Merlinia OutBack as an alarm system

OutBack provides a generalized "request-and-respond" system allowing one user to activate a "request" which is then disseminated to the users who are configured as "responders" for this kind of request. These "responders" can then accept or decline the request, and eventually, when the situation has been cleared up, the requester will cancel the request. In theory, this facility could be used for many purposes, from a way for users to request a cup of coffee to a way to escalate support problems to a more competent employee. The most common usage of this "request-and-respond" facility is as an alarm system for employees who may feel threatened by clients, something known in the security business as an "enterprise mobile duress system".

Typical alarm system scenario

OutBack as an alarm system is typically used in public social services administrations, where social workers have meetings with residents of the area who receive various welfare benefits. Misunderstandings and disagreements about the level of social help available can sometimes result in undesirable situations, situations that can escalate and get out of hand if not properly defused.

Of course, defusing a possible conflict before it gets out of hand is best for everyone involved, both the employee who is getting worried and the client who would certainly regret his/her actions afterwards if frustration had been allowed to get out of control. Thus the idea is that the employee should be able to activate an alarm in a non-obvious way, to avoid aggravating the situation, and that coworkers and/or a security employee should then show up quickly and get the situation under control again.

How it works

To start with, the system needs to be configured with the various "request types" or alarm types that are needed. For example, an alarm activated on the first floor and an alarm activated on the second floor should probably be considered to be two different alarm types, since different employees will be requested to respond in these two cases (although some employees, for example a security person, can be a responder for multiple alarm types).

An employee who is going to hold a meeting with a client, and is worried that things might get out of hand, is "registered" to the applicable request type. When holding the meeting he/she needs to be sitting next to a PC that has OutBack installed, or else needs to have an Android-based mobile device running the OutBack for Android app.

Activating the alarm depends on how the request type has been configured, but typically a request for assistance involves holding the Esc key on the keyboard down for three seconds. This works irrespective of which Windows program currently "has focus", i.e., the Esc key is a "global hotkey". Alternatively, holding both mouse buttons down can be used to request assistance. (Activating an alarm via an Android device is described here - it typically involves "accidentally" placing a piece of paper on top of the device.)


The "responders" are immediately notified via a message that pops up on their PC screen, or via an alarm being displayed on their Android-based smartphone, or via an SMS sent to their mobile telephone. The notification includes all the information needed for the responder to make informed decisions about where to go and/or what to tell coworkers to do. Here is what the notification window looks like for the PC-based responders:


Employees with multiple work locations

For employees who work some of the time at one location and some of the time at a different location the request-and-respond system includes support to semi-automatically change the request type based on the user's location. Thus, the system can be set up so a user who is working on the ground floor of building A will activate one alarm type, and later when he/she is working at building B and activates an alarm it will be a different alarm.