Alerting Fire Station Personnel in a Heart-Friendly Way

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The following is written by By Jeff Mascola, Product Manager, PURVIS Systems:

While rapid response is critical when an alert comes into a fire station, it’s just as important that only relevant personnel are notified – and in a heart-friendly way.

According to “A Guide to the Recognition and Prevention of Occupational Heart Disease for the Fire and Emergency Medical Services” published by IAFF, studies have shown that noise exposure is tied to a small, but measureable, increase in risk of heart disease. Specifically, the manual underscores: “The characteristics of the noise that have been associated with heart disease include unpredictability, a lack of meaningfulness, high volume, and of an intermittent nature.” These are the very characteristics associated with Fire Station Alerting Systems (FSAS). And these findings are one key reason PURVIS offers zone management as part of its FSAS.

Designed with input from firefighters, the PURVIS FSAS takes into account their highly sensitive needs. The system supports heart-friendly configurations, including ramped audio and night-vision lighting to reduce the startling effect of full-strength audio or visual alerts on sleeping first responders. Zoning options allow alerting by unit, incident or code type for alerting on a “need-to-know” basis.

Speakers and/or lights can be automatically activated in select rooms based on the type of alert or zone, such as dorm room and apparatus bay, and unit, such as engine or rescue, for example. The alerts can also be configured specifically for the incident type, such as hazmat, fire alarm, active structure fire, gas leak, or medical, to name a few.

In addition to general zoning on the station – such as shutting audio on and off at pre-determined times – stations can choose specific audio zones, and assign common areas (such as the kitchen) to be alerted every time. They can even set up outdoor speakers and designate them as a separate zone for specific day/night control.

The PURVIS FSAS also makes it possible for fire stations to configure and zone visual alerts in the same way. Plus, stations can associate certain color LEDs with the incident type, such as red for fire calls, blue for rescue and green for hazmat. They can also  have the color designations configured to match the needs of the personnel or unit on duty. At the same time, the PURVIS FSAS can activate lighting in common areas for every alert, such as hallways, so that first responders can safely traverse the station.

A dorm remote allows users to select alerting preferences for dorms and other rooms . Rooms can be dedicated as a certain zone, or can be dynamically figured. The dynamic configuration is helpful for rooms that are used for different purposes, such as a dorm room that is used by an engine company one day, a ladder company the next, and a rescue team on another day.

Rather than alert all on-duty personnel, the PURVIS FSAS alerts only the relevant personnel, while also making it easier for on-duty first responders to instantly determine whether or not an alert is for them. For fire stations sharing a common dorm or bunk area with multiple apparatus units, officers, chiefs, or other general offices, such zoning is incredibly valuable to fast response and healthy personnel.

How PURVIS FSAS Monitors its Own Health

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With so much riding on a Fire Station Alerting System (FSAS), it’s critical that departments are fully aware of any operational issues as soon as they occur. Automated fire station monitoring allows designated personnel to quickly determine equipment problems within the fire station such as failed communication hardware, downed connections and backup power system operation. Sophisticated self-monitoring provides visual and audible notification and can tie into text messaging or email servers for real-time notification of a network or alerting system malfunction. This enables fire service personnel and the FSAS system vendor to proactively correct the problem, maximizing system uptime and reducing the chance of a missed call.

Automated system monitoring in action

Here’s how PURVIS FSAS monitors and reports on its own health. PURVIS FSAS monitors the status of each connection between its devices (controllers and IP-based devices) and the dispatch center in real time using “heartbeats,” or polling. The PURVIS FSAS also uses heartbeats to monitor its connection to a department’s CAD system. This includes both the outbound connection to station(s) as well as inbound data from the CAD. The FSAS sends heartbeats at a default interval of every three seconds, but the interval can be configured to suit a department’s preference and needs.

Each corresponding device responds immediately to the heartbeat request. This back-and-forth communication allows the FSAS to verify connectivity. If the FSAS does not receive a heartbeat within a specified time period and after a specific number of allowable failed heartbeats, the connection is marked “down.” Note that some other FSAS systems are unable to identify a failure until as much as one-and-a-half minutes have passed. Because the PURVIS FSAS heartbeat internal is configurable, fire departments can identify failures in as little as nine seconds.

Sending real-time alerts

PURVIS FSAS monitors and sends alerts over all connectivity paths simultaneously, ensuring no delay in sending failure alerts to the fire department. When a connection is marked “down,” the FSAS reports the failed connection on the FSAS dispatch management console via both an audible and visual alert, ensuring compliance with NFPA 1221 standards. The PURVIS system also automatically sends these alerts to the affected fire station(s) and via email to designated personnel, and can also send alerts via SMS text messages if desired. The alert identifies the station(s) impacted and the devices that have failed.

In case of network failure…

In the event that a department’s main network (for example, Fiber Optic connection) completely fails, the PURVIS FSAS Station Control Units (SCUs) detect the loss of communication between the stations and the FSAS central servers. At that point, the SCU in the affected station(s) defaults to radio bypass mode. Since PURVIS FSAS sends all dispatch alerts over all IP network and audio-over-radio paths simultaneously, the automated text-to-speech announcements get fed from the fire station’s radio through the SCU to the worksite speakers.

Reduce Costs and Streamline Procurement of Fire Safety Alerting Systems with the FireRescue GPO

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Many fire departments and municipalities find themselves making tough budget decisions in today’s economic climate. Yet it’s imperative that they are using the most advanced equipment and systems, such as ones for fire station alerting (FSAS). To save money while reducing overhead, more and more departments and municipalities are taking advantage of the power of group purchasing. And through FireRescue GPO – a program of National Purchasing Partners Government Division (NPPGov) – they can do just that. This national group purchasing program offers cost savings to public entities, facilitating the creation of publicly solicited contracts on behalf of its tens of thousands of members nationwide. This also saves time and streamlines the purchasing process since municipalities don’t have to go through a time consuming and labor intensive RFP process of their own.

How it works

FireRescue GPO operates in partnership with Western Fire Chiefs Association, which manages the FireRescue Advisory Council, and a revenue-sharing program with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, their Divisions and the State Chiefs Associations. NPPGov uses a lead public agency to solicit and award contracts through a public Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Because these contracts comply with government purchasing regulations and include “piggybacking” language, fire departments and municipalities that become members can use them in place of their own RFP process. PURVIS is on NPPGov’s fire station alerting system contract.

The PURVIS FSAS is an award-winning, IP-based alerting solution designed to automate the process of alerting fire and rescue personnel, enhance communications, and decrease response times. Its rich features and functionality proactively support the day-to-day operations and environmental health, comfort and safety of first responders.

Benefits of participation

Fire departments and municipalities have much to gain by becoming members of the FireRescue GPO. For one, they eliminate the RFP and bidding process when they want to purchase or replace their FSAS. Along with that, they avoid the need to fill out spec sheets and other forms associated with the RFP process, while greatly reducing the procurement cycle. Just as important, this streamlined process obviates the need for senior fire officials to dedicate valuable time to a lengthy procurement process. Moreover, member stations and municipalities can take advantage of discounted rates, for welcome cost savings.

To learn more, contact John Kinner at 877.360.5023 ext 103 or

PURVIS Contributes to Success of F.I.E.R.O. Fire PPE Symposium

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Middletown, RI (Oct 5) – When F.I.E.R.O.’s Fire PPE Symposium opened in Raleigh, NC, last month, PURVIS Systems was prominent in both speaker and exhibitor roles.

Rick Foster, Vice President, PURVIS Public Safety Division, was a featured speaker at the four-day event. His presentation, Critical Success Factors for Selecting a Fire Station Alerting System, offered nine essential guidelines drawn from actual PURVIS installations, including those at Charleston County, SC; Plano, TX; the District of Columbia, and the Cities of New York and Boston. A white paper, which summarizes the key points made during the presentation, is available by clicking here.

As an exhibitor, PURVIS Systems provided PPE attendees with information about the superior alerting technologies it can bring to fire station design, construction and modification.

The not-for-profit F.I.E.R.O. (Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization) hosts annual symposia that recognize exceptional station design and give fire service personnel the tools to make responsible technological and fiscal decisions. The biennial PPE symposium focuses on personal protective equipment.

To read about recent PURVIS Systems success at implementing fire station alerting solutions that help agencies decrease fire department call processing and turnout times, click here.

Tuning into the Promise of P25 Digital Radio

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When it comes to responding to an incident, first responders rely heavily on communications from the dispatch center. For years, these communications have been delivered strictly as voice and data over analog radio. But the Project 25 (P25) standard changed that, making it possible to send data and voice over digital channels.

P25 outlines standards for digital radio communications used by public safety agencies in North America. The idea is that any agencies and response teams – whether federal, state/province, or local – using radio equipment compatible with P25 standards can easily communicate with one another. And because one requirement for Phase 1 P25 digital radio equipment is backward compatibility with analog radios, even counties and departments still relying on standard analog radios can take advantage of P25.

Though communications over analog radio are reliable, sound quality can suffer without a strong radio signal. Voice quality of P25 is superior, even at low or noisy radio frequency carrier levels. That’s because background noise is typically removed as voice is converted for digital transmission. And to top it off, P25 supports encryption for the safe transmission of information, giving users the option to select either clear (unencrypted) or secure (encrypted) communications.

PURVIS support for P25 radio in action

Those using the PURVIS Fire Station Alerting System (FSAS) can choose to deliver both audio and data over a P25 radio network because PURVIS supports P25 IV&D (Integrated Voice and Data). This means counties can ensure interoperable radio communications within a jurisdiction, as well as within departments and agencies in the same community.

To date, departments in Washington DC, Boston, Charleston County among others have taken advantage of PURVIS’ support for P25.

PURVIS worked closely with Motorola to develop an integrated solution for transmitting FSAS data over the P25 IV&D radio network in Washington DC. Through this process PURVIS software was validated to allow data communications with the Motorola P25 radio core. PURVIS FSAS sends incident data to each station on the DC P25 IV&D radio network through this Motorola radio core. The district was able to free up a previously used analog channel when the move to P25 was complete.

In Plano, TX, data dispatches are sent over digital radio and the fiber optic network, while voice is sent over the analog radio dispatch channel. Because Plano uses the PURVIS FSAS to send IP data packets over the air to fire stations – essentially like sending a wireless message – there’s no need to worry about lost communications due to a cut fiber optic network line.

Driving Improved Turnout Times

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Modern fire station alerting technologies are having a material impact on dispatch center call processing times as well as first-responder turnout time.  From a turnout time perspective, fire chiefs can get a more accurate picture on how their department is performing and improving with help from the PURVIS Fire Station Alerting System™ (PURVIS FSAS™), and its Apparatus Detector.

Enabling true turnout time capture and reporting

The PURVIS FSAS’s apparatus presence detector is a small device that can be mounted above each vehicle in a fire station drive bay and it detects the presence of the vehicle in the bay. The detector enables turnout times to be recorded on a unit-by-unit basis. Once an alert comes into the station, the detector, using automatic motion-sensing technology, captures and logs the time the unit leaves the bay. This eliminates the need for station personnel to call in the turnout time, greatly improving the objectivity and accuracy of reporting while creating a valuable stream of data for operational analysis.

Armed with this performance data, station chiefs and department managers can generate reports revealing turnout time details and averages over time, forming a basis for managing the department toward continuous improvement. In turn, they can better investigate issues, such as why a station’s turnout time may be lengthening, and come up with strategies for speeding up turnout processes. The data can also be used to prove that the department meets specific performance thresholds that can help improve a community’s ISO rating.

Servicing Station Walk-up Visitors with Video

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One of PURVIS Fire Station Alerting System’s more unique features is its ability to integrate a video camera, positioned at the front door of the station, into the total alerting process.

This is an optional capability that is in use in front-door-camera2Washington, DC and elsewhere. PURVIS provides a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) camera that can be installed at a station front door or any public entrance and integrated into the fire station alerting system and dispatch center. When the doorbell is pressed, a chime sounds within the station. The camera is automatically activated and displayed on a monitor within the station, and a two-way audio stream is enabled, allowing communications between station personnel and the person outside the station. If no one is available in the station to respond, the same doorbell chime, camera feed, and two-way audio stream can automatically activate at the dispatch center. This allows dispatch center personnel to respond and if necessary, send a vehicle to the station.

Because this is a COTS camera, stations can take advantage of the newest technology, such as higher resolution lenses, being assured that PURVIS can easily integrate the camera with its fire station alerting system and other systems and applications.

The PURVIS front-door camera enables fire stations to be responsive to “walk-ups” while ensuring that resident personnel are safe and can assess any door-to-door inquiries without undue personal risk. The public gets served – either by someone at the firehouse or indirectly from dispatch – who can mobilize a unit to assist.

Four Real-World Examples of How PURVIS’ Customer-Focused Approach Satisfies Fire Department Needs

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Recently, a number of agencies have chosen PURVIS Systems as their fire station alerting technology provider. PURVIS’s “all-in” commitment to helping dispatch and fire safety professionals decrease call processing times and turnout times is an attribute that has helped the company differentiate itself from other vendors.

Plano, TX Replaces Limited Alerting System

When Plano, TX decided to upgrade its fire station alerting system across all 13 fire stations in the City, they turned to PURVIS. Plano was interested in transmitting alerts over a modern IP network but the City also wanted to leverage its data enabled radio network as a fully redundant means of transmitting alerts to the fire stations. Additionally, Plano wanted to broadcast automated text-to-speech dispatch announcements over radio and as another form of redundancy and automatically tone out the stations via Quick Call alerts. These multiple communication paths maximize the overall system uptime while also leveraging the City’s existing infrastructure.

In the spring of 2015, PURVIS implemented the PURVIS Fire Station Alerting System™ (PURVIS FSAS™) and integrated it with the City’s IP and radio networks to support the multiple types of communications desired by the City. A major plus was PURVIS’s ability to seamlessly integrate the PURVIS FSAS with the department’s TriTech CAD system to streamline dispatch call handling with respect to incident notifications.

In the fire stations, the system consists of new speakers both inside and out of all 13 stations, along with visual displays in the form of message boards, backup UPS, and turnout timers. PURVIS also installed apparatus presence detectors that sense when the apparatus leaves the drive bay and the PURVIS FSAS then logs and timestamps each turnout time. This allows the department to generate accurate turnout time reports for ISO reporting and management.  In addition, PURVIS installed device relays in each fire station that tie into the department’s existing station infrastructure. These relays control and automate the opening of bay doors, appliances, lighting, and more. Working closely with the fire department, PURVIS identified the parameters for activating these relays. For example, if the EMS and Fire crews are all out on incidents, the PURVIS system will shut off gas appliances when it senses that no personnel are in the fire station.

Montgomery County, MD Opts for a Flexible and Tailored FSAS Solution

Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service (MCFRS) operates 43 locations run by two dispatch centers (one primary and one backup). MCFRS required a fire station alerting solution that was flexible to meet its current requirements and scalable to meet any future requirements. Appreciating that PURVIS is multi-faceted and has extensive experience in systems integration, as well as a company that is committed to listening and delivering on its customers’ needs, the department decided to implement the PURVIS FSAS.

After listening to MCFRS and gathering the department’s requirements, PURVIS is implementing a system that is tailored to the County’s needs and will help to streamline the alerting process, reduce call processing times, and reduce turnout times. The system will interface with the County’s Motorola Premier One CAD system.

PURVIS FSAS hardware in the fire stations will include new speakers with volume controls, monitors for visual alerts, turnout timers, printers, strobe lights, night vision lighting and dorm remotes. The latter allows the department to dynamically change how each dorm room is alerted.  For example, if one day a dorm room is used to house an engine company and the next day it is used to house a ladder company, MCFRS personnel can select what type of alerts will be active in that room with the simple push of a button.

One end-result of the implementation is that Montgomery County station personnel will have the ability to prioritize and listen to multiple audio feeds. For example, audio over the dispatch channel can be monitored while also listening to other audio feeds (such as the weather), when higher priority traffic is not present.

Williamson County, TX Evolves to Automated Text-to-Speech Alerts

This multi-jurisdictional agency, consisting of a dispatch center for 13 fire departments and one EMS department, chose PURVIS to upgrade and modernize its fire and EMS alerting system.  PURVIS is implementing the PURVIS FSAS with an interface to the County’s SunGard CAD System for a fully-automated alerting solution. The system allows the County to automatically deliver tone alerts to the fire stations and broadcast automated text to speech alerts/announcements over the County’s existing radio system.  County fire departments have the flexibility to expand their use of the PURVIS FSAS by adding IP-based communications to the fire stations and selecting from a variety of optional PURVIS FSAS audible and visual fire station alerting device types. Departments also have the option of rolling out the PURVIS FSAS Mobile Application to first responders as another means of providing automated alerts.

Harris County Emergency Corps Standardizes Its Alerting Process

Harris County Emergency Corps (HCEC) is a private organization located in Harris County, TX and provides dispatching for 16 departments in the Houston area.  When two of the departments it serves – Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department and Pearland Volunteer Fire Department – wanted automated IP alerting alerts in its stations and audio-over-radio alerts for personnel in the field, HCEC chose PURVIS to make it happen while also standardizing the system and the process that HCEC will use for fire and EMS alerts across all 16 departments.

PURVIS is installing the PURVIS FSAS with an interface to HCEC’s TriTech CAD system. When an incident is dispatched through CAD, the alerting system automatically broadcasts the dispatch alert to the appropriate fire department(s) via an audio broadcast on designated HCEC radio channels/talk groups.  For the Atascocita and Pearland Volunteer Fire Departments, PURVIS is also transmitting IP-based alerts to fire stations to activate a variety of in-station audible and visual devices, such as speakers, monitors, lights, printers, dorm remotes, and more.

PURVIS provides the opportunity for regional agencies, like Harris County Emergency Corps, to design a flexible standard that then makes it easy for the constituent departments to integrate and upgrade, as budgets permit.


By Jeff Mascola, Product Manager, PURVIS Systems

PURVIS To Speak at 2015 FIERO Fire PPE Symposium

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Learn 9 Critical Success Factors When Selecting a Fire Station Alerting System: Join PURVIS at the 2015 F.I.E.R.O. Fire PPE Symposium

When the 2015 FIERO Conference kicks off on September 27, PURVIS will be in attendance as an exhibitor and as a speaker. Since the first Fire Station Design Symposium was hosted in 2000, it’s become a must-attend event for all those who want access to the latest thinking in fire station planning and design. Whether in the planning phase or in the midst of building a new fire station, fire chiefs and architects can learn about the newest equipment and tools at F.I.E.R.O.

This conference affords an excellent opportunity for those early in the station planning process to consider the impact of modern Fire Station Alerting System (FSAS) technologies on station design. Station alerting can be a key element in the design and planning of a new station or department. And oftentimes a new station is a springboard for deploying new technology such as alerting – whether for that station or across an entire department.

There are plenty of reasons a department or station might contemplate a change or implementation of an FSAS, such as:

  • Its existing system may be nearing the end of its useful life
  • Personnel may be struggling with system reliability or integration issues with the current system
  • It wants to add more sophisticated features to the present voice or tones-only system
  • It is facing regional consolidation or expansion into a new station

With that in mind, our F.I.E.R.O. seminar will focus on what we believe are the 9 critical considerations when evaluating station alerting systems. The insights we will share are drawn from PURVIS’ more than  40 years of deployment of technology and services solutions in public safety and defense organizations nationwide, and with specific Fire Station Alerting System installations in Charleston County SC, Plano TX,  Washington DC, FDNY, Boston and others.

The nine critical success factors that should guide selection of a Fire Station Alerting System are:

  1. Reducing response time
  2. Handling multiple modes of communication
  3. Adopting a flexible deployment architecture
  4. Leveraging existing equipment
  5. Minimizing firefighter stress levels
  6. Considering remote personnel
  7. Ensuring high reliability and accessibility
  8. Designed for service first
  9. Using a standards-based approach

Please join us at F.I.E.R.O. in Raleigh, NC as we explore each of these considerations in detail. You’ll come away with a useful rubric for evaluating Fire Station Alerting System technologies in the context of your next fire station design.

You can register for FIERO at:

Article by Rick Foster, Vice President – Public Safety Division, PURVIS Systems 


How Radio Provides a Lifeline to Fire Station Alerting Systems

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First responders can have the best equipment and training, but all that is of no use without clear and timely communications about incidents. While IP networks provide a new and effective communications path, life-critical emergency communications need to consider every contingency. Radio, the staple of emergency communications for generations, has been and continues to be a key element of first responder systems – such as those used for fire station alerting. It’s a reliable way of delivering incident information – both voice and data. In this post, we explore how:

  • Radio can be incorporated into a fire station alerting system (FSAS)
  • Radio communications have evolved
  • PURVIS integrates radio into its FSAS
  • Considerations when selecting an FSAS relative to radio communications

Radio as a primary communications path

Every fire department has evolved their use of radio communications to best suit their needs. As a primary communications path, for instance, a single radio channel is used by some departments for dispatching, or when communicating back to the command center from the scene of an incident. Other departments use multiple radio channels – one channel for dispatch and switch to another channel for operations or tactical purposes, such as reporting while on scene.

Increasingly, counties and municipalities that have consolidated their first responder systems often take advantage of the consolidation initiative to build or leverage an IP-based network path – whether it be fiber-optic, copper, or high-speed cellular. Nevertheless, the likelihood that every station in the district has access to this network is small.  So this primary network strategy can be augmented with the additional ability to handle dispatch for smaller or strictly volunteer-based stations using radio.  This radio channel can be configured to deliver voice as well as the data that is necessary to drive the station alerting devices that may be in place at the station.

With the radio network in place, PURVIS system can send text-to-speech over the air so anyone in the station with a radio will hear it. Any personnel in the field, at home, or in their cars monitoring that dispatch line will also hear the announcement.

Radio as a backup

According to NFPA 1221 two data paths are required. While an IP data path is a good choice for primary communications, a legitimate secondary communications path is audio over radio. In fact, this is a typical use scenario. When the IP network goes down, the FSAS system can bypass the IP network and instead communicate via radio. This makes it possible for the system to remain viable, activating devices at the station, such as the printer and lights.

PURVIS FSAS can send either data, or a voice alert over the radio path. For example, a data modem at the station would use radio frequencies to receive alerts and incident information. In such cases, the FSAS unit at the station would treat radio as an alternative path for the incident data.

What’s the frequency when it comes to Project 25 (P25)?

The P25 standards were largely developed to ensure reliable and interoperable digital radio communications. In essence, P25 is a digital version of analog radio. While communications over analog radio are reliable, the sound quality can suffer due to the signal strength. Sound quality over digital is superior, however, digital transmissions can fail altogether without a strong radio signal. This is not usually a problem in cities with robust infrastructure featuring multiple broadcast points and repeaters that help deliver a strong signal. The PURVIS FSAS provides the option of delivering both audio and data over radio using P25, allowing counties and departments to take advantage of this latest standard. As a result, counties can ensure radio systems communications systems are interoperable within a jurisdiction, or in departments and agencies in the same community.

How PURVIS integrates the various forms of radio into its FSAS

The PURVIS FSAS server interfaces directly with dispatch equipment.  In some scenarios, the system is integrated to a dedicated radio, allowing it to send audio-over-radio alerts to stations and field personnel. If the radio channel (or talk group) is currently in use, the system can detect if the radio channel is busy. In these cases, it delays alerts until the channel is free, so the dispatch center can be certain an alert was sent.

Some jurisdictions use a Telex device/radio gateway with many radios to alert multiple departments or stations. This setup is controlled via a common console. Once the PURVIS FSAS is in place, it can be integrated with the Telex device(s) to dispatch units with the ability to determine if the channel is currently in use.

Charleston County uses the PURVIS FSAS in its multi-jurisdictional dispatch center serving 13 departments and 78 stations over 14 different radio channels. While 72 of the stations are equipped with a data network path, the other six unmanned stations require audio-over-radio communications. The PURVIS system delivers automated text-to-speech to those six stations as the primary alerting path, and sends audio-over-radio to the other 72 stations as the backup. All of this originates from the same dispatch center.


What to look for in a world-class FSAS radio deployment

Not all FSAS are equal when it comes to support for radio communications. With that in mind, seek out a system that:

  • Enables automated communications.
  • Incorporates redundancy and monitoring using the latest technologies to minimize downtime.
  • Supports multiple communication paths – this eliminates the need for personnel to manually select a server for alerting and minimizes timeouts before an alert is sent.
  • Scales easily and affordably because it’s based on non-proprietary hardware.
  • Is provided by a company with the capabilities to integrate the system to suit the department or county’s unique requirements.
  • Supports multiple jurisdictions and their requirements, such as two radio alerting paths out of single dispatch center and alerting multiple departments, or sending a combination of tones so stations hear alerts specific to them.