By Richard ChaceSince Sept. 11, security and safety have occupied a much more prominent place in the minds of most Americans, while their tolerance of increased security measures has increased. That makes this an excellent time to consider your building’s security profile, and to make any improvements that may be necessary.A key component of any security system is access control. The wide range of available products and software-driven systems makes it easy to tailor access control precisely to particular security needs.The first step: Have a thorough security audit conducted by a security professional. If qualified in-house staff is not available, retain an outside consultant. Results of an audit should provide:• Identification of all assets, including physical property, intellectual property and human resources.• An objective, detailed delineation of all realistic threats related to each asset or asset group.• An assessment of the value (i.e., level of protection) required for each asset.• An assessment of the computer infrastructure on which the access system will ride.• An overview of privacy issues affecting all building occupants.• Fire-safety, employee monitoring, and building evacuation needs.Once needs are assessed, current security procedures and systems should be analyzed as to adequacy, and a plan developed to enhance access control, fire-safety, and building monitoring. Here, new technologies should be actively investigated, since security technologies are evolving rapidly and the flexibility and effectiveness of new technologies and integrated systems are far-reaching. New technologies should be adopted, however, only when they make sense.In the wake of September 11, it is important to make a realistic assessment of terrorist threats. Is there really a likelihood that a group of terrorists might storm the building? In some cases – for instance, for a biotechnology company holding virus stocks in its laboratory – the threat might be real. For the vast majority of facilities, however, where occupants conduct routine commerce, the threats today remain identical to those before September 11. Those are the threats the security system should be designed to counter. Access control can be achieved using a hierarchy of technologies:• Simple photo ID, compared to each individual by a security officer.• A video unit monitored remotely by a security officer, who allows access only to individuals known to the officer.• A key card (contact or non-contact) that operates an electronic lock.• A “smart” card housing a small chip that stores an employee number or other identifying code, allowing tracking of employee movements within a facility.• A biometric unit that scans an individual’s hand geometry, fingerprint, or iris and compares it to a template for that individual.• A combination of smart card and PIN or biometric verification, to prevent unauthorized access using a lost or stolen card.These technologies can also be used in conjunction, providing layers of security where needs and threat level justify redundancy. In addition, all access points can be monitored by live and recorded video.For more information about access control systems and security in general, visit (www.securitygateway.com).Richard Chace is executive director at the Security Industry Association (SIA), Alexandria, VA.