FM Issue: Cutting Perimeter Security Corners

Image: Thinkstock
Image: Thinkstock

By Barry K. Willingham
Published in the August 2011 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Confidence is a term that would seem to have a significant place in every discussion about perimeter security. But more often it is a term only associated with the drive towards hitting a budget number, not accomplishing the task of mitigating risk exposure.

Fiscal responsibility is a key component of a facility manager’s (fm’s) purchasing decision. But when it becomes the primary consideration, it sets the stage for taking ineffective actions in implementing appropriate measures. This behavior fuels the supply side to deliver non-performing protection products that are do not comply with industry standards compliance and are installed by companies that are not only unqualified, but that have little concern for the operability or long-term service the systems are expected to provide.

This is a situation where the economic challenges that are affecting almost every business globally are becoming the directional compass on how fms are planning to protect critical assets and personnel. They must also define how they are going to do it within a budget that is usually out of alignment with the desired result.

Not “How Much Does It Cost?” But “Why Should We Do This?”

The question most often ignored in the current economic climate is “Why are we doing this?” Once a manager can candidly address why the company is investing resources towards securing its facility, it will dramatically change the approach to the thought process of how fms plan on accomplishing this and with what technology and methodology.

There are countless facilities that have numerous physical security technologies deployed. Many of these technologies have been turned off because they either do not function as expected (due to lack of training or deficiency in quality), or they are too much trouble to operate as a result of poor design engineering or lack of definition in terms of installation criticality. They may also be too expensive to maintain because the systems break down frequently—a direct reflection of poor quality combined with haphazard installation.

Unfortunately, many of today’s perimeter technologies are engineered solutions which have never been tested in actual stressed conditions; instead, they are designed to address a general price point. Whether or not the systems will actually perform to prevent an undesired event is often left in the hands of a person or company whose primary objective is to make a sale. The unspoken wish is that the system is never called into duty.

Asking The Right Questions

The subject of security will forever be a challenging topic. It’s a discussion often fueled by fear with an ambiguous demonstration of Return on Investment (certainly not one that could be published in the company’s financial reports). When facility resources are invested to mitigate an external security concern or threat and nothing happens, it is often seen as a waste of company funds. This is because we did not answer the question, “Why did we do this in the first place?”

Complex decisions charged by emotional uncertainties are best addressed in a direct fashion. If fms think in a straight line, it may be easier for them to start asking the hard—but essential—questions:

  • Why is it critical for our company to implement these perimeter security systems?
  • How will we accomplish this using tested technologies supported with documented evidence of compliance with industry standards?
  • What evidence must we rely on to be convinced that this security initiative will be installed by a competent professional who holds submitted evidence of past performance, credentials, and financial dependability?
  • What evidence is there that this company can execute the scope of work with the ultimate objective to deliver a system that is reliable and performs as a direct response to why we made this investment?

Political pressures to do something to demonstrate the company cares about perimeter security are bridled by the growing financial pressures of the current economic environment. The result, many times, is a mismatched group of products, most of which are designed under the performance premise of “good enough.” These solutions meet no industry standards, are installed by a contractor who bid the project for less than the materials cost, and will eventually lay dormant because they cease to function or don’t operate as originally expected.

Industry standards and test method credentials are valid tools to guide fms thought processes towards the development of exterior security systems that inspire confidence. But it is up to fms to choose to employ these standards and methods. Fms must work to redefine what “right” looks like by working against the budgetary pressures and answering the hard questions.

Willingham is president of Smith & Wesson Security Solutions, providers of facility access control such as active vehicle barriers, guard shelters, high security fencing, bollards, barrier walls, signs and signals, and card readers.