Managing all the Elements of Premises Security

Convergence and integration are terms being used constantly in the electronic security world. Rightly so, because these techniques are shaping security at every level of the channel. While system integration has been practiced to a certain degree by dealers for as long as there has been an alarm industry, other elements of the supply channel have come around and done their part to transform what the end users expect and the way the industry provides security.

The computer revolution has helped to set the stage for much of the this transformation by providing the scalable and cost effective hardware and the infrastructure which was readily adapted for security applications. It is agreed that security has gained an increased awareness in society. In turn, it is fostering demand for turnkey integrated systems.

The appearance of such types of systems in new construction plans and bid specs are becoming apparent. The result has also brought major corporations and conglomerates into the arena of security vendors. Consequently, the security vendor landscape has and continues to evolve into one comprised of fewer, but larger, multi-national enterprises. A major impact of this development is that integrated solutions are now easier to obtain.

Every day dealers are encountering clients who articulate a request for consolidated systems. The end users want faster and simpler solutions, using fewer vendors. Whenever given the choice to select a single source security provider, as opposed to having to deal with several, a growing number of dealers say they are opting for the single source security solution.

Alliances between a number of different disciplines are now often being coordinated by a prime contractor. The prime contractor brings in the subs, handles the paperwork, and is the single point liaison for the client (who doesn't want to know how the system will be provided, but simply when it will be completed).

The equipment available is also changing. It's relying more on unitized platforms and network protocols for communications, processing and archiving. The results are combined functionality, and a unitized control, monitoring and user-interface.

Putting the Pieces Together As One
Integrating systems involves interfacing the various elements of premises security and monitoring in order to provide a coherent body of archived, as well as real time data, processing power to analyze the data, and appropriate response mechanisms to react to the situation. More than ever before, successful system integration demands that a synergy exist between the subsystems as well as the various vendors. These entities include the dealer, his installers, engineers and salespeople, as well as the end user, its department managers and employees.

Proper coordination is necessary so that the system will be understood, more readily accepted, and therefore perform its functions most effectively. Below are various aspects of an integrated system:

Interfacing Multiple Systems
This can mean an automatic infrastructure interface between systems over a buss or network, or the availability of subsystem activity reports and control of the subsystems in a specific area or over workstations. More automatic independent operation is required for unmanned sites. It is essential that as many end user personnel as possible are familiar with the features and operation of the system so that malfunctions can be more readily identified and addressed. This means training be provided by the installing dealer.

Cards, IDs & Entry Data
Cards and data have further fostered the consolidation of security and centralized administration by permitting a single credential to perform multiple functions for security, access control and other auxiliary purposes within the domain of the global security management system. Inherent in the design of these systems is the ability to develop Access Levels within the population credentials to precisely define credential authorizations based on many design criteria. Most installers will recognize this nomenclature already widely used to separate user codes and installer administrator privileges. Levels are more highly definable and may be based on any number of other criteria, such as geographic location, time zones, and functionalities.

  • Smart Cards. Multiple technology credentials enable biometric and personal identification, multipurpose, and highly secure facility management.
  • Biometric Cards. They bridge the gap between conventional access and ID credentials, and the totally card-free biometric process which has been on the horizon for many years, and which is gradually reaching fruition. Processing speed and memory capacity are the two technical hurdles which experts promise are on the verge of being conquered.
  • Pin Numbers. Personal Identification Numbers still play a significant role in a large number of security applications as a convenient method which does not involve the technological and management issues associated with credential based systems.
  • Photo Badging. Although photo ID predates most electronic access control, it is a widely used as a first line method of premises protection. Photo-ID technology has evolved to the point where, for a growing number of applications, conventional photographic technology has been replaced by computer imaging, and duplication, storage and transmission of images utilizes digital and network technologies. Photo ID's are paired up with one of the numerous credential technologies to provide multi-purpose and multi-functional credentials

Alarm Points
Alarm Points are the updated term formerly referred to as "Zones." Alarm Points permit pinpointing of the location and nature of a problem or violation. Formerly, security systems were comprised of one or two zones (for example: interior and exterior; day and night, or instant vs. delayed loops). Access controls might, at best, have only provided monitoring of the doors they actually controlled. Today, access control and burglar alarms have converged into microprocessor based security management devices which also provide offsite monitoring, annunciation and control.

Multiple Workstations
Multiple Workstations render the system far easier to manage, by offering end users a higher degree of control over more specific areas and functions of the system. Password protected and encrypted desktops, laptops and PDA's have revolutionized the way you gather, manage and respond to security issues of all types.

Parking & Vehicle Management
Parking lots and garages have become even more of a target because in addition to the traditional security problems they pose, automobiles are also being used as weapons today. Parking control has attained higher levels of priority to security managers in all market segments and applications. New tools permit IDing of vehicles, license plates and sniffing for contraband and explosives.

Elevator Access Control
A typical application which requires the integration of the premises' access control system is the control of elevators. However, when using elevator cars that carry multiple occupants, it may be difficult to provide absolute control.

CCTV Interface
This is one of the most challenging areas of system integration, and perhaps presents the most opportunities for the typical dealer. There is an abundance of network ready hardware and the ability to view and control IP based CCTV creates multiple and remote workstations.

Convergence and system integration, at every level of the electronic video security supply channel, has changed the course and plotted a new future for the entire industry. Fostered by technological developments in digital signal processing and network technology and accelerated by an increased demand; electronic video surveillance has quickly evolved. Both the suppliers and end users of such systems are plentiful.

A Positive Plan
When there is uncertainty as to whether or not there is an issue or a breach in security, you want to be the first to know. As far as the building's management is concerned, it may signal that a more articulated system or more regimented security plan needs to be implemented. A typical example would be a malfunctioning stairwell door access/security system that provides card access entry off the stairwell, and free egress from the stairwell into the suite of offices. In this specific case example, the door was not latching. It therefore creates both a security as well as life safety issue within the premises. Anyone can pass onto the floor without a credential; and the building's life safety posture, with respect to the control of fire and smoke migration, is severely compromised.

Were the system adequately monitored for unauthorized entry onto the floor from the stairwell, building management would be more likely to be aware when an issue presents itself. Building occupants need to know what proper system operation is supposed to be, what the possible ramifications of an inoperative system are, and the policy and procedure for reporting system issues that are in place.

Then, it's likely that the condition would be detected and addressed sooner. Surely if a burned out light bulb in the lobby or illegally parked car in a handicapped space triggers an immediate response, but a faulty security at a stairwell door is somewhere down the page of priorities, you have to wonder why the system was installed in the first place.

Alarm distribution companies have long led the way of integration by offering products other than the core burglar alarm items. Conversely, suppliers to other specialties, such as telcom and electrical, for instance, have also made the transition and broadened lines to supply security-related products.

Due to a struggling economy, few dealers feel that they can afford not to expand their product services to boost up their bottom lines and to fulfill the requests of their multi-tech customers. You are seeing the call for system convergence and are not in a position to leave these calls unanswered.

Security Dealer Technical Editor Tim O'Leary is a 30-year veteran of the security industry and a 10-year contributor to the magazine. O'Leary's background encompasses security consulting since 1986, serving as an independent security company owner/operator, and researching and evaluating new technologies and products introduced to the physical and electronic security fields. He is a member of the VBFAA (Virginia Burglar and Fire Alarm Association), certified for Electronic Security Technician and Sales by the VADCJS (Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services), and has served as a judge for the SIA New Product Showcase. Send your integration questions to