Technology and FM: Integrating Security Systems

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the January/February 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Awhile back, I had an interesting conversation with a facility manager (fm) who had just completed the installation of a comprehensive security system for a very large corporate campus. This install included a biometric access control system, more than 100 security cameras (some with video analytics), a perimeter intrusion system (this is a high-security campus), and license plate recognition. While happy with the new capabilities of all these systems, this fm had also encountered an unexpected challenge: information overload.

The sheer number of cameras, alarms, and multiple systems were making it difficult for staff in the security command center to understand where alarms were happening, which camera would provide the best view, and how the different systems sensors related to each other. While the fm and his colleagues had too little information in the past, ironically, they now had too much. And the security staff now needed to be trained in four different systems and operate them simultaneously, moving back and forth between them throughout the day.

This situation illustrates one of the ironies of today’s high-tech facilities: we have access to security technologies only dreamed of in the last century, with truly amazing capabilities. But learning these new technologies and managing the sheer volume of information they generate can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, technology also offers us a way to deal with these challenges by integrating them in a system that acts as a dashboard for security systems. Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) is a relatively new breed of software that connects to existing security systems and integrates them into a common operating platform. PSIM does not replace a facility’s security systems, but rather connects to them and combines, filters, and aggregates information into a single interface that makes the information easier to use and understand.

PSIM software connects to existing security systems using built-in gateways that the PSIM vendors have developed. The leading PSIM systems have hundreds of these gateways that connect to the leading security systems like video management, access control, or alarm systems. The alarms generated by those other systems are fed into PSIM through these gateways.

For some systems, PSIM can even communicate back, allowing an operator to acknowledge an alarm from within PSIM, without accessing the other system. This can dramatically simplify the security operator’s job.

When systems connected to PSIM go into alarm, PSIM reads the alarm, and shows it in a three screen display (some use two screens, but three seems to be the most common configuration). One screen shows details about the alarm, such as time and type, and it can also display a checklist of tasks that the operator must complete for that alarm. For example, if it is a fire alarm, the alarm checklist might tell the operator to notify certain staff, unlock doors in the access control system, or turn off the HVAC system in the affected area. This is a very effective tool for ensuring that staff follows the proper operating procedures for an incident.

The second PSIM screen shows the geographical location of the alarm on a map or floor plan. This helps orient the operator to where the event is happening much better than a simple sensor number or location description would.

The third PSIM screen is used for video, and can be programmed to call up the closest camera automatically to the incident area. And all this happens in about one second or less, so the operator has immediate situational awareness and knows what is happening, where it is occurring, and what to do about it. Some PSIM systems are also able to send e-mails to selected individuals for each incident type, so the system acts almost like a mini mass notification system.

The benefits of PSIM are significant. My company has implemented the technology for clients with large facilities, and in both simulations as well as actual incidents, PSIM has dramatically reduced the time it takes to achieve situational awareness and respond effectively. In one large facility (2.5 million square feet), I measured operators’ responses to incidents before and after PSIM installation. The average response time was cut to one fifth the time, procedural errors were reduced by 90%, and staff fatigue was greatly reduced.

In addition to the tremendous benefits of more effective response, fms who have implemented PSIM find that their staff can learn the system in a fraction of the time that it takes to learn other security systems due to its intuitive interface.

Meanwhile, this technology is expanding beyond security into operations. For example, some fms are connecting their building automation systems or HVAC control systems to PSIM. When a problem occurs, they can use its capabilities to make sure the appropriate staff is informed, repairs are scheduled, and the fm is notified to make arrangements if facility space is affected.

PSIM is being adopted by large facilities across the globe, and it is one of the fastest growing security technologies. According to Frost & Sullivan’s report “Global Physical Security Information Management Market,” released in June 2012, the entire market (both public and private sectors) generated revenues of $142.9 million in 2011. This is likely to increase significantly by 2021, to reach $2.79 billion. PSIM is considered one of the hottest security technologies, with vendors Proximex, Orsus, Rontal, and Persistent Sentinel all recently acquired by investors building their security technology portfolios.

As the number and complexity of facility technologies continue to increase, fms will want to evaluate these tools and the benefits they might gain. PSIM is one very effective tool to deal with a portfolio of complex security and operational technologies, maximize effectiveness, reduce staff stress, and ensure conformance to operating procedures.