Planning a Major Security Systems Retrofit

Poor preparation can create problems that continue through completion


A knowledgeable person can mitigate the typical mistakes that are often made at the early stages of putting together a retrofit project. When a project is scoped, the nuances may not be fully understood without a qualified technical person involved. If the nuances are missed, there will be a level of negative impact on the retrofit project. The degree of negative impact will be driven by the lack of technical understanding by those managing the project.

Just like unintentional consequences can occur from any decision, poorly thought-out retrofit projects that seem like a wonderful plan until it is installed can have unintentional results. The forgotten or overlooked aspects of the project can come back to haunt you.

An example of missing details in the early stages of a retrofit project can be explained with a CCTV retrofit that recently happened at a large defense contracting company. The scope of the retrofit project was to change the existing CCTV system over to a network/LAN system. The goal was to have the capability to view cameras from many different locations via the company LAN. The security manager, director, security control center, investigator and other approved individuals could then view all or part of the cameras depending on their requirements and job function.

The concept and plan were advantageous; the retrofit project was funded and installed. When complete, it became obvious that several major mistakes had been made: The old camera system interfaced with the security system, as well as an audio and video matrix. This allowed SCC assistance to be available for entry into the building. A pushbutton sensor, adjacent to an entry point, initiates an alarm in the SCC and automatically called up an intercom and camera to enable SCC personnel to view the person requesting assistance. The SCC could assist the person, and, to some level, verify whom they were talking to via video/audio link.

The people in charge of the security retrofit project did not know about the interfaces between the CCTV and other systems. They had assumed the CCTV system was a function unto itself and could be easily changed over to the latest technology. (Most of the CCTV system was not associated with the entry points and was not a problem.) The majority of the design effort had been associated with understanding the company LAN and providing security for the LAN drops to prevent compromise.

The new IP cameras were not linked in any way to the alarm system or audio matrix; resulting in no capability for the SCC to talk with the person needing assistance at the entry locations. In addition, the impact of the IP cameras constantly streaming video caused smaller sites to suffer bandwidth problems. Some of the smaller site locations wanted the IP camera system turned off, because the network was suffering and impacting business functions that were on the same LAN. Other areas that were missed during the original project scope include:

• The cost for each IP drop was not considered;

• The ongoing network maintenance cost was not considered; and

• The cost of removing all the existing coax that connected the old camera system cameras was not considered.

The retrofit project cost ended up being extremely high, based on the poorly thought-through design. The design did work, but there were several other ways of doing the project that would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and kept the original video entry system functionality.

Another example where a knowledgeable person can provide assistance and insight during the planning of a retrofit project installation is when a conversion from one alarm system to a new alarm system is planned. In this case, the existing alarm system must remain operational through the retrofit effort. Continuous operation can become a major challenge — particularly in facilities that have very limited space for the security system field equipment to reside, which is usually the norm.

When a new alarm field panel must be installed and there is no wall space, careful thought must be part of the retrofit project to cover the cost of dual monitoring and ensure that no sensor alarm is missed. One way to address this specific problem is to leave the old system running while the new system is being installed. In small areas, where the alarm inputs cannot be changed from one panel to another within an acceptable timeframe, both old and new panels must be operational. The old panel can be carefully removed from the wall and left hanging by support cables from the ceiling so that active alarm cables and other data/power cables remain operational. The new field panel can then be installed on the wall in the place previously occupied by the old panel. Then, alarm inputs are moved from the old panel to the new panel one at a time. Both systems are monitoring for alarms and no sensor is left offline.