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Sheridan answers the call with SIREN

Sheridan College has embarked on a project to integrate its emergency management system and make it available across multiple communication platforms.

July 21, 2009  By  Neil Sutton

The system, called SIREN (Sheridan Incident Response and Emergency Notification), utilizes Cisco Systems
Cisco Unified Communications technology to transform its digital
signage, IP phones, paging system and website into emergency
communications tools should the need ever arise.

Sheridan serves
15,000 full time students and 35,000 part time students across three
campuses in Ontario (two in Oakville, one in Brampton). The college is
known for its innovation (Sheridan was one of the first large
implementations of Voice over IP technology in North America) and has
IP phones and monitors in virtually every classroom, office, and room
across the college.

The idea was to take advantage of that
ubiquity of technology and improve the college’s ability to communicate
in the event of an emergency, says Sumon Acharjee, Director of IT for

Acharjee says he was approached by the college’s Emergency Preparedness Team and asked to find a solution.


focus and sole purpose is to have the school ready for an
emergency-type of situation, whether it be lockdown or a chemical spill
or parking lot incident,” he says. “The team has, over the years, put
into place policies and procedures around what to do in a lockdown,
communication protocols and decision-making matrices.”

SIREN came along, the PA system was the primary means of communicating
an emergency message, he says. Email and other tools could be brought
into play, but they were used on an ad hoc basis, and messages were
generated manually by the security department and corporate

“In working with the committee, the team started
looking at requirements for a new solution. We wanted something that
was flexible and could meet current and future requirements.”

incident last year highlighted the need for improved emergency
preparedness. A security camera picked up a suspicious looking object
poking out of a student’s bag.

“That triggered a lockdown
situation. Our college president was the primary voice for the college
and was on our PA system updating the situation. It was a two-hour
event. The police responded to ensure that there was no serious
incident at the college.”

It turned out that the suspicious
object was only a microphone stand and there was never any real danger,
but it was a useful test of the college’s existing emergency plan.

new plan called for the integration a number of different technologies,
including the fire panel, email, phones and digital signage. “It needed
to be redundant, secure, accessible, and it needed to grow with the
institution. We’ll be increasing to a fourth campus in a couple of
years here, and we need to grow with the college.

assessed four competing solutions before selecting Cisco Systems’
Unified Application Environment. UAE is typically used to integrate
voice and video with enterprise applications and data, but it could
also be used to convert Sheridan’s communications technology into an
emergency broadcast system.

“That’s the beauty of this,” says
Acharjee. “We’re using our existing PA system; we’re building a
supplemental to enhance the audio; we’re utilizing our existing phone
system. It’s using all existing assets that we have at the institution.

way we had our existing PA system, everything was moved back into a
central location and wired on a central infrastructure. With the new
solution, utilizing network ports and jacks that we have throughout the
campus, we were able to extend our PA systems out using the network and
the existing wiring that we have in the buildings at a much lower cost
than trying to layer in new technology.”

The UAE application,
which is roughly the size of a pizza box, says Acharjee, “is sort of
the brain of the operation. It sits on a network and it’s able to
communicate to varying devices.”

UAE operates on the Sheridan network via a series of middleware and customized applications created by Unis Lumin, an Oakville, Ont.-based software integrator.

SIREN, the college’s Emergency Preparedness Team can set parameters
around how emergency situations are handled, depending on their
severity or location. Any or all of Sheridan’s IP phones, digital
displays and paging systems can be employed to send emergency messages
every 10, 15 or 30 minutes, or whatever the preset interval is.

is controlled by Sheridan’s executive personnel, but is also accessible
to security guards, who will have a customized portal. By simply
clicking a button on the portal, a guard can trigger a lockdown event.

system is also able to send messages to key stakeholders’ cell phones
and email accounts, and will also automatically connect members of the
Emergency Preparedness Team through a conference bridge line.

wanted to use our phone capabilities to set up a conference bridge in
an emergency so that if the executive or the emergency response team
needs to communicate or collaborate, the system has the ability to find
them on their cell phones or try their office phones or home numbers –
find out where these executives are, get them into a conference call
together to start talking about the situation,” says Acharjee.

can also be used to communicate to the outside world via an emergency
website which appears over Sheridan’s main corporate site. The
emergency site, which is “dark” unless activated, is used to display
information updates on any developing situation at the college.

press time, SIREN was still in rollout mode, but Acharjee aims to have
it up and running by the time students return to school.

controlling the deployment of this to make sure all systems are working
properly and meeting the proper needs because this is an emergency
response type of system. Our target is to finish all buildings on all
campuses by the end of the summer with the intent to do a full drill
sometime in the fall when we have a full student contingent on our

Both Cisco and Unis Lumin are looking at the
components of the SIREN system for a future rollout at other
universities and colleges.

“We are looking at commercializing
the application and making it somewhat more modular so it can be
implemented in pieces, depending upon the business use case,” says
Mauro Lollo, Unis Lumin’s CTO.

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