Video: Bringing Clarity to PSIM and VMS

May 18, 2012
Bringing Clarity to PSIM and VMS

The security industry is no stranger to acronyms. There’s PSIM (which stands for Physical Security Information Management) and VMS (for Video Management System). In the early days of PSIM, it was all about integrating physical security systems. But today, that definition barely scratches the surface.

 So what is PSIM?

The term PSIM was coined within the physical security industry to describe a software platform that provides a single integrated ‘cockpit’ view of security system silos. This could include one or more Video Management Systems, PACS (Physical Access Control Systems), alarms, sensors and other systems.

The term PSIM is misleading because it implies it is all about “managing information” when it’s really more about “managing incidents.” PSIM enables you to leverage people, technology, and processes to the fullest to manage incidents better. First it creates situational awareness by correlating real-time information. It also provides situation management tools to accelerate and improve response.

It’s 3 a.m. An operator in a control room thousands of miles away receives a door alert from a remote warehouse in California. The PSIM system automatically creates a new incident and signals a PTZ camera to focus on the door in question. At the command center, the operator sees the door is propped open by a crate. A GIS map of the warehouse pops up on the command and control center screen pinpointing the exact location of the alert and the closest security guard. The system automatically initiates a call. (The operator doesn’t know the guard’s name or number, but the PSIM system does.) It sends the guard an image of the scene and asks him a simple question: “Can you see anyone?” The guard clicks on his mobile device: “Yes.” This sets more procedures in motion.

The PSIM’s workflow engine has been pre-programmed with standard operating procedures. When an alert occurs, the system springs to life with a whole chain of actions that could involve multiple people and touch multiple systems. In this particular scenario, the command center’s in-depth situational awareness resulted from the PSIM system’s ability to integrate the Physical Access Control System (PACS) and the VMS, along with other communications and tracking systems. When the incident concludes, the PSIM system enters its next phase of action: debriefing and investigation.

How would the scenario be different with VMS?

Now, let’s revisit the door-ajar scenario without PSIM. It would certainly look very familiar—at first. The access control system would “realize” the door had been left open and raise an alarm. The operator would acknowledge the alarm. And, assuming the access control system is directly integrated to the VMS, the VMS would spin the PTZ into place, mark the video as alarm and maybe increase the frame rate and resolution to capture the best image possible. It’s likely the operator would see exactly what he saw in the PSIM example, and then he’d take some action. He’d do something.

The difference between PSIM and VMS is what that something is. The PSIM system would guide the operator’s actions with automated adaptive workflows. The VMS would provide the visual cues but stop there.

Hopefully in the VMS scenario, the operator would do the right thing. But what if he were new on the job? What if he were trying to prioritize handling this situation along with five other incidents? This is where the difference between PSIM and VMS becomes evident.

The chart: “PSIM vs. VMS: What Do You Need?” highlights key attributes to help you distinguish PSIM from VMS. Here are a few take-aways.

PSIM frequently depends on video supplied by a VMS system, but a PSIM system cannot record video, nor is it a substitute for a VMS. It doesn’t manage video at all—it manages incidents.

Another key point—a VMS can present alarms from the VMS and also from other systems, such as Physical Access Control Systems, through SDKs. The alarm arrives, gets acknowledged and that’s essentially the end of it. This is a very basic form of situational awareness. A PSIM solution considers the alarm as the trigger to either start an incident, or to provide real-time situational awareness as the incident evolves.

Another distinguishing difference is that PSIM can address challenges beyond day-to-day security operations, such as compliance issues. Using PSIM’s automated workflows and incident reporting capabilities, for example, utilities can more easily comply with aspects of NERC CIP. PSIM can also ensure business continuity by providing complete situational awareness of the “what, where, why, how and when” of unfolding events and by helping organizations quickly implement contingency plans.

But perhaps the biggest differentiator between PSIM and VMS may have nothing to do with security at all — and everything to do with operations. PSIM can enable operational situational awareness in much the same way as it enables security situational awareness. For example, a utility could integrate grid devices into a PSIM solution, so error messages or device alerts could be sent automatically to operations when maintenance was required. This could initiate work orders, or instruct personnel to follow-up or escalate situations if work was not completed on time.

While PSIM’s past is grounded in security, the future of it is limited only by the boundaries of our collective imagination. The need to mitigate risk, to be situationally aware, and to manage situations better, cuts across many vertical markets and organizational lines and reaches high into the organization.