Here in the United States a house catches fire every 74 seconds! That’s scary. Even more scary for those of us who have hearing losses is the fact that most fires occur at night when we are sleeping, and our hearing aids and cochlear implants are also peacefully “sleeping” on our bed tables beside us. Thus we often cannot hear the smoke detector blaring its warning to us from our bedroom ceilings.
This happened to Harold Waterer and his girlfriend Heather a few months ago. Because they were deaf, neither heard the smoke detector warning them their trailer had caught fire. Tragically both died in the fire because they failed to provide for themselves the “gift of life.”
Fire is not the only danger to which we are exposed. Carbon monoxide is an insidious killer that can silently sneak up on us and snuff out our lives while we sleep because again our hearing aids and cochlear implants are reposing on the bed table. Thus, we do not hear our CO detector’s shrill warning of impending doom.
This happened to the Mazins just two years ago. Blair and Anita Mazin both had severe hearing losses. They had come home one evening and somehow forgot to turn the ignition off when they parked their car in the garage under their townhouse.
The carbon monoxide from the car’s exhaust eventually seeped into their bedroom and snuffed out their lives while they slept. They were totally oblivious to their CO detector futilely screaming its warning to them. Tragically, they too failed to give themselves the “gift of life.”
If you live in “Tornado Alley” a tornado may sweep through your neighborhood, but you may never know it because you can’t hear the weather warning blaring from your NOAA weather radio. Instead of immediately taking shelter in your basement, you may become another tragic statistic on the next newscast if you fail to give yourself the “gift of life.”
What Is the “Gift of Life”?
Just what is this “gift of life”? The “gift of life” I am referring to are alerting systems that are designed specifically to truly meet the needs of hard of hearing and deaf people—not systems that give “token alerts” that are often missed such as the ineffective flashing lights I’ve seen on many door knockers and smoke detectors, for example.
In contrast, “gift of life” alerting systems are designed to waken you—not only by sounding a loud alarm, but also by flashing a bright light and shaking your bed. It is almost impossible to sleep through this triple whammy assaulting three of your senses (hearing, seeing and feeling) at the same time. When working properly, these wonderful alerting systems can give you the “gift of life”—alerting you in time to escape with your life.
Not only do these alerting systems alert you to life-threatening situations, they also make your life as a hard of hearing person easier—alerting you when your phone rings, when someone is at the door, when the baby is crying in the back bedroom, if grandpa just fell out of bed and needs help, or even if a burglar is breaking into your house.
Four Key Features of Great Alerting Systems
There are 4 key features you want your alerting system to have.
1. Get Your Attention—Always
The first and foremost feature to look for in an alerting system is that when it activates it always grabs your attention—whether you are awake or asleep; whether you are in bed or in the shower; whether you are doing the laundry downstairs or working outside in the garden. This means that for your bedroom it must have a triple mode of alerting you—hearing, seeing, feeling. For other parts of the house, you need either flashing lights and/or a vibrating “pager” that lets you know what the situation is.
A close second to being getting your attention is reliability. Since alerting systems are designed to save your life, and to alert you to important things your ears no longer hear, they must not fail—not even once—because the one time they fail may be the time your house catches fire, or the time your furnace malfunctions and spews out deadly carbon monoxide.
Therefore, in order to give yourself the “gift of life,” you need an ultra-reliable alerting system that warns you every time.
You don’t want an alerting system like I once had in which some of the modules activated “when they felt like it”. Thus I missed about half of my phone calls. I often wondered whether it would activate if my house caught fire, or whether that would be one of the times it didn’t “feel like it.”
At the same time, you don’t want an alerting system that gives false alarms every time a motor cycle roars past your house, there is a thunderstorm overhead or your wife switches off the bathroom light! Believe it or not, the above system also did all three of these things—a real pain, especially when it happened at 2:00 in the morning!
The danger with false alerts is twofold. One, you will learn to ignore all alerts, assuming that they are false anyway. Two, you may disconnect the alerting system so you can get a good night’s sleep, and thus leave yourself completely unprotected.
3. Have Battery Backup
Third, and closely related to reliability, is that your alerting system must continue working—even when the power to your house is knocked out—such as might happen during a thunderstorm, a winter ice storm or a fire that starts in/near your main power panel.
Here’s what can happen if you do not have battery backup. Three Gaithersburg, MD boys had been enjoying an impromptu sleepover. In the evening, a thunderstorm came though and knocked out the power to the house, so the boys lit a candle and spent the evening playing games. But as they fell asleep, the candle apparently fell from its glass holder and ignited a nearby bookshelf. The smoke detector didn’t sound because it needed the house’s electrical system to operate. (It did not have battery backup.) The tragic result was that all 3 boys died in the raging inferno that was once a basement. The three adults upstairs were severely burned. That is how important having battery backup on all alerting devices is. The best alerting system in the world won’t help you if it runs out of power!
The final feature you need is for your alerting system to be flexible in three areas.
First, it needs to be flexible in the means by which it warns you—whether by pager, room modules or bedside table modules.
Second it needs to be flexible in the mode by which it warns you—whether by flashing lights, bed or pager vibrators, or loud alarms.
Third, it needs the flexibility to alert you to the various “incidents” that are important to you. For example, do you need it to alert you to a:
- fire alarm or smoke detector
- carbon monoxide detector
- alarm clock
- baby crying
- weather radio warning (tornado, severe thunderstorm, etc.)
- burglar alarm
- sick person or elderly parent in your home that needs help now
- warning that someone is leaving their room, especially at night—a sleepwalking child or elderly parent with Alzheimer’s disease for example
And you want to be alerted to all the above, even if you are out working in your back yard!
What System Should I Get? or “You Get What You Pay For”
Let me state right here that there is no perfect system that meets all our varied needs. Each have their own strengths and failings. However, I investigated alerting systems to find the most flexible and reliable system available today.
What I discovered is that the Silent Call system is the Cadillac of alerting systems. It has been carefully engineered not to give false alerts, but instantly warns you every time one of its alarm modules activates.
I give the Silent Call system top marks for reliability, and good marks for flexibility, getting your attention and battery backup (and when the next version is released sometime in 2008 it will be even better)!
The main downside to the Silent Call system is that it costs more than the competition—but when your life is at stake, you want reliability, and that is where the Silent Call system excels.
Other alerting systems are cheaper, but, as in most things, you get what you pay for. Krown has quite a good system in some ways—but it is limited in flexibility. The Clarity/Ameriphone AlertMaster system has a number of nice features—it is quite flexible and has battery backup on the bedside module—but in my experience it is not at all reliable as I have mentioned above under reliability. Therefore I cannot recommend it. If they ever re-engineer this system for reliability, then I’ll reconsider my advice—but not until!)
Sonic Alert has a number of individual modules as does Ultratec, but these systems do not have integrated receivers that cover all functions. I do not know the reliability of these systems as I have not tested them out personally. However, sometimes you can make a good guess as to how reliable a system might be by looking at the length of their warranties. Silent Call and Sonic Alert have the longest at 5 years, Ultratec is 2 years and Krown and Clarity/Ameriphone bring up the rear with 1 year warranties.
At present, the Silent Call system, in my opinion, has the most reliable, flexible and attention-getting systems available. Click here to learn more about the Silent Call systems and the features of its various receivers and transmitters.
Practice Makes Perfect
No alerting system is much good to you if you don’t practice with it so you know exactly what will happen when an alerting device activates.
If you are working, and set your alarm clock every morning to wake you up, you’ll get plenty of practice in waking up—the alarm going off, the bed shaking and a light flashing should instantly jar you awake.
However, if you are retired or don’t use/need an alarm clock, how will you ever know if you’ll really wake up in an emergency? Even if you do wake up when the system goes off at 2:00 AM, it is so easy to deny it is a real emergency—you just want to roll over and go back to sleep—so you assume a false alarm and don’t get moving.
Thus, you need to program your mind so that when the alert goes off—you respond now! One way to do this is to have someone (spouse/child/friend) secretly set your alarm to go off at say 2:00 AM, or otherwise activate one of the alerting modules, and see if you wake up or sleep right through.
You want to train your brain that no matter what the situation, whenever it hears/sees/feels that alarm, it jolts you out of your sleep or grabs your attention if you are awake! I got good at this in my many years as a volunteer fireman! You learn to hit the floor running. No wasted time wondering what you should do. Even though I have a severe loss, I never missed any fire calls because I didn’t wake up. Once you brain is trained, you’ll never miss an alarm either!
Maintain Your System
Now that you have you system all set up and working to your satisfaction, don’t just forget about it. True, it should last you a long time, but you still have to maintain it in order to keep it in tip-top condition. One of the biggest problems with all alerting systems is that they use batteries in the various modules. These batteries need to be replaced whether they get used much or not as batteries lose their charge over time.
Therefore, it is very important that you regularly check all your devices to see that they are working properly. The best way to do this is to set up a program as many fire departments recommend, to regularly change the batteries in all the modules of your alerting system every time you change to or from daylight savings time (or every 6 months if you don’t change your time). A weak or dead battery definitely won’t save your life!
When you have purchased, installed, tested and practiced with your new alerting system, you should be able to rest easy for you know that you have provided for yourself, as much as is humanly possible, the “gift of life”!