The New Convergence

July 19, 2012
Security integration has expanded to include Building Automation Systems

The security industry has used the term “convergence” to refer to the integration of security and IT systems. A “new convergence” of security and building control systems can provide building solutions that deliver safety, convenience, cost-effectiveness and energy-efficiency.

A typical hospital, university campus, high-rise building or government facility likely has dozens of disparate security and building control systems, each handling a critical function ranging from intrusion alarms to lighting controls.

It is likely that the monitoring, response and maintenance of these systems are split between a security director and facility manager. That usually requires two control points and separate staff to operate the respective systems. While that may have worked well in the past, the arrangement is no longer ideal for improving performance, increasing efficiencies and lowering costs. That’s leading to a growing move in many larger organizations to converge the security and building control systems with the goal of providing one point of control.

There are many reasons why it makes sense. Having a centralized point of command and control is certainly more convenient. It is also more efficient, as it enables an organization to manage facilities with fewer people.


Building on the Security Platform

Most large organizations will attempt to converge its security function with video surveillance, access control, emergency notification and visitor management systems, intrusion and fire alarms and other related systems. The facilities side brings heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting controls, water conservation and a host of other efficiency systems to the mix.

A major problem that has delayed the convergence of these many systems is proprietary hardware, which is especially prevalent in the security industry. A push to open standards — based on the ONVIF or PSIA models — is still gaining steam.

A good example of how open architecture works can be found in a physical security information management system (PSIM) software-based solution, which is being used more frequently to integrate security subsystems onto one operating platform. PSIM solutions can integrate non-security building systems as well.

The result is a solution that collects, analyzes and correlates the data received from many individual systems. The PSIM software then interacts with the data to generate automated system activity — removing a great deal of the ordinary responsibilities from the hands of security guards or system operators. PSIM software also takes advantage of an existing wired building network, eliminating the costs of new equipment, cabling or computer networks. This helps to protect an organization’s investment in legacy systems , while newer IP-based technology can be added as old systems fail or as planned upgrades fit the budget.

Most building automation systems have moved to open architecture platforms that offer backward and forward compatibility. BACnet and LONWorks — two leading building automation protocols — enable real-time, remote interface with building systems and controls, including those from the security side, over an enterprise data network. This provides authorized operators and managers with remote monitoring and control capabilities via intranet, Internet, smartphone or tablet.

As is the case with security systems, building controls have largely made the transition to wireless and wired computer networks.


New Convergence in Action

How can these converged systems work synergistically to improve building safety, comfort and efficiency? Here are a few examples.

Automated Response: If a university’s fire alarm system detect a fire, for example, the building automation system signals the HVAC to stop delivering fresh air to the area of the blaze and pressurizes the path of egress, thus clearing it of smoke. The access control system unlocks doors along the route and surveillance cameras monitor the fire to give first responders a live video feed.

Smart Office Building: An executive arrives at a facility and swipes an access card at a building’s parking garage entry — while signals the elevator to call the proper floor, the executive’s office lights turn on, and the space is cooled or heated to the desired temperature. Cameras follow the executive from car to safe arrival at the inner office.

Personalized Service: A cancer treatment center issues patients RFID badges with data including patient name, medical records, doctor’s name, and personal preferences for temperature, music, video images and color while in a treatment room. When the patient returns, the access system notes the preferences on the badge, and the building systems respond by preparing a treatment room.

Consolidated Control: A retractable dome stadium can offer a single control room capable of monitoring and controlling more than 350 pieces of HVAC equipment, lighting for the public areas, playing field and parking lot, fire alarms, access control and a host of other security and building automation systems by using more than 2,500 points of data.


Energy Efficiency

The stadium above has become the first retractable roof stadium to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified. There is growing pressure on facility managers to make their buildings more energy efficient.

In the United States, buildings consume 40 percent of all energy. In dense urban settings, commercial buildings can account for up to 75 percent of energy used and 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, it is critical that buildings operate more efficiently to help meet the country’s growing energy needs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money and create jobs. This is where security systems, playing a major role in a smart building, can help increase energy efficiency.


Convergence Cuts Costs

Another benefit that cannot be overlooked is the cost savings that result from building systems convergence. On new construction, avoiding unnecessary and redundant cabling for separate systems can save money. The single point of control offered by convergence reduces staffing costs, and utility bills are often reduced. This type of project is also highly applicable to retrofit jobs on older facilities.

The end-result seems worth the effort, however, converging so many disparate systems is a major challenge that many architects and engineers are not yet accustomed to. Security systems integrators are often not familiar with building automation systems and vice-versa; and often, a team of security and HVAC specialists, mechanical engineers and building systems experts would handle this type of advanced integration. Today’s end-users are looking for one point of contact to handle all aspects of a project, so choosing an integrator with experience in both security and building automation might be a prudent step.


Starting Point

An important point to keep in mind before moving forward with a systems convergence plan is to involve an organization’s multiple stakeholders from the beginning of a project through its completion. That will include employees and contractors, along with departments such as finance, human resources, legal and, of course, the IT staff.

Once finished, the project will enable any department or contractor to add new equipment and functionality to the infrastructure with ease.


Andre Greco is the director of sales, security & fire solutions, for Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls. He has been involved in the security integration business since 1989.

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