Creative Security Strategies Develop a More Efficient Building Ecosystem

Nov. 22, 2016

Benefits of a robust security system extend beyond loss protection.

Working under the constraints of tight budgets, FMs are more likely to invest resources into building systems where the dividends that pay out are clear, substantial and immediate. Systems that use large quantities of energy like HVAC and lighting are often the first place to look for improvements, as they take up a massive chunk of operating costs.

In the quest for reducing costs, some major improvements can be passed over because the benefits are not as clear or instantaneous as others. Security systems, for example, are often overlooked because they require a capital investment, and it can be difficult to find the return on investment that you would find in a typical system upgrade.

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“FMs and building owners need to recognize that there’s an inherent benefit in security and it can provide an ROI by using the technologies to do things that you wouldn’t have originally anticipated them doing,” says Sean Ahrens, Global Practice Leader of Security Consulting and Design at JENSEN HUGHES in Chicago. “The ROI comes when we start using these systems to facilitate other things.”

Security systems, while integral to almost any facility, are often thought of only as a loss prevention measure. That premise can seem antithetical to the idea of yielding savings if you are only looking at clear-cut responses to a given solution. But advancements in security system integration have opened up opportunities for greater efficiency in several arenas when users get creative with their application.

What does it take for a security system to make a facility more efficient in addition to safeguarding it? The answer lies in intelligent integration practices and creative applications that promote efficiency within a wide range of applications.

Foundational Elements

An FM looking to implement a new security system first needs to keep two integral factors in mind: the facility and the network. These two areas will more or less dictate the type of system that you need, so it’s important to consider these two concepts in tandem.

“The first thing we do is meet with the IT group and understand what kind of infrastructure and networks they have,” explains Brent Edmunds, President and Co-Founder of Stone Security in Salt Lake City. “The systems we install reside on those networks.”

In addressing the network requirements, you will also need to consider the logistical issues raised. Because a security system requires some point of centralization, making sure the network can handle facilities that are spread out is critical.

According to Edmunds, video data is one area you need to account for when planning a security system “because it can create a lot of traffic on the network. Sometimes there’s no fiber connectivity between buildings, and you’ll probably want to localize cameras to the individual buildings but have them centrally managed.”

A large component of the security industry today is based solely on connecting what were once thought to be disparate parts. Now it is important to consider how the modern security system can more completely connect its own security operations with other building systems and with the building’s occupants. A common metaphor that bears repeating about buildings is that they are ecosystems whose operations are all interconnected; security systems should also be part of that conversation.

Even under the larger umbrella of security, the two main components of a commercial building security now work off of one another more than they ever have. Video surveillance and access control have been separate systems in the past, but over the last decade, manufacturers and security integrators have worked to develop systems together.

“The two systems complement each other very well and allow a business to put together a security plan that controls how people move around the building,” says Edmunds.

Connecting video surveillance and access control together and then to other building systems has become considerably easier because of technological developments, the emergence of the Internet of Things and the movement to a non-proprietary model of business.

Overseeing Efficiency

Overall, technological advances and industry trends have made security systems more affordable and longer-lasting. But what can all of these advancements in security do to further impact the bottom line? Through greater oversight of operations and processes that are prone to inefficiencies, security systems provide the opportunity to catch issues faster and put contingency plans in place.

“A key area for cost savings in the facilities world has been leveraging security data to track space usage,” says Rachel Turner, Vice President of Strategic Business Development at RightCrowd, a software company located in Seattle. “In many large, global companies, the overhead and cost of buildings can be up to around 50%, so anything that can be done to reduce that is a key metric.”

With access control and video surveillance working together, FMs now have the ability to address issues immediately from a single location. Many integrators and manufacturers are centralizing security functions into single programs, allowing for alerts and alarms to appear on the same screen as video surveillance.

When an alarm goes off for an HVAC system, for example, the individual working with the security system can immediately respond to the alarm by checking video surveillance of the affected area. That individual can then assess the situation, deciding that it needs further attention or that it is merely a false alarm. Depending on the volatility or importance of various systems in a facility, an integrator can establish setpoints, thresholds and other benchmarks to notify security personnel for further inspection.

“With our access control systems, there are alarms and event triggers that we’ve used to monitor freezers,” says Edmunds. “One of our university clients has cryogenic freezers with alarms, which are tied into the building automation system and the access control system. They get alerts when a freezer goes above or below a certain temperature threshold.”

Developing more effective contingency plans is a key trend in security today. Software programs that bring together various components of security and other systems in a facility allow users to create flow charts that solve a given alert or situation.

Within the flow chart, an operator can simply add the proper protocol and instructions to fulfill it when a crisis occurs. These contingency plans provide faster responses with fewer mistakes and can be completed by those who might not have as much experience or knowledge of certain areas of a building.


Other network-based systems can instantly adjust access to various locations in a building to specific individuals. Whether a building must be locked down completely or access needs to be limited to only certain personnel, it can be done quickly and easily because the commands can be programmed into the software.

Making the rest of a facility run efficiently is now one of the main goals in security, and the human element – meaning that the people who need to make decisions and respond to building issues are doing it intelligently – is an important part of that.

Optimizing Movement

Much of the focus of security systems – access control in particular – is how buildings facilitate the movement of people. In the past, that has typically manifested in locks that simply allow or prohibit entry. But the movement of people has expanded beyond this definition and has complicated many facets of a facility’s day-to-day operations.

These methods can then be adapted and innovated into other practical applications as well. One needs to look no further than at compliance to see where security systems can make everyday processes more efficient and simpler for personnel. Rather than always needing to bring in inspectors, video capabilities can simplify the process. Edmunds explains, “In the arena of compliance, a lot of customers we’re talking with need to have video and access control of their facilities.”

In particular, FMs working with government agencies that require oversight and compliance like the FDA can look at locations on video to regulate and monitor the personnel entering and leaving certified areas through access control audit trails.

Edmunds recalls one client who required regular assessments from a specific inspector located in Mexico City. Flying him to Utah on a regular basis was inefficient and inconvenient for everyone involved, so they installed high-definition cameras that allowed them to do the same inspection over a conference call.

The university setting has been an especially fruitful venue for innovation along these lines. Edmunds works with universities and has been able to simplify testing schedules and staffing by installing cameras in examination facilities, allowing for proctors to work remotely, with more students and more oversight to ensure intellectual integrity.

Similarly, Ray Bernard, President and Principal Consultant of Ray Bernard Consulting Service in Lake Forest, CA, describes one example where a warehouse was using video analytics to detect when trucks needed to be loaded. From within the office, account managers could tell when pallet staging spaces were ready to be filled for a shipment and when the trucks had been loaded.

“They were updated on critical shipment statuses without having to keep walking down to the warehouse and back,” Bernard says.

Buildings with high foot traffic over the course of a day can use security technology to move visitors more effectively and to staff personnel more appropriately throughout the day.

“Our visitor management systems can identify the times when the most visitors are anticipated, and we can prepare our staffing to deal with those peak loads,” says Ahrens. “Rather than staffing for a worst case scenario, we can predict staffing needs based on actual visitor load.”


Turner recalls implementing video analytics for a large global bank to not only manage queues and gauge customer service, but also to “achieve tangible cost savings by reducing tellers at low throughput times and adding them at peak times. We were able to measure this over daily, weekly and longer time periods to establish meaningful trends.” Solutions like this can be adapted for any number of similar, high-traffic scenarios.

Justin Feit [email protected] is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

The Non-Proprietary Approach to Security

In all facets of facility management, there is a distinct trend of products using non-proprietary communication systems. With protocols like BACnet allowing communication between products of different brands, FMs can select the best products for their facility without worrying about compatibility issues.

“We are taking on an integration platform with the advent of the Power over Ethernet standards that are coming out,” says Sean Ahrens, Global Practice Leader of Security Consulting and Design at JENSEN HUGHES in Chicago. “This affords us to transmit both signal and power to equipment such as lighting or diffusers. When we are combining that signal and that data, we can do a lot more that we couldn’t previously.”

In the security industry, the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) emerged to promote open interfaces for interoperability. In their mission, they outline three major goals:

■     Standardization of communication between IP-based physical security products
■     Interoperability regardless of brand
■     Openness to all companies and organizations.

Because of the inherent competition of this non-proprietary approach, security products are likely to be more future-proof than in the past. Brent Edmunds, President and Co-Founder of Stone Security in Salt Lake City, notes that the future-proofing involved in security brings “more equity in the system because if you’re using non-proprietary hardware and software, the manufacturers are required to keep you happy, otherwise you could switch. So they update, edit and produce many advancements to make their system better, and that allows your system to improve over the years.”

Preventing Injury Liability in the Winter

During the winter, building operators need to take extra precautions to ensure that outdoor paths and parking lots are clear of snow and ice to make sure people do not fall and injure themselves. Reducing liability by mitigating snow and ice buildup is critical during these months.

Ray Bernard, President and Principal Consultant at Ray Bernard Consulting Services in Lake Forest, CA, notes one facility that needed to stay ahead of snow removal in the winter: “They wanted to know how early to get out there. What are the parking patterns, and can they go in and clear off one section of the lot where more people are parking early?” So they used video surveillance to analyze parking habits and react quickly to remove the snow.

Located in the Rocky Mountains, Stone Security often works with facilities that receive plenty of snowfall and ice accumulation. Using video surveillance systems, those with outdoor facilities and sidewalks immediately assess winter walking conditions between buildings, parking lots and walkways.

With cameras established in the right areas, users can immediately identify sidewalks, stairs and other locations that can be dangerous when covered in ice and take action promptly to prevent the risk of injury. Any way a user can find multiple uses for a single component of a security system will make the investment more worthwhile.

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