Security Systems: Out of Many, One

Off-the-shelf products and existing enterprise systems can form the foundation of a seamlessly integrated security system

By Dan Leclair  

Facility executives have many building systems to keep track of. Most buildings have an access control system, a badging system, a visitor management system, a parking management system, and a CCTV system with video recording, as well as a fire system and a building management system for HVAC/AC power. Each system requires a database, communication links, and software/hardware to operate, and is typically managed on its own PC. Integrating these systems can allow for a more streamlined security management system.

There are two primary hurdles in systems integration. One is the need for a central database that populates systems that need data from other systems. The other challenge is creating a common method to communicate the data and information between systems. There are two tools that are immediately available to help overcome these obstacles. One is the human resources database of employees. Facility executives can use this database for their own user database in the access control and visitor management system. These systems typically use some type of SQL database, which supports object-relational data and Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC) that makes the data portable between systems.

The goal of ODBC is to make it possible to access any data from any application, regardless of which database management system (DBMS) is handling the data. ODBC achieves this by inserting a middle software layer called a database driver between an application and the database management system. This layer translates the application’s data queries into commands that the DBMS understands.

The information technology folks also have a great list of users, as well as a cable infrastructure. This can be used for integrating security systems, as it will provide a centralized user login and a method to get data where it needs to be using the IT Ethernet cable structure. The Ethernet system can be used to connect systems across multiple facilities all over the world. The only limitation to how many systems and facilities can be integrated is the available bandwidth on the network.

After a starter database and a cable infrastructure that will support the systems integration effort are in place, commercial off-the-shelf technology can be used to integrate systems. Before this technology can be used, however, it is important to understand the details of each individual system and how each can be optimized through an integrated plan.

System Inventory

The access control system is typically PC-based with intelligent data gathering panels located in the field where all the locks, card readers, door contacts and other sensors are terminated. The access control manufacturer usually integrates a central alarm monitoring function into this system. The IT network can be used to connect the panels to the access control server and the server to the access control PC workstations. IT login and security rules can be used for login and permissions on the access control PCs.

Full integration power comes from the database. Although the access control system has its own database, it can be linked to the HR database with a gateway to populate common fields in the access control system. This provides an integration link: When an employee leaves the company and HR changes its records, the access control system can suspend the former employee’s access privileges with no additional notification through the linked database gateway. Specialized access control card readers can provide the time and attendance system with information about when employees enter and leave the building.

Badging systems create plastic badges with images and other information printed on them. These systems are usually stand-alone systems with their own separate database of employee information. The badging system database can be easily integrated into the access control system database without a gateway. Using object-relational data and ODBC allows images to be captured by the badging system and stored in the access control database. This information can then be back-fed to the HR database allowing HR access to personnel photos.

Visitor management systems are used to track visitors to the building. Usually these systems are stand-alone, but they can be integrated into the access control system and IT mail systems. When the visitor system is integrated with the access control system, visitors’ records will be linked to the people that they are visiting in the facility — without anyone having to type in information about all the occupants. Building occupants can e-mail their visitor requests into the visitor system using the IT e-mail visitor-system gateway, which populates the appropriate fields in the visitor management system.

Parking management systems range from simple gate access control systems to full parking billing systems. The system counts cards in a given area and will deny access if the person is unauthorized or if the lot is full. It can also invoice for the time the vehicle is parked in the lot. Simple database integration and common card readers with the access control system will usually suffice for integration. Once the data is gathered, a third party accounting software can manage all the billing and accounting required for a parking management system.

Other Elements

With today’s technology, CCTV cameras can be TCP/IP based and connect to and utilize the IT network. Once the cameras are on the network they can be connected to the access control system server so that access control events can be linked to CCTV video. Video storage can also be housed on the IT storage area network, so that neither building nor security staff has to manage that asset. A good example of how this function can be used is to find out who used a lost badge at a specific door. By going to the “access-granted” report and clicking on the linked video icon, the stored video from that event would be displayed.

Fire and access control systems have been integrated for many years, typically at a very simple level. When the fire alarm is tripped, all doors are unlocked until they are either automatically reset when the fire alarm is cleared or manually reset by the system management staff. The integration interfaces can be either mechanical or software driven. In mechanical applications, the fire alarm is interfaced to the door lock power supplies and an activation of the fire alarm will release the lock power allowing free egress of the facility for evacuation. In software applications, the fire alarm system provides an alarm input into the access control system, which then releases the doors. The local fire code and the mandates of the authority having jurisdiction determine which type of integration is allowed.

Although building management systems are not typically interfaced into the security systems, there have been projects where they were successfully integrated. For example, the access control system can monitor abnormal activity with building systems such as high/low temperature and water alarms. The gateway interface can either be a contact closure at the building management system going into an alarm input of the access control system, or a text interface using the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) serial port interface.

Pulling It All Together

Each system typically has a database and PC server. The server stations are not used to manage systems, however. People use management terminals to manage systems. In the past, different management terminals were needed for each system. This required the same data to be entered into each system, and each database to be managed separately.

In the integrated world all these systems can be managed from one terminal. Terminals can also be configured based on how the user operates them. The usual solution is a PC running a Microsoft Windows operating system, known as an integrated PC workstation. Other workstations that can be used are wireless laptops and personal digital assistants. An integrated workstation enables an operator to manage the entire security system from a single place.

By choosing systems that are easily integrated and hiring a systems integrator that understands how high-level systems integration works, it is possible to seamlessly integrate out-of-the-box products for a building. If in doubt, engage the services of a systems integration consultant who can help identify the level of integration that best suits the enterprise and can help identify manufacturers and systems integrators to be considered.

Dan Leclair is a Senior Consultant with Sako and Associates in the Washington, D.C., office. He has been in the security industry for 35 years and is currently a consulting engineer whose clients include government agencies and large corporations. Previously, he has served as a security director and a manufacturing engineer.


Integration Can Streamline Operations

An integrated system can improve security and increase efficiency. Two simple examples can show how.

When a new employee is hired, HR enters an individual into the payroll database, and the access control database is automatically populated with this person’s information. Simple card-reader assignments are then added.

When this employee has a meeting in the building, the person e-mails the visitor management system and his or her information and picture are brought in from the access control system. At the same time, employee and visitor data are populated in the visitor system database. When the new employee’s visitors arrive, their licenses are scanned and their photos added to the database. The employee is then automatically text messaged by the visitor system that the visitors have arrived.

As the employee goes about using readers in the building, cameras record the activity. With a few clicks of the mouse, security officers can use a simple report in the access control system to view video of the person passing through a door on a certain date. Was that person taking a laptop out of the facility without authorization? When HR fires the person for theft, the access control system receives an access cancellation from the HR database and the card is suspended from the access control system.

Here’s another example. Suppose a fire breaks out in the facility. In this case, door locks would be released by the access control system. Should the building management system or fire system report an alarm, the security officer responding can be advised of the alarm via a vehicle-mounted laptop or on a PDA. While responding to the alarm, the security officer can call-up either the stored video on the storage area network or get live video on the CCTV camera and view it on their laptop or PDA. The access control system can also tell the building management system when parts of the building are unoccupied so that HVAC loads can be reduced and room lighting turned off.

This level of integration may seem far-fetched, but everything needed to make it happen is available today as commercial-off-the-shelf components.

— Dan Leclair

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  posted on 2/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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