Sysco’s previous emergency notification systems was outdated. “Everything was antiquated and most of our alerting was done with manual air horns,” Clifton explained. “Our evacuation team consisted of 30 individuals and each team member had an assigned area to sweep—from warehouse to cubicles to restrooms—to ensure employees knew what was going on.” Now a team of only six is needed to manage an alert situation.
“On the freezer side of the building, we have millions and millions of dollars’ worth of perishable food,” said Clifton. Protecting this investment was a definite need for the facility. In addition to business assets, protecting the people was the highest priority.
Challenges to Overcome
Several areas of the Sysco building presented unique challenges in designing an effective, comprehensive system. Jon Koorsen, General Manager of Voceon, was originally contacted to discuss the radio system as a part of emergency notification systems. Once he understood the possible facility needs, he contacted Response Technologies, one of Voceon’s partners since 2018.
Sysco’s control room with ammonia storage was a top concern. Ammonia, typically used for cold food storage, can be deadly if leaked. “The emergency notification systems for the ammonia was a unique need. We have three vessels holding approximately 15,000 pounds of ammonia on site,” Clifton said. “While we have all of the safeguards, it was critical to make sure there were reliable controls and measures in place, in case something went wrong.” The previous notification system did not allow immediate, direct communication to anyone in the area in case of an emergency.
“Another big challenge was getting an emergency notification into the freezer,” Clifton continued. “We have big blowers back there and all kinds of noise so we needed a solution that could ensure anyone in the freezer could still hear the alarm, alerts or the address system.”
The truck shop was also an area of concern. “There are a lot of chemicals and trucks are being worked on. A lot of things could go wrong out there,” said Clifton. Many areas, such as the engine room and main shop, had extensive machinery and ammonia piping that presented additional challenges for receiving network signals.
Clifton, who has been leading safety at Sysco for more than 25 years, began the process of updating the emergency notification systems by involving local officials. “We initially started with the local emergency planning committee (LEPC), police and rescue. We wanted to include these local services because we are one of the larger employers in the city and we are heavily involved in the community.”
Clifton spent more than a year searching for the right partner to help develop an emergency notification system. While he met with many organizations, the Response Technologies/Voceon team stood apart. “They had great ideas,” he shared. “Most importantly, I could tell they truly cared. That was the difference for me.”
“We were concerned about how we would get service to the many areas of the building that had interference,” Clifton added. “The Voceon and Response Technologies team clearly explained our options for sending signals and ensuring service throughout the entire 40-acre property. They really worked with us, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
After site visits, the Response Technologies and Voceon team presented the plan to Clifton and the Sysco operations company officials. “It was very detailed and was really a ‘no brainer, seriously,'” Clifton explained. The plan came right before numerous COVID-19 shutdowns but, despite reducing expenses, officials at Sysco’s corporate headquarters recognized the importance of the system, and it was one of few capital expenses approved to move forward at the time.
“You have to have an emergency program that’s up to date,” Clifton said. “This vision for safety is part of the Sysco culture.”
What began as a basic ammonia alert system grew into a robust emergency system protecting all parts of the facility including gas leaks with fire, weather and even gunshot detection.
Immense Facility, Integrated Solution
Response Technologies and Voceon developed a custom emergency notification system that not only encompassed the expansive building, but also extended to difficult-to-reach areas such as deep freezers and noisy locations near fans or machinery. The system offers alerts that can be heard and/or seen, according to Matt Volkerding, Vice President of Sales for Response Technologies.