Services & Maintenance: Dispelling The Myths

Access control in a stand-alone mode is not necessarily good security.
Access control in a stand-alone mode is not necessarily good security.

Services & Maintenance: Dispelling The Myths

Services & Maintenance: Dispelling The Myths

By Roy N. Bordes

Published in the July 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager



In most instances, the director of facilities, while attempting to secure a commercial building, comes up short in allies and long in opposition. Some of the common battles are with the architect (who doesn’t want “that stuff” installed in or on the building), the developer (who doesn’t want to allocate money to security equipment), and outside property managers (who don’t want to upset the occupants and have the building function like Fort Knox).

However, when a catastrophe occurs, the response of the facilities and security departments will be the first thing scrutinized. This progression of blame is why all facility professionals involved with security must document their recommendations, keep all correspondence, and make sure their positions can be supported. In today’s information age, there is no excuse for improper documentation of subjects of this nature.

Of course, much of the “mythology” associated with security is already understood by the facilities people. But for those who are not so well versed in the inner workings of operations, the general tendency is to adjudicate the security needs based on what has happened in the past.

In reality, it’s far more valuable for everyone to have the foresight to take proactive security measures. Regardless, negligence in this area can be one of the most expensive aspects of protecting an organization and its people.

Common Threats 

Before an integrated security plan is designed, facility professionals must become entirely familiar with the building’s vulnerabilities. Threats most common to multi-tenant commercial facilities are workplace violence (followed by possible acts of disgruntled employees). This kind of threat calls for a security program that focuses on preventing an unauthorized person from entering a facility without being challenged either electronically, physically, or by a combination of both approaches.

When addressing any kind of multi-pronged security breach, a company needs to consider a complex approach. For instance, a card reader on a swing-style door that’s not supported by either a physical or electronic sub-system is hardly capable of providing the necessary protection. One authorized card can open the door to anyone who wants to sneak in behind the legitimate cardholder. To the perpetrator, it’s probably not even a deterrent; it is designed to keep honest people honest and has no effect on those who will piggyback or tailgate into controlled areas.



Depending upon the building’s function, the access control focus may be on the property’s outer perimeter, the building’s walls, or at internal points within the facility. A major problem in commercial buildings is that people entering these spaces are not required to be signed in or to have their appointments verified, and vertical pathways such as fire stairwells are open to anyone who enters from ground or sub-ground levels.

Horizontal pathways can also be a problem in multiple tenant facilities, but if the individual is cleared while entering the building on the ground level, then the vulnerability level has been reduced significantly. A perpetrator bent on workplace violence may be forced to move the “kill zone,” thus reducing the level of collateral damage that could result from a confrontation.

The following recommendations should help facility managers address these very real concerns.

Underground parking garage elevators should never go past the security checkpoint in the lobby. People entering the building should be required to exit on the ground level, check in with security, and then be allowed to proceed to their destinations. This is best accomplished by separating the parking elevators from the main elevators to establish a clear pathway, thereby requiring attention from the architects and engineers on day one of the planning sessions.

All persons entering the building should come into contact with some form of security and be required to sign a visitors’ log. Facilities that use visitor management systems can also issue one day passes, record the individual’s image, and document the visit. Updated systems allow the “host” to clear the visitor using his or her computer with a message sent to the security checkpoint.

The use of optical turnstile units with high, glass retractable barriers is strongly recommended. These systems work off visitors’ cards and also prevent tailgating and piggybacking problems at these access points. The units can be customized to meet the decor of the facility (architects love this!) and their payback (when compared to having a live guard covering the elevator access points in addition to the lobby) is about 11⁄2 years.

For corporate environments, security levels can be enhanced dramatically by incorporating the use of cards with biometric identification/verification applications. Remember that access control systems using the card only look at the card—biometrics provide a much higher level of authenticity for any person who wishes to enter the controlled area.

The use of revolving doors should never be removed from design equations. While they are best applied to the building perimeter, revolving doors are highly recommended for elevator lobbies for several reasons: they eliminate issues of piggybacking and tailgating; they are compliant with fire codes (because elevators return to the ground floor when a fire alarm is activated and the door leaves fold out); and with the incorporation of an ADA entrance next to the revolving door, facility managers can have additional fire egress points.

The doors would be controlled by access cards issued to employees, tenants, or visitors, with the latter expiring after one access entry or eight hours—whatever is most applicable to the building’s function. Egress is free, so the person has to have the card to get in.

The revolvers usually have a payout period of about one to 11⁄2 years, again when compared to security officer costs. Additionally, when putting revolvers on the perimeter of the building, facility managers get a big energy payback. Depending upon the size and functionality of the building, the revolver could pay off even quicker.

The use of CCTV is a must in commercial building/access system designs. By incorporating small and aesthetically pleasing camera installations, the security team can establish a single frame record of anyone entering the building, either through a card reader configuration or by viewing optical turnstile or revolving door security checkpoints.

With the availability of programmable digital video recorders (DVR), facility professionals now have the ability to photograph anyone entering the facility. Better, still, DVR is economically feasible and increases the efficacy of the building’s security system dramatically. By offloading this information to another storage device, archived data storage can be infinite.

Small camera units in elevators are also recommended in many cases. This type of surveillance allows the security console team to view what is taking place in the elevator, and with voice dial in the elevator phone, the console office can assist anyone in trouble while still recording the incident. This camera installation is strongly recommended for any organization running an executive protection program in the same building and where VIPs do not have a dedicated elevator.

Last, but definitely not least, is the use of identification cards. Commercial buildings are no different from any other security environment when an emergency situation occurs. The security team, as well as local response personnel, requires some way to identify those authorized to be in the facility (as opposed to visitors and/or unauthorized personnel).

Incorporating access controls at locations such as elevator lobby entrances or core door applications requires individuals to have their cards or face being escorted to their offices. This application is really a tough sell, but the negative consequences associated with an open environment for buildings are far too serious to be taken lightly.

In summary, the security director and the facility manager should be allowed to provide input to the building’s design as early as possible. This allows members of the team to get their ideas on the table in the beginning and to establish a budgetary number to secure the site effectively.

Consideration must also be given to parking facilities such as lots and structures both above ground and underground. Additionally, if systems are not properly monitored, and appropriate response is not available, a sense of false security could be established that would expose the company to extended liability issues related to negligent security factors.

Even though the impact of 9/11 is fading a bit in some areas of the country, there is still considerable concern about workplace violence, mandating the prevention of unauthorized access to the premises. In today’s volatile climate, it’s essential for facility professionals to establish cost effective and efficient methods of screening visitors and identifying employees, tenants, contractors, and vendors.

Security is no longer a matter of tracking guard hours or responding to alarms. The discipline of security has—with the advent of high technology systems—grown into a science. It is the responsibility of facility professionals to convince naysayers to understand and address the risks in today’s world. It may be a tough sell, but it has to be done.

Bordes is founder and CEO of The Bordes Group Inc., a corporate security consulting firm with corporate headquarters in Orlando, FL. He can be reached at (407) 851-8734 or at [email protected].

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