A Reality Check for Security Upgrades

Managers discuss real-world considerations in planning and undertaking projects designed to protect existing facilities, occupants and operations

By Dan Hounsell  

Institutional and commercial organizations have spent a great deal of time and money in recent years assessing the risks to their facilities, operations and occupants, then designing and installing systems to offer protection from those risks.

Along the way, planners and facility executives have learned a number of valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t. But in too many cases, they learned these lessons well after security products and technology already were in place. As a result, many organizations undoubtedly have thrown away a fair amount of money because the new systems and technology failed to achieve the project’s goals.

Such shortfalls often result from a lack of understanding among some planners about the realities that exist in buildings, and here is where managers of engineering and maintenance have a tremendous opportunity to help their organization. By tapping into their deep knowledge of their facilities, managers can provide a reality check early in the planning phase of the project — well before installation begins — and point out potential roadblocks to an efficient and cost-effective project.

Changing Priorities and Roles

Recent years have seen security climb the priority list in most organizations, and the manager’s role in upgrade projects has evolved, as well.

“In general, especially after 9/11, security has become a much higher priority,” says Andrew Ryan, director of engineering with the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City, which includes 1.3 million square feet of space in 20 buildings. “In today’s environment, there is always the potential risk for terrorism, including targeting symbolic buildings.”

Most of the college’s security projects in recent years have involved adding relatively small pieces of equipment — a new card reader or surveillance camera — to the existing system. The college, however, also is opening a 300,000-square-foot ambulatory care building, and Ryan was heavily involved in the security planning for the building.

One of his primary duties in planning for the new building was to assess the post-installation issues related to the security system.

“Whatever the system was, someone had to be able to maintain it other than the original installer,” he says. “My role was to take a broad look all of the components and assess the cost value and functionality of the equipment.”

Security upgrades inevitably involve many pieces of equipment and the materials to install and support them. From doors, fire alarms and card readers to asbestos removal and cable locations, someone needs to consider all aspects of the project in the context of the facilities into which they will be installed.

“That’s usually my role because I might be the only one at the table with that kind of global perspective,” says Roger Boyington, director of engineering with Maine Medical Center in Portland. The center’s three campuses include 1.5 million square feet in 15 buildings.

K-12 school districts have seen their share of high-profile security-related incidents in recent years, but even before such events, protecting facilities, staff and students has been important.

“It’s always been a priority for our district,” says Rick Galloway, director of maintenance, operations and transportation with the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District, which includes 36 buildings and about 2.5 million square feet. “It’s part of our mission statement.”

Among the challenges Galloway faces in coordinating and staffing for security-system maintenance is the geography of his district. It encompasses three municipalities, so all communication systems must be compatible with the system in each of the municipalities.

In addition, some district schools still use older phone systems, which don’t have autodialer technology, he says, which can hamper communication in a security emergency. The district is in the process of upgrading those systems to make them compatible.

Finally, while security upgrades obviously seek to improve the performance of the system in preventing facilities and people from immediate danger, managers also need to remember that some upgrades also have a more long-term, strategic goal.

For example, Ryan points out that security systems serve as key elements in the college's recruiting and marketing efforts aimed at both students and their parents.

Hurdles to Clear

Alterations to existing facilities can be especially complex because of the need to fit still more equipment into buildings that already are crowded or were built long before the demands of their current operations.

“Older buildings were built and designed without security in mind,” Boyington says. A number of the facilities on his three campuses present unique security hurdles, such as multiple entrance points. One facility for which Boyington is responsible, built in 1864, has more than 350 windows and a 600-foot corridor that presents nightmarish surveillance challenges, he says.

Space in buildings also is at a premium. Many organizations seeking to expand or upgrade their security systems have problems incorporating the new components and equipment into existing facilities. Numerous departments, especially information technology , constantly look for space in which to locate equipment. Ryan says his department’s challenges in this regard have been minimal.

“Usually, it’s not all that bad,” he says. “But cable runs can be problematic, and there are always lots of competing needs, especially in an urban setting.” Unanticipated power issues also come into play in many facilities.

“Newer systems tend to be smaller and more efficient, but it’s still a challenge to make sure we have enough power to support everything,” Galloway says.

Experienced managers also know that more equipment generally means more heat, which in turn means a greater need for ventilation and cooling to compensate and keep equipment functioning.

As with every other kind of technology, today’s security technology is constantly evolving to meet the needs of facilities and customers.

“If you’re getting new technology, make sure it integrates with your existing systems, or at least that it can be centralized,” Galloway says. His philosophy regarding specification emphasizes the need for practicality above all.

“I’m not looking for the best product,” he says. “I’m looking for the right product, and one that can integrate with our existing systems.”

To ensure they specify the most appropriate systems and technology, managers should not hesitate to bring in outside help.

“If you don’t have a handle on the security systems and products out there, you might want to consider retaining a security consultant to help you out,” Ryan says. And the specification challenge is not likely to get any easier.

“It will always be a challenge because the world of technology will always be changing,” Galloway says.

Boyington points out that managers in health care facilities often have the unique challenge of overseeing systems designed not to keep people out but to keep them in. One example is the security systems for infant-care areas that have become increasingly complex in the effort to protect visitors from removing a newborn from the building.

Strategies for Success

All three managers stress the important role that communication plays in successful upgrade projects. Most if not all projects affect numerous areas and operations in facilities, and clear communication all the way through the process can help identify both trouble spots and areas for greater efficiency.

For example, two years ago, Galloway’s department upgraded its radio system linking field technicians to supervisors and planners. At the same time, however, the department coordinated the upgrade with the district’s security department. Now, security personnel and maintenance technicians can communicate more efficiently regarding security problems that maintenance might be able to help resolve.

Ryan also emphasizes the benefits of involving the system’s users — employees who moving throughout facilities all day — to make sure the upgraded system doesn’t unintentionally hamper facility activities.

“Be careful not to overdesign,” he says. “If you’re not talking with end users as you plan, you end up, for example, putting card readers everywhere, and they're not cheap. If you put in too many, you end up finding doors blocked open. When you ask why, people tell you, ‘I’m carrying beakers in two hands. How am I supposed to swipe the card reader?’ ”

It might seem difficult to anticipate and address such questions when planning upgrades complex security systems. But maintenance and engineering managers often are in the best position of anyone in an organization to do so, and the results of their efforts can benefit the organization’s bottom line, as well as its facilities and employees.

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  posted on 4/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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