Planning a Major Security Systems Retrofit

Poor preparation can create problems that continue through completion

Special consideration needs to be made in the SCC to enable the operators to provide as proficient a job as possible with both manufacturers’ alarm servers sitting side-by-side. The more alarm panels that are in a tight space, the more likely it is that there will need to be some alarm field panels suspended from the ceiling or from cable tray.

Plan for Surprises

Surprises are often part of any retrofit project that replaces an old electronic security function with a new system. If we consider the alarm field panels retrofit project discussed above, there may be sensors that have stopped working (failed) and must be repaired. An example of a sensor that could fail and not be obvious is a defective emergency door alarm sensor. This can happen when a door has not been opened or tested for an extended period of time and the door sensor is stuck in the secure position.

The SCC does not know there is a problem, because the door appears to be secure, but when it is tested after moving it to the new security field panel, the sensor is found to be defective. Some number of these types of problems will occur in an alarm system retrofit project and should be anticipated in the scope of the project.

Surprises that can occur during an access control system retrofit project are many times associated with electrical wiring. Maybe a cable was not grounded, which is a common problem — and it can be difficult to recognize that the lack of a ground or incorrect grounding is causing the problems observed. Other wiring issues from the card reader to the field panel include poor conductivity or high-resistance connections. The problem can be poor connections at the reader, field panel or junctions in between.

The confusion often happens because the old system appeared to be functioning properly — i.e. the old card reader was processing cards and badges. This type of problem can show up when changing card reader technology, because some technologies are more sensitive to wiring issues than others, even through they both might use a standard field panel/reader protocol, such as Weigand. This problem actually occurred at a large company when they changed from Weigand cards to proximity cards.

The problems and surprises that occur due to poor planning start showing up during the installation phase of a retrofit project and continue through completion. Each missed issue and some surprises will degrade the operation of the retrofit project and/or result in the need for additional funds.

The impact on the total project can be devastating as efforts are made to adjust and correct oversights. This includes any technical corrections and additional funding to complete the project. If the additional funding is not available, sometimes the problems can be glossed over, and the Security department will suffer as it uses a cumbersome, poorly designed, inhibited system. If the retrofit project funding is impacted in a major way early in the project, the project may be cancelled.

The added cost of poor planning and design must be addressed at some point and it can have a negative affect on future projects and possibly the planner’s career. A competent technical person or team can mitigate many of these unexpected consequences.


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Robert Pearson holds a BSEE and is a Registered Professional Engineer. He has been an instructor at George Washington University teaching “Integrated Security Systems” and “Corporate Security Management,” has written numerous articles for various technical magazines and has recently published a book, “Electronic Security Systems.” On a day-to-day basis he oversees design, project management, and maintenance of security systems for multiple sites. Mr. Pearson is a member of the A/E National Standing Council for ASIS International.