What are Public Address Voice Alarms and why do they work so well?

Jun 23, 2022 | Commercial Security

What are Public Address Voice Alarms and why do they work so well?

In the event of a fire or other emergency, evacuating the building or local area is usually the top priority. Public Address Voice Alarm (PAVA) systems are one of the most effective ways of ensuring maximum response times.

What is a PAVA?

In practical terms, a public address voice alarm system does exactly as the name suggests. When there is an emergency such as a fire or flood, the PAVA will activate as any other alarm would and broadcast a series of pre-chosen or live announcements. These will be heard by anyone in range and contain information vital to their safety.

In short, the system tells people what they should do in response to the problem.

Isn’t an alarm enough?

fire assembly point sign Yes, and no. The purpose of an alarm is to alert people to a potential hazard. While something like the piercing howl of a siren may attract attention, you are then reliant on people responding appropriately without clear guidance. In a relatively closed environment, for example, an office, where the occupants know what is required (usually via training), you can expect reasonable success. However, most environments do not contain trained occupants and often present multiple options in response to an alarm sounding. At this point, the effectiveness of the alarm is reduced because people lack information on what to do. PAVA systems clearly explain the correct action to be taken, improving efficient response. The amount varies (as you can imagine, this is a complex number to measure accurately), but it would seem that 3 out of 4 people will react to a voice compared to just 11% to a single bell. 

Why do PAVA systems work so well?

Human beings are hard-wired to respond to particular stimuli. When a traditional alarm activates, people will often wait for further information. A well-known psychological phenomenon known as Bystander Effect will kick in, and people will look for confirmation rather than evacuate. A firm, clear voice will encourage people to respond because it negates the bystander effect and removes the need for a decision. We want to be led during an emergency, and a calm, clear voice telling us what to do is doing exactly that. There is evidence that this response started in infancy when a parent’s voice was the ultimate authority. Again, research shows that a smoke alarm that plays a mother’s voice is more likely to wake a child, but they will respond by evacuating the room. We never lose this urge to follow the instructions given to us verbally.

So, in using a PAVA system, in the event of a fire or other emergency, the voice system will add urgency without the additional stress of decision making or the need for self-directed action. They will do this by giving specific instructions such as:

  • The location of the correct exit to use
  • Directions to safety points
  • Reminders of how to evacuate
  • Whether to act in a particular zone or stand by for more instruction

commecial security monitoring Controlling the announcements means you can address and avoid many common problems that slow down an evacuation. During an evacuation, people will often ignore shorter routes in favour of where they entered the building, for example, unless told differently. Unless prompted, they will sometimes overlook the evacuation gathering points and wait to gather belongings and even finish what they are doing before heading to the exit. It is tough to ignore a voice telling you to do an alternative. 

Voice alarm systems are a highly effective solution for larger areas and when addressing widespread populations. Shopping centres and superstores, public arenas, multi-level buildings and similar will benefit from PAVA systems. Announcements can be multi-language as needed and zoned appropriately to guide people regardless of their location or language community.

Flexibility can be critical in an emergency, so a security voice warning system will usually have a facility to allow live announcements and pre-recorded advice. Emergencies do not always follow the expected pattern, so overriding the existing messages and enabling security teams to offer direct advice can be crucial. 

Whatever the emergency, though, a voice alarm system will deliver clear messages that will help ensure the safety of occupants and maximise compliance with proper procedures. They change the response from hesitation and uncertainty to positive action and compliance. They are ultimately helping to save lives quicker and with reduced stress. 

PAVA systems are remarkably effective, particularly when combined with other security technology. Call us, and let’s talk about your security options.