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The Importance of Audio-Visual Communication to Emergency Notification

How we communicate with each other is constantly evolving. For millennia, any communication that wasn’t in person was by necessity visual. Advances in audio technology, such as the telephone and public address systems, turned communication trends towards the audio for a long time. Making pages over PA systems and calling people on their phones was the fastest and easiest way to get in touch with people. Emergency and critical communications systems mirrored that preference. They focused on paging and on phone calling. But recently, there’s been a shift back towards visual communication. It’s vital that emergency notification adapt to keep up.

A Shift to Visual

Even within everyday communication, there has been a shift towards a preference for the visual. People would rather receive an e-mail or a text than a phone call or a voice mail. There are many reasons for this, including convenience, but a major contributor is that important information is easy to reference with no action required on the part of the recipient. Everyone’s remembers listening to a voice mail multiple times in order to write down a phone number. Now, if you leave a voice mail with important information in it, a lot of people will see that as an inconvenience and wonder why you didn’t just text or e-mail them instead.

Direct messaging isn’t the only place we expect more visual communication. Increasingly, people want subtitles on videos, even in their own language, so that they can be viewed with the volume turned down or understood even when in a noisy environment. If a speaker has a different accent from our own, subtitles can make it easier to understand. So why don’t we expect subtitles for paging and announcements?

Audio and Visual Public Address

Even in normal, everyday announcements, having visual communication be a part of the page is extremely helpful. People aren’t always paying attention immediately and could miss the first part of an audio-only PA announcement that is then not repeated. Environments can be noisy, or people could be wearing headphones. Then there’s the fact that some people are more visual learners and would have a harder time immediately comprehending something that is only audio. Providing visual communication on top of audio makes all communications accessible to the deaf and blind communities, helping organizations ensure ADA compliance. Text may also assist people whose first language may not be English and who might be able to read English better than they can hear it. Everyone deserves to have equal access to information.

Audiovisual PA in Emergencies

Emergencies are unpredictable and can be very noisy environments. Between people shouting and screaming or the sounds of of a storm, gunshots, an explosion (which could render the people nearby at least temporarily deaf), or other loud noises, the people you’re trying to reach might be unable to hear an audio page over the PA. A visual component to your emergency communication system thus becomes vital to communicating the information people will need to save lives. People also often look to a second source of information to corroborate what they’re hearing before they actually take action. Providing a visual component to your PA announcement can provide this second source of information.

MessageNet’s Audiovisual Solution

MessageNet’s solution is audiovisual PA. Instead of having speakers alone, MessageNet’s devices are signs that have both speakers and a screen so that both audio and visual messages can be played. Some audiovisual devices have LED text boards, but MessageNet’s Omni includes an LCD screen that can scroll messages, display images, including evacuation maps, and videos as needed in addition to speakers and flashers that can get people’s attention.

Jessica Neuner

About Jessica Neuner

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