Managing the growing challenge of security integration
By Norm Hoefler
Many buildings today contain a wide assortment of electronic equipment for access control, CCTV and video monitoring, fire and intrusion detection, and heating, cooling and lighting controls. Controlling, monitoring and maintaining these systems is time consuming and costly and poses a significant challenge for organizations with buildings in diverse geographic locations.
By Norm Hoefler
Managing multiple screens and interfaces from these isolated systems
can also take its toll in manpower time, often resulting in slower
response times during an incident. The reaction time of a security
officer, trained on the multiple interfaces of a building’s CCTV, fire,
intrusion, access and other facility functions, is impeded by the need
to manually process information from these isolated systems. With
integrated systems, an officer’s response can often be more targeted
The ability to consolidate the command and control of these disparate
functions into a single platform with a single user interface can
greatly simplify the experience for the end user and positively impact
staffing, operations, energy costs, and the overall safety and security
of a facility.
End users’ interest in greater overall functionality is creating real
opportunities for systems integrators, regardless of their vertical
market specialization. Already well schooled in security functions,
integrators can harness their existing relationships with facility
managers and security directors into building a total facility
solution, streamlining complicated processes and creating a
comprehensive, easy to use, management system for their clients.
Benefits for the End User
In a typical office building setting, building operators and security
personnel may be monitoring various security functions, such as fire
and video surveillance systems, access control and intrusion functions
and parking management systems. Other systems, such as emergency exit
controls, public address systems, elevator controls, visitor management
functions and numerous HVAC elements can quickly crowd the desktop of
the guard on duty.
With an integrated system in place, communication between these
numerous functions becomes automatic. When the fire alarm is pulled on
the sixth floor of a 12-story office building, emergency exits are
automatically unlocked on all levels, and the addressable voice
evacuation system delivers clear instructions, specific to each floor
or zone, on exiting the building. If the fire alarm system is alerted
of smoke, the air handling system immediately powers down its fans to
avoid spreading smoke throughout the building.
Efficiencies are also found in non-emergency situations. Environmental
and lighting controls, tied into the building’s access control system,
can link the use of heating, cooling and lighting to occupancy of a
particular room or zone, instead of more traditional scheduled
temperature or lighting changes. This approach ties energy use to need,
such as turning on the lights and HVAC system when an employee enters a
certain area, instead of using regular schedules that may or may not
reflect the actual behavior of building occupants.
Combining access control with video surveillance is another example of
the power of integrated systems. For instance, security directors can
enhance their access control for particularly sensitive areas by
setting readers for video verification, minimizing the chance of
someone entering a room with a stolen ID card.
Tips for the Integrator
For the first time, systems integrators are able to harness the
possibilities of IP technology, which has brought a common language to
the security industry for true, integrated systems. Using IP devices
and systems not only allows for integration within life safety
functions, but also makes possible the combination of other functions
into a single system.
Today’s non-proprietary technologies that allow integration from
third-party manufacturers are integral to a truly comprehensive
approach to total building management. Using vendor-agnostic platforms
such as web server applications, as well as taking into account
existing standards in the facilities management industry such as
BACnet, LON and OPC, manufacturers have eliminated many of the
New capabilities don’t necessarily mean that all facilities need every
available function rolled into a single system. A successful
integration project begins with a frank and thorough discussion of the
end user’s business needs, reporting structure and goals for the
project. Does the facility require alarm management functions tied in
with HVAC controls in the central dispatch office or only at each
Getting the most accurate, up to date information from an integrated
system does not happen simply because the systems are networked.
Integrators should ensure that bidirectional communications between
subsystems exists, ensuring that communication between hardware and
software occurs as automatically and quickly as possible. This is
paramount in an emergency situation where decisions are made based on
snapshot assessments of the situation.
Integrators must also ensure that the system is built around a unified
database, which enables the transfer of application-related information
between systems and ensures that this information is kept up to date.
For example, updates to human resource information when employees are
hired or leave the company should automatically be made to the access
control database. A delay of minutes or hours could provide a
disgruntled employee the opportunity to inflict damage to company
The ability to tie backend functionalities of so many systems is only
further enhanced by providing a unified look for alarms and other
alerts, regardless of their origin — access control, video
surveillance, fire, etc. This allows for a more consistent response
from facility officers and will aid in reducing training time for the
Integrators should look for manufacturers and technology providers that
have built simplicity into the installation process — tools such as
templates for pre-defined response actions, easy configuration menus
and information import/export tools. Integrators should also look for
systems compatible with common file formats for ease of importing and
Manufacturers that underscore their product with readily-available
training and technical support, during an installation and after
completion, is also paramount. The ability for scaleability and
modularity will also be attractive to an end user looking to make an
investment in such a system over time.
Building operators and facility managers are becoming increasingly
attracted to systems that can monitor the health of an entire building,
and manufacturers are contributing their significant technological
expertise into producing tools to bring together these multiple systems
onto a single platform. Some integrators are already realizing the
potential of new revenue possibilities with these projects and are
capitalizing on the growth opportunities they provide, while others
have yet to even understand IP technology. It is essential that all
integrators gain the knowledge required to stay ahead of this curve in
order to remain relevant to their customers’ needs and future demands.
Norm Hoefler is the country manager, Canada for Bosch Security Systems
Inc. He has worked in the security industry for 15 years in
integration, business development and manufacturing.