Heard and Seen

Heard and Seen

Alpha Video and Audio introduces an innnovative emergency notification system for schools.

Alpha Video and Audio scored big when it was tapped to install the video and graphic production systems that feed content to the big LED scoreboard at Target Field. (Scoreboards at two other Major League Baseball venues, Boston’s Fenway Park and the Miami Marlins’ new stadium, are up next.) But the Edina-based company also sees a major-league business opportunity developing in a northern Minnesota school district.

This fall, Alpha Video installed an innovative emergency visual notification (EVN) system in five schools in Independent School District (ISD) 2142 in St. Louis County. “As far as we can determine, it’s the first dynamic digital signage [that is being used] as part of an integrated visual component strategy,” says Kevin Groves, Alpha Video’s chief operating officer and director of sales.

The visual component serves the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in ways standard alarm and notification systems cannot. If a fire alarm is pulled, for example, emergency notification messages are immediately displayed on digital signs at critical locations throughout the building as well as on classroom AV systems. The signage also can direct students to the safest evacuation route, and classroom displays can provide detailed instructions and safety reminders.

ISD 2142 tested its new system with basic fire drills and simulated lockdowns shortly after school started this fall. The district even invited parents on campus to participate in the drills. While improved safety drove the decision to install the EVN system, Kristi Berlin, principal at ISD 2142’s South Ridge School in Culver, northwest of Duluth, also notes that “we were also looking to integrate all of our technology in ways that cut costs and create systems not just for today, but for our future, too.”

Alpha Video built the EVN system by integrating existing hardware and software. The core technology is a software interface that Alpha Video and Audio developed in partnership with the Minnesota-based security division of Germany-based technology corporation Bosch. The interface integrates Alpha Video’s castNET digital signage software and the Bosch Praesideo digital public address and emergency sound system.

Any EVN installation that includes castNET also includes much of the hardware and software needed for a wide array of other digital signage and video display applications, including marketing, employee communications, customer service, and more. Alpha Video’s EVN system also can be added to other types of digital signage and video display systems.

ISD 2142 jumped ahead of the curve by selecting Alpha Video’s system; other schools may soon be following its lead. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is rewriting the code regarding requirements for emergency alerts inside buildings. “We expect changes to NFPA code to begin requiring mass notifications systems to include a visual component [in 2012],” Groves says.

If that happens, Alpha Video, whose sales in 2011 topped the $30 million mark, believes that it can offer hospitals and companies as well as schools a useful approach. “Our system allows businesses to roll out new solutions or add capabilities on top of what is already a very valuable platform,” Groves says.

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