Preserving a security system’s integrity during upgrades requires a tactical approach

July 16, 2013
Military organizations must weigh risks and opportunities when partnering with A&E firms

Security technology is getting smarter and cheaper every year. While many military project managers wonder if they can afford systems upgrades, their most pressing question is how they preserve the integrity of their existing system while ensuring that upgrades comply with current security standards. After all, the cost of the technology is irrelevant of the system doesn’t pass muster.

Information technology is not static; and neither is a well-designed security system. For example, recent changes in SCIF standards have forced some older military installations to rebuild their Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF) at high costs ( To dodge this bullet the military engineer needs to ask, “How can I design today’s security system in a way that will let me add new components and even new systems, and stay in budget, and protect my current grid during the changeover?”

It turns out that innovative technology and methods can empower a military organization to do just that: enhance security while realizing substantial capital and operating savings. But first the military system integrator must understand the following guidelines and adapt them to his organization’s particular needs.

The following sections explore the challenges and effective strategies for meeting them.
Preserve the Facility’s Systems Integrity
The military engineer in charge of implementing new technology has to know the architecture and operation of the existing infrastructure, and must be up to date on all relevant security protocols and regulations that were written to keep the system safe. In a military facility that can be asking a lot, and in some cases it may require a stem-to-stern remapping of the existing configuration.

A great example of this is what the military has been up against with Smart Grid, which uses web-based communications systems to reconfigure power distribution on the fly so that power generating sources can interact intelligently with power-consuming devices. An example of this can be represented in the following way.

Let’s assume that a coal fired electrical generation station (power plant) is only providing power to a military base. The additional power is largely unused and is an inefficiency whose cost is charged to the military base. By integrating smart meters within the facility, the power plant can more accurately track the power requirements and reduce the oversupply to 10 percent. Further efficiencies can be obtained by installing active meters that will curtail the individual buildings’ power needs ensuring that power demand never exceeds the supply. The systems integrator’s goal is to see that that all of the facilities’ processes, procedures and components are preserved as Smart Grid technology is integrated into the overall system.
Select the Most Cost-Effective Technology
Here again the critical factor that makes innovation possible is knowledge. If a military engineer lacks the requisite technical knowledge and experience, potential upgrades will more than likely fall back on conventional solutions.

In previous years multi-mode fiber optic (MMF) cable was cheaper than single-mode fiber (SMF) optic cable. Today the picture is just the reverse. If a system is properly designed, if the correct transceivers are specified, and, most importantly, if the components are obtained at a competitive price, SMF cable offers 10 times the throughput at considerably longer distances than MMF cable and at a lower cost. Even if a facility already has MMF cable and termination devices in place, knowledgeable designers can use cables that combine MMF and SMF in the same cable to provide more cost-effective installations.

So why do many military engineers continue to advocate for MMF cable? They may be unfamiliar with the components that are required for SMF cable installations. They may focus only on current needs rather than the facility-wide potential to use the newer technology in the near term, increasing the quantity and lowering the price. Or they may simply lack the volume of business required to negotiate bulk purchase agreements.

A good strategy is to shop for a system expert/vendor who can lower the purchase price by combining one client’s order with orders from other projects. For example, SSOE, one of the leading A&E firms in the United States, designed and managed a fire, security and access control project which required SMF cable and components. Bundling this order with three other projects, SSOE’s procurement department could leverage a 20-percent price reduction for all four projects.

To make sure that all materials are delivered in time to meet the construction schedule, the military engineer should purchase in bulk whenever possible and order well in advance of scheduled installation—18 months of lead time is a good rule of thumb because SMF cannot be obtained in six months and the only option is using MMF. This is especially important today because two of the major SMF cable manufacturing plants were damaged in the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster. They are not expected to increase production until September 2013.

Before putting a specification out for a bid, the engineer should ensure that the spec includes precise quality and performance standards for each component. For example, there are some 50 manufacturers of Ethernet data jacks, but only a handful of them comply with the accepted standards for communications equipment as defined by BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Service International), especially its durability standards. No military project manager wants to install sub-standard components and then have to replace them at government expense.

It’s possible to eliminate this risk factor by requiring detailed performance criteria in the specs for every component, as well as detailed shop drawings that include a cut sheet of every proposed component. These are provided by the system expert/vendor for the engineer’s review in advance of scheduled installation. But it’s not a good practice to wait for the vendor to submit all of the shop drawings at once. This creates a bottleneck in the review process, which is typically on a tight deadline. It makes more sense to stagger the required submittal dates of shop drawings over several weeks to stay in synch with the construction schedule.
Design Money-Saving Custom Solutions
The most cost-effective technology for an application can sometimes be a custom-designed solution. Consider the task of detecting intruders. Many facilities spend the largest fraction of their security budget on perimeter intrusion detection. But what happens if an intruder gets past the outer perimeter? Typical monitoring systems lose track of an intruder until they enter a building. And so, to cover the gap of technology blindness, the commander has to deploy expensive security officers to locate the intruder, at a significant cost.

A recent project for a government client sought to solve this problem using a new CCTV camera technology with expanded capabilities. The rudimentary camera they would have preferred to buy met all of the performance criteria except one: the feature that allowed security officers to keep monitoring the intruder to the point of entry to any building. With this feature they could, while in their vehicles, use their existing system to show a video of the intruder along with a graphical map of the overall facility. Of course, the advanced camera in the catalog had this feature, as well as a number of other features that were not needed. The problem: it cost five times more than the rudimentary camera.

Custom design solutions may appear more expensive at the outset, but money spent on design can pale in comparison to the money it saves in equipment, personnel, and other resources. For example, in the past a client had desired the ability to store video locally at a fixed positioned camera. At the time, this feature was only available in the pan-tilt mode, adding 200 percent to the overall cost.

An enterprising vendor proposed a custom solution to the camera manufacturer: develop a fixed camera that merged the ability to store video locally into an existing standard fixed camera. Based on quantity, the manufacturer agreed and was able to produce the product at an additional cost of only 10 per cent. In an agreement between the client and the manufacturer, the client committed a lump sum for the development process in return for a beta test agreement, which assured the client that the manufacturer would continue to test, advance, and make this product available for at least ten years.

The client obtained a camera with the features it needed. The result: a capital savings with reliable product support, and the client was able to reduce the size of their cabling costs as the video could be retrieved directly at the camera when needed. This feature was popular with many clients and resulted in the manufacturer’s product gaining a competitive advantage for a short period of time. Now local storage is common in many fixed cameras.
Control Project Costs
New technologies, such as the SMF cable described above, frequently cost less, sometimes as much as 20 percent less, than the older, “tried and true” technologies. Why doesn’t the military project leader hear about these from his IT specialists? Some technology providers can become overly comfortable with the products that they typically install, and they have an added incentive. As their sales volume increases and their associated cost decreases, their profits increase.

As a result, many military customers think their technology options are limited to the older, more conventional products. Moreover, their natural tendency is to question the reliability and cost of newer options. Why not let someone else test it first and make all the mistakes?

One high-ranking government official had used a particular surveillance technology vendor for years assuming they were the sole provider of his desired solution. He was unaware of advancements over the last two years and that different elements of existing technology could be combined to provide a lower cost solution with more features and improved performance.

Understandably, he was initially skeptical about a new technology, knowing his previous choice had been an expensive investment. But new technology had dramatically reduced the cost of his required feature primarily because of its application in non-military venues, which form a much larger market. When the official was informed that the project could be completed within budget, he was skeptical and as a result requested several Beta test projects--which were highly successful.

Then when he learned that the new technology cost 50 percent less than the old, he broadened the scope of the project. In the end, the engineer, who was not selling a particular manufacturer, was able to provide a solution that reduced the overall cost of the project.

SSOE, the system expert/vendor in this example, provided references showing that the technology was already working well in another branch of government. The official, finally convinced, vetted the new technology and it met his performance criteria. It has since been installed at 10 locations, and additional expansion is planned.

Planning an upgrade to smarter and more cost-effective technology requires an expert understanding of a facility’s current system and its future security needs. The military engineer must also be willing to consider the benefits of adopting new solutions that provide greater coverage at the same cost as, or at a lower cost than the existing deployment.

This includes the option of a custom design, which may seem like additional cost, but actually bring an otherwise unaffordable feature set within budgetary parameters. Finally, the planner must manage indirect costs by engaging an engineering firm that integrates a holistic security assessment, proper design, performance specs, and a cost-effective purchasing strategy. By making the system configurable for tomorrow’s advances in security technology, the planner also makes it smarter while increasing the overall coverage and responsiveness of the facilities.

About the authors:

Jim Otte, NICET IV, is a Data / Fire / Security Specialist at SSOE Group (, an international engineering, procurement, and construction management firm. With over 25 years of experience, Jim specializes in the engineering and design of complex data, fire, security, sound, and telecommunications networks. In addition he has expertise in commissioning, threat analysis, project and contract management, and quality control. He can be reached in SSOE’s Toledo, Ohio office at 419.255.3830 or by email at

Mike Duffey, PE, is a Principal and Director of Federal Programs at SSOE Group (, an international engineering, procurement, and construction management firm. Mike, a civil engineer with nearly three decades of experience, has specialized in facility and site planning, design, and construction. He is a retired Lt Colonel and Unit Commander with the Air National Guard and a former Base Civil Engineer responsible for all programming, planning, design and construction. He can be reached in SSOE’s Toledo, Ohio office at 419.255.3830 or