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Safe and sound: Strategies for secure buildings

Safe and sound: Strategies for secure buildings

Better designs and technology breakthroughs rise to new life-safety challenges

By By Richard Nemec | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200012 issue of BD+C.

Architectural solutions are a building team's premier weapons in the battle for better security. They are also the industry's perpetually unfinished jigsaw puzzles, however, with critical pieces often missing or misplaced. Exterior doors, fenestration, lighting and a myriad of other design elements must be viewed from more than just a utilitarian perspective; building systems, materials and equipment are also the key to security-conscious organization and operation of facilities.

"Light is merely one element in property security," said Doug Paulin, a Racine, Wis.-based lighting consultant and officer in the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. "At best, it makes all the other deterrents work better. At worst, it advertises something to be stolen or spreads unwanted light over the neighborhood." Ultimately, as with any other design element, effective security lighting is a matter of balancing quality and quantity considerations to maximize the effectiveness of this piece in the security design puzzle, Paulin emphasized.

Good design solutions can help shore up weak links that occur in most commercial facilities. While windows and skylights can improve natural illumination, employee productivity and energy efficiency, glazing is inherently unsafe from a security standpoint. One result has been the application of a number of novel security films that can help mitigate this design element's vulnerability.

Similarly, doors for employee, visitor or customer access must be specified, located and used with attention to their enormous security implications. Even the types of locks and hardware on perimeter doors can make a difference. Hybrid electronic keys retain the look and feel of typical mechanical locking systems but provide electronic features and advantages. In some settings, revolving doors help limit access to improve monitoring by guard staff. A new generation of "smart doors" is also available for most budgets; the products can be integrated with card-access, intercom and closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems.

Integrated systems

Integration of architectural elements can help make certain design elements even more effective, but overall architectural solutions need to also address the cost of aggregated systems and the restrictions of local fire codes. UL listings for specified products and equipment are another key concern, as is the availability and use of local-area networks for security and life-safety system communication. Integration of security components and architectural elements must always address maintenance and operational needs; in fact, roughly 14 percent of the typical security budget is targeted for maintenance.

Clearly, the design phase is the best time for building teams to consider the relative costs implied by different systems. Viewing the facilities' configuration and equipment in this broader context will hopefully make sure all of the puzzle pieces are in the correct places.

After architectural and operational considerations have been addressed, the building team faces a wide array of options in core security technologies: CCTV, access control, motion detectors and other systems that can be integrated for maximum facility protection. The rapid development of the technologies and the changing environment of real and perceived threats means that building teams must be more attuned to security decisions in up-front project planning. The key is to consider the unique needs of each building type.

Commercial buildings. Workplace protection in commercial buildings increasingly depends on high-quality, comprehensive communications. In a recent Security magazine survey, 30 percent of the respondents who integrate security systems across geographic locations most often combine fire, emergency and communications equipment.

A combination of "more integration and more technology"-along with an improved ability to deploy resources quickly-was the heart of Motorola's security strategy in stepping up its workplace protections, said Cathy Purvis, North American director of Motorola Global Security.

The company is not alone, according to Gary Barsley, a marketing director with Edison Security, a subsidiary of the energy utility Edison International, Rosemead, Calif. "The general trend is to aggregate-or integrate-systems in commercial buildings combining burglar, fire, employee access and other functions," he explained. "If you have a combined system, you know who goes in and out of the building and when they go in and out."

Properly designed systems with state-of-the-art integrated networks can save facility owners and operators both time and money. This means that life-safety systems can meld with CCTV, access control and even HVAC controls. Many times the energy-management controls company can help make the stepped-up integrated system happen. Often, however, the critical consideration is which systems is talking to which, said Angeline Schaefer, an electrical engineer with Chicago-based architecture/engineering firm, OWP & P.

"I found one of the biggest challenges-if you want to integrate the systems-is can the systems really talk to each other?" said Schaefer. "What cards do I have to put into the system? What is the protocol? If we design too complicated a system, it will fall apart in a matter of months."

Tools and training

Another caveat: Integrated systems have a tendency to grow to a point where facility managers must have an ongoing investment in the "proper tools" and training to keep them operating at maximum efficiency, said Robert Ruyle, a Lincoln, Neb.-based fire/security consultant.

Whether it is new construction or an existing complex, keeping a firm eye on the future, particularly the exploding technological developments, is essential in being able to build-in innovations. Remote video surveillance is an example of one of the latest security trends, and it highlights the influence the Internet is having in the security and design fields. The Web is not just a conduit for entertainment and advertising-it's a "fundamental communications tool" for today's facility operators.

Another example of this technological explosion is in access control. What used to be high-end "toys" applicable only to the most sophisticated, secure government operations are now becoming affordable for more of the mass commercial and industrial markets. One is biometric equipment that scans pupils or handprints; the devices are becoming a lot more affordable, according to security industry professionals.

Regardless of what high-tech equipment is used, however, building owners and designers must avoid the trap of trying to trick intruders with what security experts call "placebos": fake cameras, alarms or signage. Especially in high-traffic facilities, these security scarecrows can cost building owners big time if personal or property crimes are committed in and around them. The resulting lawsuits would be far more costly than the real security systems would have ever been, and prudent building operators shun the placebo approach.

Retail facilities. Violence and crime are major concerns for all segments of the public, and this is a one of the many reasons that retail building owners are making their security programs more visible and interactive. Good customer service, it is thought, includes comprehensive security-and vice versa.

"Our primary goal is prevention and customer service, and it's really important for those who visit our centers to feel safe," said Gene Thompson, vice president of corporate security of The Macerich Co., Santa Monica, Calif., an owner of 55 shopping centers nationwide.

Macerich believes that the most important goal for a well-planned and executed security system is its accessibility to customers, giving them peace of mind. The heart of their program is a highly visible customer-service center that doubles as a security command center, with CCTV monitors, computers and security personnel. "We've always gotten kudos for having our security out in the open, and we see huge drops in our incidents, prevention-wise," Thompson added. The security kiosk is a way to enhance interaction with customers and to make people feel safe in their neighborhood malls.

Also integral to the Macerich approach is an integrated security system that includes automatic call-up of cameras upon alarm activation and customer assistance/intercom stations. Still, even as electronic surveillance and communications systems become more sophisticated, the technologies are only part of a systematic approach taken for retail security today. Security videos still lack the quality needed to assure prosecutions, and thieves often take advantage of these technical limitations.

The softer side of security

Today's retail security approaches include a mixture of hard technologies and architectural solutions as well as "softer," more people-oriented approaches. A Pennsylvania-based shopping center management firm, for example, created a series of dialogues with teenagers called "speak-outs," in which youngsters could voice their own ideas on security problems and how to solve them.

Educational facilities. Involving America's youth has also been on the syllabus at educational facilities. As school districts and universities attempt to custom-fit the growing array of tools that have been increasingly rushed into use in school systems and college campuses, the need to understand the role of students in security has become more critical.

Still, it is the security system operator that has become the weak link, according to Donald Sadler, senior vice president, with Huntsville, Ala.-based Sharp Communication Inc. Sadler argued that any institution deploying security equipment needs to make sure its security personnel are continuously trained on the proper operation of equipment.

A recent Security magazine survey of the largest urban and suburban school districts nationwide indicated that about 75 percent already employ a diversity of electronic and physical security measures, including identification cards or badges, security cameras and on-site police or security forces. However, Sadler and others contend that continuing education is vital to sustaining these stepped-up approaches to security-and to keeping costs down and expectations realistic.

Recent studies offer useful resources for educators and their building teams. A good example is the recent government study titled "The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools," issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Energy (DOE) and Education and authored by Mary W. Green of the DOE's Scandia National Laboratories.

Green advocates a strategic approach starting with an assessment of an institution's assets and threats, followed by a selection of such countermeasures as metal detectors, CCTV and access control access measures. The deployment of sophisticated equipment may not prevent crimes from being committed, but it can help schools effectively deal with the individuals involved.

Elsewhere, schools are finding that even the lowest-technology solutions, such as lock-and-key computer devices, may in fact be the best answer for deterring crime. On any checklist should be constantly keeping tabs on the perimeter of the school grounds, removing features that would permit unauthorized entrance and monitoring changes in adjacent properties that could compromise security on school grounds.

Last, installed systems should be flexible enough to allow modification and expansion as needs change or campuses expand. But one feature of the security program is one-size-fits-all: communicating a clear security policy. School administrators and facility managers should effectively tell students, faculty, parents and members of the community about security plans and systems. "And have students and parents acknowledge their understanding," as was advised by security firms presenting at last year's American Society for Industrial Security's annual meeting.

Health-care facilities. This dialogue with staff, visitors and community is equally vital for hospitals, where the challenge is to give visitors a complete feeling of safety without unnecessarily heightening fears.

Professionals in the hospital security business suggest that a facility start by understanding its surrounding area. Most urban hospitals are in relatively high-crime areas, and the security plans must address this realistic situation.

"Certainly there is a larger risk for violent behavior," said Ben McGlaughlin, security director for Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. "There are a lot of reasons people are brought to a hospital. Sometimes it's the end-result of a violent act. Then, the people involved sometimes become invitees into the facility."

Before establishing or revising a hospital security plan, McGlaughlin advises others to complete a through assessment of their facility's unique risks. This can be done with the help of a consultant, or by the hospital personnel themselves talking with law enforcement and community leaders. Once the security threats for a given hospital are clearly articulated, a plan can be established to manage or abate the risks.

Richard Nemec is a Los Angeles-based writer. He can be reached via e-mail at rnemec@mediaone.net.

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