Security Trends: Security And Access Control

By Boyd R. Zoccola
Published in the March 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

So much has changed in the security industry over the last decade, it’s hard to know whether it’s chiefly because of 9/11, the meteoric advances in technology, or the facility management (FM) profession’s growing sophistication with—and demand for—the latest and greatest technology. It’s likely a combination of all three, but regardless of the cause, facility managers (fms) need to keep up with the constantly evolving realities of security and access control in a world that demands and deserves only the best.

Getting—And Giving—The Message

There are numerous issues fms need to think about: weather events, power failures, equipment failure, cyber attacks and—perhaps most concerning—a threat or physical attack by an unpredictable individual or group. In all cases, one of the most important tools an fm can have is a notification plan. [For a specific look at accessibility issues and fire safety, see “Playing With Fire.”]

“If I had to categorize one of the biggest differences for a typical fm, I’d say it would be figuring out how to get information out to occupants and other stakeholders and how to receive information,” says Mark Wilshire, senior property manager, Bradford Management Company in Dallas, TX, and the vice chair of BOMA International’s Preparedness Committee. “It used to be ‘pull the fire alarm and get out.’ Now we have everything from active shooters to medical emergencies to weather, and figuring out how to best inform occupants and constituents of a potential threat—or figure out what reliable source you’ll depend on, such as FEMA or the Red Cross—needs to be at the top of our priority list.

“There are so many questions that you’ll need to ask yourself before settling on a notification system,” he adds, “that it’s critical that fms plan for a variety of scenarios with corresponding communications plans.”

Web-based social media resources (like Facebook or Twitter, for example) can be effective tools for getting the word out, but there’s very little control over how quickly a message will be seen, and some key constituents may not be subscribed. E-mail and text messages are more direct, but fms need to decide who should get the message—everyone in the building? Only department managers? Will too many recipients mean overloaded e-mail inboxes if everyone replies? And if sensitive information is included, how do fms discourage recipients from forwarding the message in its entirety to the universe?

“As many technologies as there are, there are even more questions about the pluses and minuses of each. Think about the event in terms of how many people need to know the details versus how many people just need to know the directive,” advises Wilshire. “Higher level staff may need to know the exact nature of the event, with specific response instructions, while others may just need to know that a shelter in place advisory is out. Plan for all scenarios now rather than when you’re caught up in an emergency, when you may not have the time or mindset to think as clearly.”

Fms should also make contingency plans in the event of cell tower or power losses, and remember to be careful with any promises: if a building floods but fms expect things to be back to normal within a week, it’s wise to keep the latter forecast out of any communications until more is known about the situation. If the fm runs into unexpected complications stemming from the flood and a promise can’t be met, the fm is opened up to liability (at worst) or has angered some building occupants (at best). Fms must control the message and how widely it is shared.

“But don’t feel as though you need to come up with the plan on your own—it should be a collaborative effort, with all constituents involved,” Wilshire says. “No one expects the fm to come up with the answer alone, so think as a group how you can communicate and what needs to be said. Collaboration not only will bring about the best solution, but it will result in getting buy-in from all who contribute to the plan.”

Equipment Trends

Beyond the communications plan is of course the crux of any facility’s security program: the actual equipment.

According to April Dalton-Noblitt, director of commercial real estate vertical markets for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, one of FM’s top priorities is to move toward a more consistent access control product that can be used under a variety of conditions.

“Right now, there’s a hodgepodge of systems in place,” she explains, “with multiple technologies often used in the same building. Access credentials are differing so widely that it’s common to hear of one person using a key fob to access a suite on one floor, while another uses a keypad on a different floor, and yet another uses a swipe card. It’s harder than it needs to be and consumes time that could be better spent.”

The best time for fms to evolve to a cohesive system is during renovations and retrofits, but even then many fail to recognize ways to make that end goal easier.

“Standardizing the types of locks and doors fms can purchase is without question one of the simplest things to remember,” Dalton-Noblitt says. “Every time a facility is renovated or built, there’s an emphasis on making it unique, and I understand that desire. But there’s no reason for every door in every building to be configured differently. Giving occupants carte blanche when it comes to something as basic as an opening results in extreme variety, which results in extreme inefficiency. Instead, choose a consistent frame, hardware, and access control system, and make sure that all future renovations are based on those pre-selected options.”

In terms of technology, smart cards have quickly become the “go to” credential requested by many organizations—replacing key fobs and keys that are not as secure.

In the future, “Near Field Communications” is shaping up to be the next big thing. This technology simply uses employee mobile devices or cell phones as access keys. Generally administered through an app on a phone, credential manufacturers already have the technology, and these systems are currently being used in Europe. In the U.S., it’s a matter of waiting for strong user preference to make it the secure access system of choice.

More systems are also being managed online, particularly as additional facilities employ CCTVs to monitor every corner of their building.

“There’s been a huge surge in CCTVs, both in major metro areas and in suburban areas, as everyone recognizes that fms cannot be everywhere physically,” Dalton-Noblitt says. “There’s simply too much to watch, and leveraging technology in order to have multiple ‘eyes’ has been enormously beneficial. Another equally important benefit of CCTVs is that by having a record of everything that is occurring, corporations can better mitigate risk.

“In addition to the always important cost considerations, the challenge for fms as I see it,” Dalton-Noblitt adds, “is to step back and evaluate your ideal scenario first and then figure out a plan to get there. A lot of clients just don’t have the time or autonomy to do that, and it makes deciding on a solution more difficult.”

Outsourcing: The Wave Of The Future?

Time and cost restrictions are, in fact, leading to another trend in the commercial real estate industry: the realization that being the resident expert within a building may no longer be feasible for an industry that has become so large and specialized.

“There’s a natural resistance to let anyone else take over the steering of one’s ship,” explains J. Michael Coleman, vice president of Commercial Real Estate for AlliedBarton Security Services, “but as portfolios grow, more FM departments are outsourcing security functions and bundling the procurement of security, whether that’s for alarm systems, card access equipment, CCTV, or human capital. We recognize that for many, outsourcing is an uncomfortable thing. But many corporations are realizing the financial value of centralizing and standardizing security procurement—volume equals discounts—as well as the value of tapping into subject matter experts in an increasingly specialized field.”

Not surprisingly, it’s critical for fms to be part of the process from the start; the more closely an fm is involved with the RFP process and the evaluation of providers’ capabilities, the more likely the resulting security system will work effectively.

A benefit to lightening the in-house load can be the better usage of existing staff, such as giving more responsibilities to a nighttime security guard who formerly only monitored cameras. With a shifted workload, that person could now be tapped for other functions, such as processing work orders or checking shredder bins throughout the building.

“The key here,” Coleman emphasizes, “is more efficiently using security personnel without diluting their responsibilities. By finding meaningful ways to deploy them for ancillary responsibilities, fms can empower them while also improving and enhancing the security and efficient operation of their buildings. You’re not losing a full-time security officer on the third shift—you’re elevating their service level and reducing cost. There’s a tendency to be protective of a position, but it can truly be a win-win for everyone.”

Lastly, many large FM groups are consolidating security controls and functions, leading to even more cost savings and efficiencies. When technologies weren’t as advanced as they are today, it was typical to have 10 regional security operations. Or, companies acquired others that had their own security platforms and systems, and it wasn’t cost efficient to combine them.

But that’s changing, Coleman says, as the ability to centralize technology and monitor buildings from across the country has become infinitely easier.

“In the past, we needed someone on-site to change a video tape, but with digital recording, that’s no longer necessary,” he points out. “Today, someone in Newark, NJ can monitor a vacant building in Reno, NV just as well as a live security officer sitting in the building. It’s all about working smarter and reutilizing resources.”

Zoccola is chair and chief-elected officer of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and executive vice president of Hokanson Companies, Inc.