Planning a Major Security Systems Retrofit

Poor preparation can create problems that continue through completion

There is always great excitement when a security manager finally receives approval for a long-awaited project. Years may have been spent trying to obtain approval and many long hours discussing the plan with upper management before the project is funded. There are always needs within the Security department that must be addressed, and the funding for an additional project often suffers the needed financial support. When funding is finally approved, it becomes the fruition of a long, painful process.


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For the security manager, when funding is first announced, it is as if the project funding approval by itself makes the project a reality. After receiving approval, the project takes on a life of its own and becomes part of the Security department — even though it has not been installed. At this point, it is time for the dreaming to stop and a well-executed project to begin. The security manager can idealize the project at the funding stage and into the perfect project/installation stage. The project does not become “real” until it is complete and the reality of any shortcomings are apparent.

A new installation project has many potential pitfalls, but a retrofit project is even more challenging. The reason for the added challenge of a retrofit project is that something already exists — and what exists must be part of the retrofit plan. Sometimes the existing equipment or systems must continue to work while the retrofit project is being installed, and sometimes the retrofit project must interconnect to the existing system's hardware and/or software.

A retrofit project requires very careful planning before funding is requested to properly scope the project, to ensure electronic security system performance during construction and to finish with a complete, well-functioning system. The goal is to make the retrofit project transparent to the general public or employees, while ensuring a final product that enhances the old existing system.

Why a Retrofit?

A retrofit project can be at almost any level of the security system, any functional security area (CCTV, alarms, access control, etc.) or the Security Control Center (SCC). For example, the security alarm system might be expanded or the existing alarm system replaced by a different alarm system manufacturer. The same could be true for the access control system, etc. You might want to expand the existing system or you might want to change the access control system manufacturer or the card technology. For example, many companies might replace their old magnetic stripe system with a proximity or smart card system.

With all the possible retrofit projects that could be undertaken, there is no way to address each of these areas in a single article, therefore I will use actual examples to show some of the pitfalls that have occurred in retrofit projects. These real examples should provide an overview of the types of issues to consider before requesting funding, during the installation phase and to ensure that the retrofit project makes the security system better when you are finished.

The Early Stages

In the planning stages, it is important to have a knowledgeable technical person involved to provide a comprehensive scope for the retrofit project. This person could be part of the company (often within Facilities, Security or the Information Systems group), an outside contractor or a technical team, depending on the size and complexity of the retrofit project.

Picking a qualified technical contractor is an important issue unto itself, which will not be addressed in this article. We will assume that a competent technical person is found and is involved from the early planning stages of the project.

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