Office Building Security Is Getting Quite Smart

New technologies and services push corporate and office buildings security to the next level

When coordinated suicide bombings struck London's public transport system last July, closed circuit television (CCTV) footage enabled police to identify four suspects within days. The detailed analysis showed that four men with backpacks had met up at King's Cross station before fanning out on separate missions.

The high-profile incident illustrates how security techniques and technology are getting smarter, and working in concert to protect both public and private spaces. Since the fall of the Twin Towers on 9-11 resulting from a terrorist attack, office building security has been steadily evolving from relatively open access to much stricter environments through the use of electronic barriers, individual identification and monitoring, as well as vehicle control.

Owners and landlords are gravitating toward a more strategic deployment of technology and personnel. "The aim is to implement new technologies for added efficiency, not just for their own sake, or because they are the greatest wonder since sliced bread," says Mike Coleman, vice president of commercial real estate at Philadelphia-based AlliedBarton, a security personnel firm.

Maximizing the available tools

The new approach to safety goes well beyond gadgetry and technological wizardry. Relatively simple procedures may also be cost-effective and beneficial. For instance, mail handling and emergency planning have taken on heightened importance. Security guards can communicate through PDAs, enabling them to receive messages in the field. Good lighting is a must, especially in garages.

In general, office building managers are reducing their reliance on manpower in favor of X-ray machines, metal detectors, turnstiles and barriers. Speed lanes, for example, are automated turnstiles that permit passage as long as the user has a card. "The key is to do it smarter, by integrating personnel and systems," emphasizes Coleman of AlliedBarton. "That could mean replacing or supplementing humans with technology."

Video analytics and biometrics are at the cutting edge, according to Tony Varco, vice president of the security division at Convergint Technologies in Schaumburg, Ill. New surveillance software, using complex algorithms, allows operators of CCTV to zero in on abnormal behavior. "Layered technologies work in conjunction with each other. For instance, software complements high-quality video or digital recordings," Varco explains.

Smart video software looks for specific activities, such as a package left unattended for several minutes. In parking garages, the video is looking out for behavior called "looping" from car to car, as a thief tries to break into vehicles.

Biometrics, which verify identity through fingerprint, iris or facial recognition, have moved from James Bond to the real world. Facial recognition, for example, analyzes the 80 nodal points on the human face, like distance between eyes or nose width. "We now are beginning to see templates of fingerprints embedded in employees' smart cards," says Varco. What's more, the cost per card has dropped from $4,000 to under $1,000.

The San Antonio Technology Center, a three-story building with multiple technology tenants, added a FaceKey fingerprint recognition system in late 2004. "So far, we have hardly seen any biometric systems yet in commercial office buildings," says Annette Starkweather, chief operating officer of FaceKey Corp. in San Antonio. "We hope they will eventually be adopted widely, as it is the only technology that provides total control - unlike passwords or PIN cards."

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