The Facility Technologist: PSIM – The “Other” Intelligent System

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the November 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Most facility professionals have heard of intelligent buildings and how building systems are linked together in these types of facilities to make management easier. While most of the intelligent building systems to date have focused on HVAC and lighting control, security vendors have not been idle in this realm, with many creating intelligent building systems that focus on security management.

In previous columns in TFM, I have described facilities where key security systems are linked together to perform automated responses to events in the facility. In the past, creating this type of system was a complex, custom project that required an experienced systems integrator. Therefore, these systems were used only in the largest and most complex facilities. However, these systems have proven so valuable that they are now made by an increasing number of vendors, and they are changing the way facilities manage security.

This new category of facility technology is called Physical Security Information Management, or PSIM. A PSIM system connects multiple existing safety and security systems into a single interface that automates notifications and interactions between systems and allows a user to manage many systems from one intelligent interface. Video surveillance, access control, fire and security alarms, video analytics, and other security functions are all interconnected to the PSIM hub, which reads signals from these systems and performs pre-programmed actions.

To illustrate, here is an example of a recent project where I implemented PSIM for a large, more than four million square foot facility. Before the PSIM implementation, the facility had video cameras, access control, and fire, security, and environmental alarms, but these items were not integrated.

When the access control system sent an alarm indicating someone had opened a locked door, the security officers had to go through an acrobatic routine of sorts. First, they had to move to the access control computer to read the alarm. Then they would go to a camera logbook to look up the camera nearest to that location. Finally, they would punch the number into the camera control to view the camera. Usually, by the time all this occurred, the intruder had already left the area.

With PSIM technology the same situation is handled like this: when the alarm from the access control system occurs, it is read by the PSIM system, which performs a pre-programmed series of actions. The PSIM system displays a floor plan of the facility with a flashing color-coded icon showing the location of the incident. It also sends a signal to the video camera system to call up the camera with the best view of the area. If it is a PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera, the PSIM system will give the camera the correct coordinates, so it can swivel and zoom for the best view of the door.

While the event is occurring, the system will also send e-mail alerts to select personnel, if it is programmed to do so. And, a PSIM system can do all of this in less than one second!

The ability of PSIM technology to provide a complete view of a security incident enables responders to have total situational awareness, which allows them to understand the event quickly and respond more effectively.

PSIM is now possible, because facility technologies are migrating to digital, computer based systems that can more easily communicate with each other than the analog systems of the 20th century. Because key facility systems can now operate on computer platforms, they can be linked into a single system. Even traditionally analog systems, such as video, are now moving to digital platforms, allowing communication between systems.

Much of the basic concept of PSIM is born out of the information technology world where managing complex computers and networks required integrated systems that detected and responded to problems. These systems, known as Security Event Management (SEM) or Security Information Management (SIM) systems, have been in use for more than a decade among computer and telephone network systems.

PSIM has become necessary, because there are simply too many systems to manage manually. Years ago, there were relatively few systems to deal with: fire and security alarms, access control, and video—and many facilities did not have access control or video systems. But today’s facility contains a whole host of systems. Video, access control, security alarms, environmental alarms, traffic management systems, video analytics, license plate recognition, and other technologies continue to flood facility managers with information.

PSIM also addresses another problem that has plagued facility and security managers—getting security staff to follow standard operating procedures (SOP). While staff members are supposed to do certain things when an event occurs, they don’t always do them, which can result in risk to facility occupants or can create legal liabilities. PSIM systems automate actions, so the proper people are notified, and security staff are prompted with on-screen instructions.

As facilities become more complex and security becomes more important, the facility manager is faced with an upward spiral of challenges, technology, and risk. A PSIM system can automate some aspects of security to help facility managers deal with this scenario and stabilize their facility’s place within it.