Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Integrated Security Systems

Integrated Security Systems

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARTIN ABEGGLEN

Integrated security systems are gaining momentum on large and small, public and private campuses across the United States. The three security components typically integrated are video, alarm and access control. Sometimes lighting and telecommunications (such as emergency telephones) are included. Is integration right for your campus? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Consider the Pros

Let’s begin with the good news, which is that there are a number of advantages to unifying video, alarm, access control and more into one centrally monitored, integrated system.

1. System Reliability: “In building complex systems, layering the systems on top of one another,” says Daniel Pascale, CPP, senior director of Security and Emergency Management Services for Burlington, VT-based Margolis Healy, “manufacturers are always striving for — and achieving — reliable ways to make the systems stronger and easily communicate with each other.” Margolis Healy specializes in campus safety, security and regulatory compliance for both the higher education and K–12 markets.

2. System Performance: “When you look at the performance of integrated systems and how they work together synergistically vs. disparate systems,” says Pascale, “you can’t help but note that integrated systems provide information in real time and disparate systems simply don’t. This benefits the public safety entity, regardless of the department’s name, that operates the system.”

3. End-User Group Efficiency: Often, colleges and universities have a dispatch/communication center where employees are doing a variety of numerous tasks with an expectation that they’re also looking at security cameras and monitoring alarms. Centralizing into one platform creates a more user-friendly environment for those employees. “It allows them to work across fields more quickly and efficiently,” says Pascale, “and training is more efficient in that they’re learning and understanding one system as supposed to three, four or five systems.”

Similarly, integrated systems can also improve the quality of service. For example, campus emergency phones and access control points can be tied to video. If an emergency phone or access control point is activated, the video system looks at it and responds back. This provides the dispatcher with more information to relay to the patrol car, saving valuable time and serving an evidentiary purpose later.

Rick Amweg, executive director for Ohio’s Center for P-20 Safety and Security for the state of Ohio, agrees with Pascale’s efficiency observation. “For example,” he notes, “if all your buildings are outfitted with access control from one supplier, you only need one card. Yet, what we see is that different departments use different suppliers, so a number of cards are required.” The Center for P-20 Safety and Security is a collaborative effort between the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Department of Education, designed to create safe and supportive learning environments, as well as respond to violence and its causes in educational settings throughout the state.

4. System Flexibility: Integrating provides great flexibility, as well as the opportunity to use less personnel and be more efficient in monitoring the systems. “It also offers the potential to include other systems, such as building automation, which is really exciting,” says Pascale. “We see a lot more facilities and physical plant staff becoming involved in the planning of integrated systems. Having lighting, central utilities, central alarms and boilers report back to one command post eliminates the need to have two engineers watching the systems overnight.”

5. Fire Safety System Integration: It’s becoming more and more common for administrators to integrate fire safety systems with safety and security systems. “Sometimes,” says Amweg, “the fire safety system is the foundation for other services. Some administrators use it as the pipe for moving signals to/from campus control points, including integrating voice-integrated systems.”

Consider the Cons

Now for the bad news, which is that the experts note two disadvantages to unifying video, alarm, access control and more into one centrally monitored, integrated system.

1. Loss of Multiple Systems: An obvious disadvantage is that, if one system goes out, all of the integrated systems go out, which isn’t the case with disparate systems. “This is a significant drawback,” Pascale observes. “We build in system redundancies to try to avoid this from happening.”

2. Cost: The cost to centralize systems can be prohibitive, particularly if you’re working to bring existing systems together. “Practically every institution trying to integrate is in some process of retrofitting, and it becomes costly,” Amweg affirms.

This is because existing systems are often incompatible and/or out of date and that, even if they aren’t, it can require significant talents to integrate disparate systems. “I’ve talked with administrators spending money trying to integrate disparate systems into one platform instead of abandoning the old and going with new,” says Amweg. “This becomes a challenge in itself.” He acknowledges that administrators may even be faced with taking a system that is working perfectly fine out of operation simply to move forward with integration.

The greatest value, Amweg continues, is seen where a building is undergoing a major renovation or its systems are no longer up to code or performing the way they’re designed to perform. “A lot of administrators are taking a tiered approach — bringing piece by piece online in an ongoing time. It’s a natural progression.”

“It takes not only money, but also time and a strategic plan to overcome integration challenges,” says Pascale. “And, the cost to integrate is definitely lower when you’re developing a new system from scratch.”

Based on initial cost alone, the decision to not integrate may seem simple. But it isn’t that cut-and-dried. Weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, consider the cost of integrating against the cost of not integrating, and consider the potential savings in terms of equipment, labor and efficiencies. Somewhere in all the considering is the right solution for your campus.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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