4  FM quick reads on security

1. EMS Systems Need to Meet Today's Challenges


This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management magazine. Today's tip is to understand that the emergency notification systems of the past may not be sufficient for your needs.

Emergency notification systems simply must work. When they don't, the results can be dire. To avoid unpleasant surprises, choose an emergency notification system that can cover as many different scenarios as possible.

To ensure success, messages have to be timely and intelligible. The systems need to be robust enough to work even during catastrophic events.

Today's approach to emergency planning recognizes that different situations call for different responses. But industry experts say that a uniform consensus over defining emergency notification hasn't been reached yet. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards on which code might be based are still in development. Meanwhile, rapidly changing Internet Protocol (IP) communications are paving the way for new technologies.

Though the technology is still evolving, there are three general areas of development for emergency notification systems. They include Web-based telecommunications; public address systems that grew out of the military's "Giant Voice" program; and life-safety system circuitry based on NFPA standards.

The equipment used to communicate messages for these systems varies. Ethernet, wireless and cellular technologies, along with dedicated cabling systems and fiber optics, are among the options.

From there, emergency notification systems expand to offer many solutions: Strobe and siren systems and call boxes are still available, but today there are also smoke and heat sensors that trip emergency notification warnings, email dialers, Short Messaging System (SMS) dialers, LCD display screens, and many more.

What works best for any given organization depends on the systems already in place. With IP networks, organizations can often piggyback emergency notification systems on existing IP networks, which can reduce costs.


2.  Security Retrofit Considerations

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, managing security retrofits.

Facility managers at Miami Children's Hospital have a clear vision for the new central operations center they established as part of a major addition to the 1.2-million-square-foot main campus.

"We're turning this into what you'd find with a 911 system," says Philip Doyle, the hospital's director of public safety and emergency preparedness. One of the biggest challenges related to the security upgrade was that it was a retrofit, not an installation for a new construction project.

"I put in systems before where it was brand new, but here we were taking an existing system and upgrading it," Doyle says. "You never know what you're going to find."

Despite the challenges the upgrade posed for certain types of technology the hospital specified, the access-control system was fairly simple to retrofit. The hospital installed proximity readers throughout the new central energy plant and in other parts of the facility, and the team hopes to replace the remaining swipe-card systems soon, Doyle says.

"That's an easy process," he says of retrofitting the card readers. "You take the reader down, plug in the new proximity reader, bring it back up, and you're good to go. Where the difficulty comes in is that you have 3,000 employees that you have to issue 3,000 new IDs to. Right now, we're in the process of capturing all the employees' photos, trying to upload as much of their information as we can into the access-control system."

Proximity cards grant occupants access after they hold the card within about 6 inches of the reader. This system makes it easier for hospital personnel — whether transporting materials and patients or rushing to attend to an emergency — to move about the facility because they do not have to pull out an ID and swipe it across the reader. The new cards also contain more details about building occupants, such as emergency-contact information.

3.  Consider Wireless Options When Planning a Controls Retrofit

Today's tip from Building Operating Management: Consider wireless options when planning a controls upgrade.

Controls retrofits can cut energy costs while improving occupant comfort and system flexibility. But taking the traditional hard-wired route can add significant cost and disruption to the project. In fact, the expense of installation for hard-wired projects can bump the overall project cost past the payback period that the company is willing to consider, sending energy savings down the drain.

Once it is installed, a wireless device offers flexibility throughout the life of a building. That's increasingly important, given the rising rates of change within facilities. That flexibility helps to ensure that energy savings are maintained. If changes in an office layout compromise the effectiveness of a hard-wired sensor, moving the device can be difficult and may not get done. With a wireless sensor, there's no need to rewire, so the chances of moving the device are far greater.

Today, wireless systems are available with a variety of measures to ensure security. Many require that any piece of data on the network must be able to show that it comes from a "trusted" source. Data that doesn't come from a trusted source is disregarded. What's more, most protocols add advanced encryption as another layer of security. And the use of proper firewalls and virtual networks for the building automation system increases security further.

Adding to the stability of wireless operation is the fact that today's communication technologies can change channels if an outside radio signal comes through on the frequency being used by the system. In fact, many systems are constantly changing channels to prevent the wireless signals from being interrupted or spied on.

A wide variety of controls manufacturers are offering wireless products, and experts say that many systems offer high performance and reliability. Today, anyone considering a controls retrofit ought to take a look at wireless options.

4.  Risk Assessment Key to Building Security

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management magazine. Today's tip is to get a risk assessment to help understand your building security needs.

It's easy to get dazzled by security technology and lose sight of the mission of actually protecting the building.

A complete risk assessment is the most important thing facility managers can do to improve building security, because it ensures that the security system protects against the most likely threats.

The first step in a building risk assessment is identifying the nature and operations of the building. For example, consider the business impacts if a building suddenly isn't operational anymore. Then develop appropriate safeguards.

Also consider incorporating data from government sources, such as the Department of Homeland Security. Working with local agencies and police is also a key step.

The risk assessment can lead to a building being assigned a score. That score can then drive the selection of security applications used in the building — whether the building requires access control, video, intrusion alarms or other equipment.

Other organizations rate buildings based on major, moderate and lesser risks depending on a building's operation and what is stored in the building. For example, a building that houses chemicals or gas would be a major-risk building.

Remember that a risk assessment is never complete — it's an ongoing, sometimes reactive task. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many facility managers revisited their security plans and implemented new procedures and technologies.

Responding to an escalated threat level — as indicated by the national color coded system — became a key consideration for many facility managers. But beyond the threat of World Trade Center-like tragedies, the post-9/11 culture of heightened alert for terror threats got facility managers thinking more about their security situations as a whole.


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