Security Trends: Threats In The Dark

New security technology helps facility managers monitor dangers in the workplace.
New security technology helps facility managers monitor dangers in the workplace.

Security Trends: Threats In The Dark

Security Trends: Threats In The Dark

By Chad A. Safran
Published in the August 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Threats in the Dark - Company Security Issues'
Credit:Created by Megan Knight, Senior Designer, Group C Media, Inc. (photos:

Not too long ago, entering a building was quite easy. An employee would open a door, maybe nod to the one security guard on duty, say hello to the receptionist, perhaps enter an elevator, and the rest of the workday unfolded without much inconvenience. How times have changed.

Now it seems like every motion an employee makes is being watched or recorded. The parking garage needs a swipe card for entry. The security guard has been replaced with digital closed caption television (CCTV). The person at the front desk no longer smiles but instead asks for the same two items from everyone, “Photo ID and signature,” and then slides the ID card through a reader to note the employee’s presence.

Getting into the actual office or cubicle area has also become a chore, as many employers require additional keypad entries and card swipes at various locations just to gain entry to a certain floor or facility sector. And what if someone needs access to the supply room? That practically requires full gene screening to just to retrieve some staples.

While some of this is an exaggeration, facility managers (fms) in recent years have been forced to upgrade their security systems not only to protect their buildings from intruders but also to shield employees from each other. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 389,380 establishments had an incident of workplace violence within a 12 month period (“Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention, 2005”). Half of those establishments employed over 1,000 people, and over 25% of them had no security.

“Probably the single most important issue for an fm is to maintain the safety and security of the building occupants,” says Joe Granitto, general manager at Morse Watchmans of Oxford, CT.

Card Carrying Made Easier

Just three years ago, only 6.3% of over 7.3 million businesses used electronic badges or identification scanners upon entry or exit, according to the aforementioned 2005 workplace survey. However, that trend is rapidly fading as fms are asking for more protection, says Shane Cunningham of Digital Identification Solutions in Piedmont, SC.

“The days of single photo ID or password are over. The more you have to protect, the more you need to verify who is accessing the facility and when,” says Cunningham. “Knowing who is in your facility, where they are, and whether they should be there or not, is vital to keeping your people safe.”

The trend now focuses on contact and contactless (or proximity access) cards, the latter incorporating RFID (radio frequency identification). Much of the North American market relies heavily on magnetic stripe cards (like the stripe found on the back of a bank card), which can be a less than secure method for verifying identification and transmitting data. Proximity access cards allow the user to be near the reader; the cards can remain in a user’s pocket.

Both contact and contactless cards can feature a color photo, UV images or text, and microprinting. However, encrypting access codes built into a chip increases the usefulness of a card—making it more than just an identification tool.

A contact card has a visible metal surface chip that must be placed inside a reader to transmit data. These cards, also known as ICC (integrated circuit chip) cards, often include microprocessors that modify the data transmitted each time the cards are used. This allows new encryptions to be processed in order to ensure their security.

Contact cards hold more data than their RFID counterparts. They can retain segmented data that grants access for different systems or holds information for different sources. RFID cards hold less data than contact cards but offer more convenience for the user, since the cards must be close enough for the reader to pick up the signal.

The technology in both cards can actually be imbedded into one form of identification. College students, for instance, may receive a card with a contact chip that holds medical and/or financial information; the card may also contain a contactless RFID chip that grants access to a dormitory. All this data could be tied into multiple systems, including library, cafeteria, and vending machines so a student’s activities would be tracked through these systems, but the student would only need to carry one card.

Fms can issue cards not only to employees, but also to customers and vendors, enabling the fm to monitor building activity, just like a university would track a student. The cards and corresponding software allow fms to pull activity reports of card usage so they can track movements by time, date, user code, and location.

Skimming can occur when someone with a long range reader can access RFID numbers on a card and create a security issue that needs to be avoided.

Cunningham feels that these worries are unfounded. “[Skimming] is more myth than fact. Most readers still require a distance of less than 3′ to read. Though someone might be able to read the number off your card, if they have a matching technology reader to receive the signal from the card, they generally have no way to encode the card. It’s easier for someone to steal your card than to read it and create a new one.”

Away It Goes

While the new wave of access cards helps fms record who is in the building at all times, fms still need to be watchful of the items in the facility. The retail industry alone lost $19 billion in 2006 because of internal theft, according to the 2006 National Retail Security Survey conducted by Dr. Richard C. Hollinger of the University of Florida. It’s not just pencils or paper clips that are being stolen but organizational data and personal information are under threat as well.

In March 2005, a laptop containing the names and social security numbers of over 98,000 people was stolen from the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2007, a British civil servant lost computer disks containing the names, ad- dresses, and bank details of over 25 million people.

“More thefts occur as a result of disgruntled employees than by an outside source,” notes Cunningham. These actions are forcing fms to make difficult choices when it comes to updating security needs.

“They are responding to a recent event that affected their facility or a nearby facility,” says Joel Schaffer, video solutions leader for GVI Security Solutions of Carrollton, TX. “The big concern is a balance of a higher level of security versus convenience and privacy of employees. All the while, they are trying to protect the assets of the company and the employees.”


No Hiding From The Cameras

The evolution of video surveillance equipment is another development allowing fms to keep a more detailed watch over activities in their buildings. Improvements in communications technology, image quality, and intelligent video analytics provide more data of higher quality for real time and forensic security applications.

Advanced video analytics enable video to be pushed automatically in real time to any video wall monitor or networked PC from any camera. This is a great aid to fms, because cost efficiencies as well as bandwidth efficiencies reduce the personnel required to monitor activity. Additionally, IP-based systems make it easier for fms to add or move cameras to high priority locations with minimal costs relative to the expense associated with traditional analog systems.

“Imaging capabilities have been evolving with the development of technologies,” says Keith Kanestrin, marketing manager at Secaucus, NJ-based Panasonic Security Systems. “New megapixel cameras provide volumes of detailed video data. They also improve forensic investigations of recorded images as a result of the amount of data recorded and ability to mine data and metadata embedded in video images.”

Updating to the newest technology, however, comes at a cost; as soon as one system is installed something faster and more advanced debuts. According to Jeff Knapp, vice president of marketing at Suffern, NY-based OnSSI, return on investment (ROI) is the key when deciding on security upgrades. “Accountability goes beyond budgetary concerns to the capabilities of the security solution itself. What is a recurring challenge for fms once they actually do implement an advanced security solution is to prove ROI based on events that the new systems have either thwarted or prevented.”

Hand Held Security Device

Security Guards Get An Upgrade

If costs for modernizing the video system have put fms in a difficult financial spot, they can still use security personnel to walk the halls. However, today’s security guard does not simply wander the building to ensure the day proceeds as normally as possible.

“Historically security officers have not been involved too much in this realm (technology),” says Robert Burns, senior vice president of sales and operations for G4S Wackenhut of Palm Beach Gardens, FL. “They were dispatched to an occurrence and then reported back to a command center.”

Today’s guards are often outfitted with PDAs tied into the company’s and the client’s facility communications systems. This technology enables the officers to report on an incident while they are in the field. They can provide a brief incident summary and send the information to a predetermined distribution list of contacts. The PDA also allows the security personnel to report any other facility issues (like leaky pipes) they see during their rounds, increasing the value of the officer to any fm.

With the need to maximize every dollar to its fullest extent, fms are looking to choose the newest in security technology. This may become a balancing act for even the most experienced professionals. What is new one week, becomes virtually obsolete six months later. The only thing that won’t change is the need to always keep everything and everyone as safe as possible.

This article was based on interviews with Burns, Cunningham, Granitto, Kanestrin, Knapp, and Schaffer.

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