What factor is most overlooked when installing security systems?
6 Nov 2019
Tools such as standard operating procedures (SOPs) and checklists ensure that every factor is considered when installing a physical security system – or do they? Security system installations are detailed projects, and any overlooked detail is a missed opportunity to make the system better. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the most overlooked factor when installing physical security systems?
There is no single overlooked factor when installing a physical security system. In terms of challenges, it’s key to build an awareness of exactly what is required. So, when looking to integrate both physical security and fire safety systems, simply ask the necessary questions. Is there an existing system that could be extended? And can you incorporate a new system into that existing system? A comprehensive risk assessment can’t be overlooked either. This will identify any vulnerable areas that will need to be addressed. Again, ask the important questions – what is the potential life cycle of a new system? The nature of building security means that the opportunities and challenges don’t stop once a system has been installed. Remember that regular maintenance and training are key to ensure an effective operation.
From my perspective there are three important things that get overlooked. First, several common types of security entrances cannot “secure” a space alone. For example, optical turnstiles detect and deter intrusion - but they do not prevent tailgating or piggybacking. Even if there are alarms, guards are needed to respond or the alarms have no purpose. Second: much of today’s technology is reactive, not preventive. There’s interest in amazing solutions like facial recognition, but such tools without a physical prevention device at the entry will provide only a good mug shot to use after a breach. A truly preventive program needs layers of physical prevention. And final point: Occupants should be brought into the process early. To make a physical security system project successful, share what you are doing with your people. This will help them feel like you are working to protect them versus monitoring them like “Big Brother”.
It is important to acknowledge that any physical security measure may result in a delay to entry. Adequate planning can ensure that any delay is minimal. With entrance control turnstiles, in particular, it is crucial to plan the correct number of lanes to ensure that queues of people don’t form during peak times. Entrance control needs to be considered at the beginning of the design process, not as an afterthought. A badly managed search process or poorly designed entry system can rapidly lead to the creation of a crowded space as people queue in order to gain entry. User frustration quickly sets in, and this scenario can increase the security risk. When it comes to installing entrance control, it is important to understand key installation requirements. We often find they have been overlooked. Containment of the cables under the floor and fixings for the turnstiles themselves should be planned for.
Practicality is easily overlooked when it comes to security systems. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be! For example, it should always be questioned if controlled access is actually needed in a specific location. If not, it can cause unnecessary inconvenience for users. Analysis of day-to-day operations is vital. Security is often paramount, but so is not creating unnecessary barriers where they simply aren’t needed. Equally, it’s important to ensure the end users are happy with the solution rather than just installing something that is “state-of-the-art” for the sake of it. In most cases, security should be about safety and enabling authorised people to enter and exit secure areas easily and without extra delay. A good working knowledge of the commercial or operational needs and pressures of the end user organisation goes a long way towards finding the right solution.
The most overlooked factor when installing physical security systems is what comes next. Perhaps you have 500 cameras; who’s going to watch them? How do you share what you see? Who’s going to maintain them and ensure they’re functioning properly? Before implementing a new security solution, companies need to identify their desired end goal. They must determine their strategy to monitor, manage and take action based on the robust data provided by modern security systems. For example, how will you alert appropriate parties of system operational issues? What is the process for detecting and responding to security concerns, like burglary? How will a robust system make your team more efficient and effective? A partner that provides real-time threat detection alerts can alleviate those concerns, giving companies the ability to see events as they happen, make rapid, well-informed decisions, and analyse historical data for analysis, further lightening the security burden.
Customer expectations should be well understood on the initial site visit. Often the customer tells the salesperson one thing, only to discover that the installation technician is taking a different approach. Video surveillance cameras are mounted on the ceiling rather than the wall, for instance, causing wasted time and money, and customer frustration. The culprit is the lack of detail communicated between departments as the project progresses. A manual, paper-based process doesn’t help. One answer is to create a more integrated process using technology. Customers are coming to expect seamless digital experiences, so involving them from the start using digital planning tools can improve their experience and ensure expectations are captured. Using the same digital system design throughout the process, with all project information in a single interface, benefits sales, engineers, estimators, technicians, and subcontractors. This can eliminate system re-designs and costly installation errors, while delivering great customer service.
While video surveillance and access control technologies are commonplace, audio devices are often overlooked in security systems despite their numerous benefits. While video shows us a scene, audio provides details, aids in alarm verification, and gives insight into the intentions behind actions caught on camera. An Urban Institute report found that between 90-99 percent of all alarm calls to police end up being false. Utilising audio capture technology can help to decrease the number of false alarms by giving monitoring centers the opportunity to verify alarm events in real time. Live audio clips from the scene enhance situational awareness, offering monitoring personnel a better understanding of an event as it unfolds. Audio also provides mission critical information to police, such as a suspect's name or the sound of gunshots, to better inform them about the incident at hand.
Security systems provide exponential value for businesses, but without properly trained personnel alongside those investments, they can go under-utilised. Training staff on your physical security systems, from daily operation to data analysis, means you get the most ROI out of your technology investments. For example, repeated after-hours false alarms are a common drain on businesses’ and first responders’ time and resources, diverting facility managers’ attention from bigger and more pressing security issues. False alarm reduction technology is available that helps train staff to analyse their security system’s data in order to identify and neutralize the source of these nuisance alarms, thus maximising equipment’s performance.
I think the most overlooked factor when installing physical security systems is the ongoing maintenance costs of the system. While everyone considers the initial acquisition costs of the technology, some integrators and end users don’t consider the expense required to maintain the system over its useful life. Simple functions, such as periodically updating the firmware in a security camera, are critical to the health of the solution. A centrally managed system should be able to update an entire system all from one location versus having to connect and update each device individually. Another tactic is adding additional redundant disk storage to an NVR or server, which lowers the chance of data loss and the cost associated with downtime with disk drive failure. While these features might be more expensive to acquire initially, they can mitigate both risk and unnecessary or unplanned costs.
One of the greatest challenges for security cameras is capturing clear usable video in low light applications, yet external illumination is often overlooked in security systems. If there is no light, there is no video. Without a proper illumination source, a security camera will only yield dark grainy footage, useless for incident review, suspect identification, event detection, and incident prevention. Many modern cameras utilise built-in LEDs, but that lighting may not be optimal for every setting of the camera. For example, a camera’s built-in IR LEDs may only emit a 30-degree field of illumination, while the camera lens field-of-view is 90 degrees. This can create “hot spots” in the middle of the camera’s view, which can white-out images, making them unusable. By contrast, external illuminators have a larger selection for FOVs and lighting distances to provide the exact amount of light needed for each individual application.
As our Expert Panelists point out, overlooked factors in a system installation can include the basics such as understanding precisely the needs and expectations of the customer, or identifying the desired goal of a system. Other problems might include lack of communication among team members or inadequate training of staff. Building occupants should be involved throughout the process, and don’t forget the need for ongoing maintenance. Finally, system installers should consider the benefits of additional components such as audio or extra lighting. Applying these insights to real-world installations will improve results for integrators and end user customers.
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