Axis Communications – managing emergencies better with audio instructions

Andrea Sorri of Axis Communications outlines how networked audio solutions can make a big impact on public safety and the management of emergency situations.

When a crisis event occurs in any kind of public or crowded environment – be that a stadium, train station or city street – the risk posed by the emergency itself is often compounded by the risk of the ensuing panic in the crowd. In many cases it is a lack of information or direction that causes havoc as people try to get to safety, often doing exactly the wrong thing or heading in the wrong direction which only increases the impact of the event.

The initial response is a tough challenge for authorities in charge of the situation. Immediate and strong action is required, and a clear message that cuts through noise and panic can have a positive effect on the situation. The use of horn speakers for public announcements is a critical piece of infrastructure, providing loud and clear directions to the crowd.

Panic itself creates a threat which can escalate a situation and prolong the effect of the incident that has just taken place. Prompt communication can help ease the circumstances and in some cases reduce the level of panic if people feel they are being guided by an authority. Providing adequate instructions can also enable faster rescue operations and more efficient access to the scene for emergency services. It can also help direct crowds towards muster points and reunite individuals with their friends or family members.

The first area of focus for protecting big events or crowded public spaces should be to increase the strictness of checkpoint controls, using more technology to limit vulnerabilities. In addition, system integration plays a key role – for instance, adding audio to video so that incidents can be monitored visually, and audio instructions or warnings can be sent from a centralised location to help control the situation.

Every member of a crowd is influenced by what others around them are doing. Forward and backward movement and shoulder-to-shoulder contact might be very intense in a panic situation. When people see someone running, even without understanding what has happened, their instinct will be to start running as well. This represents a threat, and live audio communication can play a big role in avoiding accidents caused by the crowd itself. IP-enabled horn speakers can be crucial tools in managing the crowd and providing immediate information to people in each zone and in any language.

The dynamics and the density of a crowd can change in an instant and this is difficult to detect at ground level. By observing the behaviour of the crowd with panoramic multi-megapixel cameras, it is possible to monitor those changes from multiple perspectives. This helps with targeted communication and also allows emergency services to focus specific attention on any individuals in difficulty.

After the initial panic is over, audio is again necessary as people need to be reassured that the area is safe. Instructions can be given for the calm restoration of normal order, directions to public transport and avoidance of certain areas that may be impacted by hazards such as fallen trees or water. Also, at this stage audio is often needed to direct civil protection and law enforcement officers who will be mobilised to focus on rescue and investigation operations.

Audio plays a key role in reducing panic, providing clear instructions to a crowd in order to direct them away from dangerous situations. Integrated with other systems such as surveillance cameras and video analytics, it can have a critical impact on public safety.