2009 Security Technology for Buildings

Jan. 7, 2009

By Michael Fickes 

New hardware and software technologies have begun to cut the cost and complexity of access control and video security in single- and multi-tenant buildings.

For example, property/facility managers can convert conventional mechanical door locks into an electronic access-control system for about $200 per door, compared to $1,000 to $3,000 per door for a full-featured access-control system with door readers cabled to intelligent boards, which are cabled to a security center filled with computer monitors.

The $200 replaces a mechanical lock cylinder with an electronic lock cylinder that an electronic key (about $150) will open. The key provides the power that operates the cylinder.

When a mechanical key goes missing, new locks and keys must be purchased, and it costs to have them installed. But, an electronic key-lock system enables the facility manager to deactivate the missing key and activate a new one, just as with a card access system. 

Moreover, electronic keys can be programmed in the same way as access-control cards: For example, one user can open three doors, while another user can open all doors.

According to Mark Visbal, research director with the Alexandria, VA-based Security Industry Association (SIA), which represents security technology manufacturers and vendors, users can buy different levels of software for these systems. ”You can get a basic system that deals with a few keys and locks, or you can buy an enterprise system capable of programming keys remotely through infrared ports, cell phones, and PDAs.”

Security Software-as-a-Service
Building owners and managers can use emerging security software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems to provide access control as part of a lease, without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With SaaS, the owner installs a reader, an electronic lock, and a request-to-exit device on each door. Most installations include hardware and software required by fire or building codes to ensure that the locks open or close as required in an emergency.

The door hardware might connect to a low-cost, Web-enabled intelligent board that’s connected to the Internet, or they might have their own Web capabilities and connect directly to the Internet. Finally, the owner provides a supply of programmable cards.

Observers say that hardware costs range from $1,000 to $2,500 per door.

The real expense of card access systems comes in the form of the head-end software that manages permissions and tracks alarms, plus the continuing labor costs required to operate the system. Owners don’t want to pay for that. With SaaS, door access control can be managed individually by using a Web browser to connect to a service provider’s website to configure the system.

The owner recoups the modest hardware investment in the rent and, when the hardware is paid for, raises net operating profit.

One caution: Some users have security concerns about hackers using these systems to get into a user’s IT network. Ask your provider about security precautions.

Everything Cameras
First came digital cameras that could connect directly to company networks. Then came digital storage drives capable of storing lots of video. Then came video analytics, with software capable of identifying and alarming on events requiring investigation.

Today, manufacturers are putting all of the above into one camera that connects directly to the network. The camera records and stores video at a low frame rate; when an event occurs, the camera notices, sends an alarm with a video clip to security, and ramps up to full-speed video.

Making Biometrics Acceptable
Biometric access-control technology is overcoming the serious objections hampering its acceptance.

First, people don’t want their fingerprints stored in a database that might be hacked. Managers don’t want to store fingerprints in a database, either, since a compromised fingerprint database would make the entire biometric access-control system inherently insecure. Few people want to put their fingers onto a pad that thousands of others, including those with the flu, have touched. Finally, no one wants to replace an existing infrastructure of readers and intelligent boards with biometric infrastructure.

New fingerprint systems solve these problems. A user receives a token that includes a fingerprint pad capable of communicating wirelessly or through a USB port with existing readers. The token stores the user’s fingerprint pattern. Only the user touches the pad – no germs other than the user’s own. When the user approaches a reader, he or she touches the pad, and the device compares the user’s finger with the pattern stored in the device. If the two match, the token signals the system to open the door. No need for an external database.

And, of course, if someone finds a lost device, he or she can’t use it because that person’s fingerprint won’t match the stored pattern.

Michael Fickes is a freelance writer and owner of Fickes & Co. Inc., a Baltimore publishing firm with experience in the security industry.

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