“Speak”-ing From Experience

By Bar Twito

Do you have an old paging system that you want to take to the next level? At Camp Young Judaea-Texas in Wimberley, Texas, the staff recently finished a project that had been considered for many years. The legacy system (analog) wasn’t effective anymore. We wanted better control with zones, as well as indoor speakers in each cabin and meeting spaces for scheduled announcements, but the speakers were mounted on tall poles with poor sound quality. Many campers and staff members complained they couldn’t hear the announcements.

Two years ago, instead of using Wi-Fi, we started to expand our network into the cabins. We contacted several professionals for advice, but no one seemed particularly interested in helping. In doing our own research, we came across three makers of IP speakers and finally chose the products of Advanced Network Devices. After creating a road map and budget, we then decided to test the speakers out on the farthest buildings since the announcements from the current system could barely be heard from there.

A Crash Course
Consider the following when updating a system:

  1. A computer is needed to run software that is on the same network as the speakers.
  2. Multiple computers can run the same software.
  3. If the camp has a private branch exchange telecommunications server (an on-site VoIP server, such as 3CX or Barracuda), an IP phone can be used to page all or some of the speakers.
  4. Note the distance between the Internet switch in relation to the location of the speakers. Because most speakers get their power using a Power-over-Ethernet injector or switch, there is a distance limitation.
  5. The size of the space should be determined and whether one speaker is enough.
  6. All of the speakers need to be on the same network. 
  7. External software is necessary to work with the speakers in controlling emergency notification.
  8. In a disaster recovery, note the life of the components using batteries and the approximate time they will be needed to operate.

The most difficult part was figuring how to use the analog outdoor speakers, knowing that it might take years to expand the system as extensively as the staff wanted. But we discovered that the same companies we considered for the speakers also made a zone controller. This controller connects the device to the network and also to the current amplifier in order to convert an analog system into one digital zone. For this part of the project, we ended up hiring a company to make the connections. If a camp has a few locations, it will probably need additional zone controllers.

Expanding The Network
After deeming the initial experience a success, we expanded the project to 25 indoor locations, and are now starting to work on outdoor sites. The system will create and/or improve the following:

  1. Emergency notifications. Once the software using an IP phone is activated and the relevant code is entered, a pre-recorded sequence is initiated. We have created notifications for fire, inclement weather, and intruders. 
  2. General paging.
  3. Displaying the time.

Having mastered the intended messages, we are also considering the following:

  1. Wake-up calls with music.
  2. Background music for opening and closing days with a message on the speakers’ display board.
  3. Connecting an auxiliary cord with a wall faceplate so staff members can play music for campers.
  4. Using a specific sound to switch activities or report for a meal.
  5. A wake-up sequence that includes an alarm, a “good morning” message, and the day’s weather (the speaker will be able to display any RSS feed).
  6. Connecting an external-temperature sensor to monitor the air conditioning in individual cabins.
  7. Using a speaker’s light sensor to determine if a cabin’s lights are on appropriately (useful during the off-season).
  8. Special announcements: word of the day, birthdays, cleanest cabin award, etc.

Bar Twito is the Director of Operations at Camp Young Judaea-Texas in Wimberley, Texas. Reach him at bar@cyjtexas.org.