the least secure option. Not only are there the challenges of coverage, which we have all encountered with our cell phones, but there is usually a complete lack of oversight. If a phone’s battery runs out or loses connection, or the app crashes, there’s no way to know. These are combined with the logistical problems inherent in using a mobile phone itself. Since any mobile coercion device must be immediately available, a password or pin-protected phone is of little use in an emergency.

Wireless protocol should be designed for life safety

A mobile coercion system must be designed with life safety in mind and must use an appropriate wireless protocol. We use Bluetooth to send music from our phones to our earbuds; Wi-Fi for streaming media; Zigbee and Z-Wave for home automation; and we’ve come to assume there’s cellular coverage wherever we go – even if we’re often disappointed – but none of it is designed for life safety applications. They are usually unsupervised and simply do not provide the required level of confidence.

This is not a flaw in any of these other wireless protocols. Life safety is simply not their goal. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are designed to move large amounts of data over relatively short distances, but as we all know from experience, neither can handle obstacles well and coverage can be spotty. Each is excellent at what it was designed for, but not for the safety of life. A life-safety system requires a secure, monitored wireless network, away from the common errors and downtimes that plague other wireless connections.

A life safety system is designed to move small amounts of data – alarms and warnings – over moderate ranges in commercial environments, using frequency hopping spread spectrum technology that sends redundant messages across multiple channels to avoid interference and obstructions. The system network must ensure that high priority warning and alarm messages are delivered without interference and without interfering with other systems in place. “A properly installed, dedicated mobile coercion system will not interfere with other wireless systems the school uses, the school’s Wi-Fi, the radio interoperability system, or even other wireless security technology,” Grace says.

To ensure the delivery of both supervision and alarm messages, the wireless backbone of any mobile duress alarm system must also be designed to ensure multiple paths from the alarm device to the receiver. Usually this is accomplished by installing a network of devices called repeaters that listen for messages and then resend them to the head-end. “Any device that doesn’t transmit directly to the head-end must have at least two paths to transmit its signals,” Grace adds. “For example, if one repeater fails, the signal is sent with a second repeater.” In addition, each of those repeaters must itself be supervised, so alerts can also be sent if any of them are tampered with or become inactive.

All mobile coercion components must be supervised

Whether it’s a repeater, one of the mobile duress devices or even the gateway itself, every part of a mobile duress system must be monitored. Without full supervision, there is no guarantee that a sent message will be delivered, rendering the system useless in an emergency. There are a number of mobile coercion options on the market and it can be difficult to choose between them. But the most important consideration should be the reliability that comes from a monitored, dedicated network.

Craig Dever is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Inovonics

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