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TOA Corporation (UK) Ltd discuss what changes COVID-19 has bought to the installation of VA/PA Systems and how the integration of IP has impacted on that. With a year and a half of global uncertainty, we have seen huge changes in what VA/PA systems will need to deliver in order to provide safe and robust solutions with advanced zone and directional messaging.

The impact of COVID has pushed installers to re-think what end-users need long-term to manage any future changes in guidelines especially for large events and complex applications such as travel hubs and how the integration of IP will assist with installing safe systems in the future.

Providing public announcements

PA/VA has been one of the few parts of our industry that has remained consistent and buoyant during the lockdown. It has been the ideal time for public buildings to upgrade as restrictions did not apply to the construction industry and many installations were actually fast-tracked in the hope that when restrictions lifted commercial properties could open as quickly as possible.

PA/VA has been one of the few parts of our industry that has remained consistent

This was coupled with the knowledge that changes would have to be made to address the increased demand in providing public announcements outside the standard evacuation messages that most VA/PA have been traditionally used for and enable the impact of having to be flexible to deliver multiple messages.

Flexible system management

So what is changing? Leading in VA/PA is the availability of IP which enables more flexible system management. It allows installation/solution management engineers to offer remote access to complex systems from a central control room meaning that they can maintain and control systems from one hub and operate for multiple areas on large complex sites such as an airport or stadiums.

This provides not only a better level of technical coverage across a whole site but also allows an engineer to monitor and fault find without the delay of waiting to being able to access a specific area. This is especially important for vulnerable applications such as schools and health facilities as it enables them to control and reduce the amount of interaction with engineers they need to give physical access to – therefore reducing risk.

Potentially less maintenance

This makes it more financially viable for both the end-user and the maintenance provider

Long-term, IP also makes these systems much more cost-effective. For example, one engineer can manage a hub of multiple locations with potentially less maintenance call-out costs. This makes it more financially viable for both the end-user and the maintenance provider to justify the initial investment. With these systems being paramount to people’s safety remote intervention allows for swift fault finding and problem resolution in a more effective response time and cost-effective way.

To enable this the biggest development has been the integration between product manufacturers and software developers. They have been able to collaborate greatly to get products such a horn speakers to connect via industrial standard network protocols giving much greater flexibility in remote system management.

Multi-Rack systems

The technology involved in VA/PA, especially integrating with IP, has seen huge growth recently and we are involved in projects that involve multi-rack systems to enable controlled zone management and evacuation options with greater collaboration between integrators to get the systems to work effectively.

VA/PA systems must be at the forefront of long term solutions and sustainability

As more people are allowed to gather in larger numbers public-facing buildings need to address their evacuation and voice announcement procedures in order to be compliant. They need to be able to deliver clear and effective messages to their visitors in order to remain open whenever guidelines change. VA/PA systems must be at the forefront of long-term solutions and sustainability. The other area of VA/PA that has changed immensely in the last 18 months is the vast difference in messaging requirements that organizations need.

Public safety announcements

Systems that have been used infrequently for emergency situations only are now delivering daily messages with public safety announcements. In reality, although we all hope that we will never go back to the peak of lockdown, installations must be robust to cope with any situation in the future.

Many smaller spaces that wouldn’t have thought they would need a PA system at all now understand that they too have an obligation to deliver public information and guidance and on a regular daily basis and this will lead to system designs being scaled up and down to meet the broadening array of applications that require VA/PA and how this is managed in the event that new protocols have to be introduced.

Detailed technical plans

Systems should be certified on the European Standard EN 54-16 and should be expertly designed

Design and planning should be key when sourcing the right solution. Systems should be certified on the European Standard EN 54-16 and should be expertly designed to specification with detailed technical plans and tailor-made to the requirements of the end-user. With people’s safety in your hands, you cannot get these systems wrong so it is important that installers are able to draw on the expert technical team resources that we, as a manufacturer, offer in adhering to this standard and for us to be able to provide a commissioning service to sign off on these important safety systems.

Compared with traditional lights and sounders systems we believe the future of evacuation will be voice-based. In our ever-increasing culturally diverse world we have to embrace systems that need to be multi-lingual or be able to dedicate a message to a specific target audience and be able to be drilled down to zones and give much more directional information.

Multi-Zoned academies

As office buildings get taller, health facilities become super hospitals or schools upgrade into multi-zoned academies we have to be able to evacuate or hold back evacuation to enable safe crowd control. In order to facilitate this VA will have to replace traditional systems or work in tandem with them. We must point out that in residential high-rise properties the primary method of evacuation, to comply to BS 8629, would still be traditional lights and sounders even if you install a separate VA system.

Voice Alarm and Public Address is a long-term investment, especially as the global situation may take many years to recover, and as manufacturers working with our integrators and software developers we must continue to lead in the development of the best systems to ensure we can keep everyone safe.

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