We’re looking for a security system here at the San Rafael Public Library–some kind of remote way to indicate “Hey, something’s definitely wrong with staff member X who’s dealing with the public right now – go help!”
Staff at our various service desks at the Downtown Library (Circulation, Children’s, Adult, Administration) have no way to communicate to each other when something’s wrong at one of them (e.g. threatening individual, etc.). The Library has two different floors and all of the desks are visually separated from each other – there is no line of sight from one to another – and in one case a door separates that desk from the rest of the building. We were envisioning a flashing light system or something similar, easily, covertly, and quickly triggered with a button or a switch, and that would show the other desks which desk it was coming from. Our building does not have an intercom system, and staff are not always at their computers (often out on the floor), so something they can hold as a trigger, clip to a belt or a lanyard, would be more useful. In short, we’re looking for something with multiple site-specific triggers and multiple output devices showing what’s been triggered.
Instead of spending hours researching this topic that I know nothing about, I put it out to the ALA Think Tank group on Facebook – knowing that the wisdom of the crowd would be faster and more extensive than anything I’d come up with on my own. I thought I’d summarize the suggestions here for anyone else seeking out a similar solution. And hey – if you have another suggestion, bring it on!
Wireless call bell systems – These are like those little light-up vibrating things you get at some restaurants, such as these. Verdict: Might work; need to research more, especially re: how one triggers various models.
Centurion – I just like this for the Battlestar Galactica reference Seriously, though, this is another version of a wireless call system but this one can transmit out messages on multiple platforms simultaneously once triggered: two-way radios, pagers, phones, and email. Verdict: Might work; need to research how the triggering mechanism works more.
Instant Messaging – A number of people suggested having every staff member have IM up while at work and to use that to send out a quick “911″ or some similarly short message. Verdict: Need a trigger that could stay with the staff member. Also, not very covert.
Computer Help Button – Several people said they have a one-click “call for help” button on their computers, usually used to call for back-up staff because it’s busy, but which could be repurposed for crazy town incidents. A 2008 Code4Lib article was helpfully linked to (oh, you librarians!). Verdict: Once again, I don’t think the computer-based idea will work well for us as so many of the problems happen when staff are away from their computers.
Intercom – Some folks suggested saying your own name or the department’s name over the intercom as a signal for help. Verdict: If only we had an intercom system. Also, not very covert.
Vocera – A number of people are using or otherwise recommended Vocera. These small portable transmitters and receivers could work really well for what we need. Verdict: Pricey. Need to research more on what kinds of money we’re talking about.
Phone System – A few different version of using the existing phone system were suggested. Setting up a mass-call option and using a code word to indicate a problem. Verdict: Our phone system is VOIP and we’ve been told before this isn’t possible (though I’m guessing it probably actually is). Also, unless it was a single-touch button I don’t think it would be covert enough.
Doorbell System – A system like this could work–basic doorbell. People suggested different ring-tones or a different number of rings depending on which desk it was (e.g. 1 for Adult, 2 for Circ, etc.). Verdict: Need to research more. This could be covert if the bells could be carried easily in one’s pocket and we could have multiple transmitters and multiple broadcast speakers too.
Walkie Talkies – Lots of these out there and pretty cheap. Buy the small headsets to pair with the actual units, push the call button to beep everyone else. Again, a coded number of beeps could work to indicate location of problem. One person suggested buying repeaters to help with the thick-walled-ness of our very old building. Verdict: Need to research more. Covert, yes. Would staff actually wear the headsets? Don’t know.
Pager.net - This was suggested (in lovely detail; thanks Brian!) as a kind of multi-pronged approach. Device, software, and desk-transmitters. Verdict: This could totally work. Need to research pricing and implementation (e.g. our thick freaking walls).
Arduino Home Panic Button - This was suggested as an open source solution, which made my heart all warm and fuzzy. Verdict: Need to research implementation more.