What's Ahead for Campus Security?

The following are a few of the major trends that we’ve identified, based on what we’ve done and learned in scores of real-life security applications. To those responsible for security in this information age, understanding these trends will go a long way toward ensuring proper protection of your people and property and getting the most from your investments in electronic security solutions.

1. Less emphasis on complete system integration. Today’s security solutions routinely include “information servers” and PC front-ends running the latest version of Microsoft Windows NT. The advances in information technology have brought integration to the forefront, providing more opportunities to integrate and/or interconnect multiple systems. As commonly used, the term “integrated systems” refers to two or more systems that exchange information in a common format. One of the results of integration can be single-seat control, where a common output of information, from two or more systems, is displayed on one workstation.

Where it makes sense and when implemented properly, end users can derive significant benefits from an integrated user interface. And while integration will very clearly continue to play a vital role in the building systems industry, we’re seeing less emphasis on the implementation of fully integrated solutions.

What’s behind that trend? It appears the integrated user interface may present too much information for the typical operator. In order to make the most effective security and life safety decisions, system operators must be able quickly to sort and react to the data before them. In an integrated system, operators are dealing with large volumes of data, and that information can come at them very rapidly. In other words, there’s a lot of information in front of them, but they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. Lacking the advanced skills necessary to operate new high-tech systems, employees may simply revert to the “old way” of doing the job.

The bottom line is that integration requires careful planning. Integration that takes place in stages over time, paralleling changes in the skill sets of operators and in security processes, seems to be the coming trend.

2. Increasing prevalence of open networking protocol systems. As integrated technologies have advanced, the use of open data communication protocols like BACnet and Ethernet has become more prevalent. Those protocols enable building systems -- fire alarm, access control, HVAC, lighting control and elevator systems -- to share information even when they’re not fully integrated. The HVAC system, for example, can send signals to the access system, and vice versa. Because data can be shared among systems, they don’t have to be input or recorded multiple times.

BACnet in particular is having an effect on the security and life safety industry. Developed under the auspices of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), BACnet stands for Building Automation Control network. It’s intended to standardize communications involving building automation equipment from different manufacturers so that disparate products can work easily together. In addition to freeing end users from proprietary network restrictions, it also offers owners a more effective and cost-efficient means of operating and controlling critical building functions. Another benefit of BACnet is that it serves as an alternate network path within a facility. This overcomes the need to try to “fit” a system onto an existing MIS/IT backbone.

In coming years, the next generation of BACnet-capable security devices will offer a broader, more open set of options to security directors and building managers. As more devices throughout a facility communicate using the common BACnet language, end users will be less “locked in” to one manufacturer’s technology. The result of those advances will be greater interoperability, simplified single-seat control, and lower overall costs to own and operate building systems.

3. Rising use of proximity and smart cards. From all indications, proximity cards have become the technology of choice in access control. Proximity technology -- in which a reader emits a continuous low-level radio frequency that is automatically picked up by specially encoded access cards -- provides a workable and cost-effective access control solution and is now being used in a majority of our applications. Proximity technology offers a number of advantages, including the following.

- It’s more convenient than other technologies. Because the access card does not need to come into contact with a reader, people find proximity systems very easy to use.

- It’s less vulnerable to vandalism.

- Even strong magnetic fields cannot erase the encoding on proximity access cards.

We’re also beginning to see increased incorporation of smart cards into security applications. Because a smart card has a chip embedded in it, it has multiple capabilities. The integrated circuit chip allows the information stored within the card to be protected from damage or theft. That makes smart cards more secure than magnetic stripe cards, which carry information on the outside of the card.

4. Increased use of digital technology in CCTV applications and remote video surveillance. The cost of digital technology is dropping, and the memory and capacity of digital recording systems continue to improve. Eventually, digital recording systems will replace most VCR-based systems.

Digital recording systems offer a number of advantages over conventional analog video systems. The quality of digital images is usually superior, and the maintenance of digital systems is minimal compared to VCR-based systems. But the major advantage of a digital system lies in the instant access it provides to stored images. With VCR-based systems, personnel often must review hours of tape to find a particular image. Digital images, on the other hand, are stored in a PC database format, and searches can be conducted according to the day and time or a specific alarm event.

Digital technology is also being used in another way in today’s security applications: for remote video monitoring. Digital remote video systems allow CCTV cameras to be remotely monitored. “Live” images can be compressed and transmitted over the phone line to a central station, bringing remote monitoring customers added benefits and protection.

The use of digital video technology will also result in many new opportunities to use “live” video, as well as audio, in the building management environment. A manager will have the capability to “view” and “hear” the conditions at a remote location before dispatching a response team.

5. The continued rise of professional services. The ongoing development of software-based technology is bringing end users sophisticated security operations and management capabilities -- in access control, intrusion detection, video badging, ID verification, CCTV surveillance, alarm monitoring and systems integration. But the new technologies are also bringing new challenges. And the foremost challenge may be making sure a system functions at an optimal level, initially and as user needs change.

Most companies today use only about 20 percent of the capabilities of their security system. An investment in a high-quality security management system won’t achieve the maximum return if a customer doesn’t know how to use the solution to its fullest. To get the desired return on investment, the advanced technology should be put to work in a solution that meets the specific requirements of the application and achieves optimal system performance, with room to grow in the future.

It can take a full complement of professional services -- including needs analysis, systems design and programming, computer-aided drawing, operational consulting, customized training, installation and project management -- to ensure that an end user system is used to its greatest benefit. Security systems specialists, especially those who are Microsoft NT certified, can help customers fully leverage today’s technology in a total solution that goes beyond hardware and software. They can help ensure that:

- system solutions are properly conceived, designed, installed and programmed;

- the software technology is fully and effectively applied, according to the specific requirements of the security environment;

- the end user’s personnel are properly trained, initially and on an ongoing basis to minimize the impact of turnover; and

- the solution is maintained and continuously assessed after the installation is complete.

Cam Queeno, director of security product marketing at Gardner, Mass.-based Simplex, has more than 20 years of experience in the security industry.

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