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General Guidance on Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings



Erica D. Kuligowski


When a building emergency occurs, it is not always sufficient to simply initiate alarm bells. Individuals may not know what the alarm bell means and as a result may respond inappropriately to its sound. Many buildings have installed mass notification or emergency communication systems, based upon requirements provided in model codes and standards, that can be used to disseminate information in the event of an emergency. However, there is a lack of guidance on how to use current emergency communication systems in the most effective manner. As the use of newer technologies such as mobile devices or social networking tools grows, guidance on message content and dissemination becomes ever more critical for ensuring effective and safe response of building occupants during an emergency. The purpose of this report is to provide general guidance to building managers and/or building emergency personnel responsible for emergency communication on how to create and disseminate messages using basic communication modes (audible vs. visual technology) based on the fundamental needs of occupants in buildings. This document describes the process in which people receive and process information in order to take action during emergencies. Then, the document presents guidance on how to create and disseminate emergency information in the face of rapid-onset disasters – providing guidance on the dissemination of alert signals, the creation of the warning message, the formatting of messages for both visual and audible means, and the dissemination of the warning message. The document ends with a discussion of research questions still left unanswered through the development of this guidance document and future efforts necessary to complete a comprehensive document on emergency message creation and dissemination for building disasters.
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1779
Report Number


emergency communication, mass notification, buildings, emergencies


Kuligowski, E. (2013), General Guidance on Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings, Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed May 20, 2024)


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Created February 12, 2013, Updated November 10, 2018