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November 10, 2022 | Shannon Smith

Knoxville-based Sumo MNS wants to help you stay safe in crises

By Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor, PYA

When disaster strikes, time is of the essence. Safety messages and calls to evacuate need to be made quickly and loudly before someone gets hurt.

But in areas with rough terrain, or when lots of people are bogging down cell towers, it can be hard to get those messages out.

That’s where Sumo Mass Notification Systems (MNS) comes in.

Sumo manufactures critical outdoor mass notification equipment to provide or augment emergency management communications during crisis events.

What sets the company apart from, for example, your standard stationary tornado sirens, is its mobile TacPA system. It fits in the back of a truck or other vehicle, is self-enclosed for weather protection, can be up and running in 30 seconds, doesn’t depend on cell towers, and can transmit clear intelligible audio messages within a half-mile range.

Founder and inventor Joel Brown came up with the idea when he was selling different mass notification systems for a security company. The systems he sold were attached to trailers that were stationary once set up. One complaint was they took too long to set up and break down. Customers wanted a mobile unit to reach the most people possible.

“I couldn’t find that anywhere, so I decided that I could do it myself,” said Brown.

Brown is a Knoxville native, former Army combat engineer, former Y-12 employee, and former security sales manager.

“I had just enough engineering experience, just enough machining experience from the decade at Y-12, and just enough understanding of the market and the need from my sales experience,” he said. “So after putting a lot of homework together on my end, I decided to walk away from an otherwise successful career and embark upon this entrepreneurial journey.”

Sumo TacPA Units

That was in 2015. Since then, Brown and Sumo MNS have secured both a design patent and a utility patent for the TacPA. They’ve since applied for a third utility patent for the technology they’ve developed so functions and features of TacPAs can be operated via a smart technology app (using smartphones, iPads, etc.). This includes remotely controlling voice messages, various light packages, volume, even linking several TacPAs together for broad area coverage, and several other features.

Their prototype was put to the test through an 18-month-long case study conducted by the Oak Ridge Fire Department (ORFD).

That study showed the TacPA could be very helpful in weather events, where city festivals or rowing competitions in Melton Lake needed to quickly be evacuated due to lighting. ORFD also found since the TacPA is mobile, it can be used in the bed of an ATV or a boat for search and rescue operations.

“It’s just a really glowing endorsement of our product,” said Brown.

Sumo’s TacPA system has also caught the attention of emergency management teams in northern California, which is prone to wildfires. They’ll be sending two systems to California as soon as more are built.

Sumo recently started talking to potential investors. Funding to build the TacPAs slated for California, additional demo units for other regions of the country, and other business-related growth activities is coming from Strata-G, one of Tennessee’s most recent recipients of the Department of Labor’s 2022 Hire Vets Platinum Award.

“I’ve been encouraged and advised through the years to not just take on any investor for the money. You want to take on an investor that can also help you grow and move products, so Strata-G fit the bill for that for us.”

A Tennessee company that employs many veterans is now supporting a veteran-owned Tennessee company on Veterans Day.

Brown will continue improving the TacPA and getting those systems out to customers who can help provide a higher level of safety.

If you’re interested in learning more and seeing demonstrations of the system, you can visit Sumo’s website here.

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