Jun 1, 2002 12:00 PM

The 9 a.m. meeting began ahead of schedule at the Orange County, Calif., offices of C. A. Gamble and Assoc., a consulting engineering firm specializing in technology-based building systems. The subject: The installation of new fire-life safety and access control systems for the Library Tower, a 75-story multi-tenant landmark building in Los Angeles.

Carol Gamble and T. J. Hicks of C. A. Gamble had arrived before 6 a.m., with the goal of fine-tuning their presentation, which would review technical specifications and unit prices. The contract installer and a representative of Hirsch Electronics of Santa Ana, Calif., a supplier of access control systems, also arrived well before 9 a.m.

The subject of the meeting had changed hours earlier, at 6 a.m. California time, with the first media reports from New York City detailing a disaster of epic proportions. It was Sept. 11, 2001.

"We all realized that the face of security had just changed all over the world," says Hicks, a senior associate with C. A. Gamble.

In the days after Sept. 11, C. A. Gamble and its client MaguirePartners, the Los Angeles-based owner and manager of the Library Tower, struggled to define what these new security imperatives meant to the 1,018-foot building, the tallest from Chicago west to Hong Kong.

Prior to Sept. 11, the plan focused on replacing a fire-life safety system that had reached the end of its useful life. In executing that plan, Carol Gamble decided not to bid contracts conventionally. Instead, she negotiated a deal under which the supplier of the new system agreed to a price that was about half what the supplier would ordinarily charge. In return, the supplier would receive a showcase contract for the Library Tower and a profile of the system in the MaguirePartners annual report.

Happy with the fire-safety system agreement, the supplier then proposed upgrading the building's access control system, from magnetic-stripe swipe cards to proximity cards with a new proprietary product just off the drawing board. MaguirePartners reportedly told Gamble the company could increase the price to pay for access control. Gamble negotiated the deal with the supplier, with the proviso that the supplier would substitute a Hirsch Electronics Velocity access control system if the new product were delayed for some reason.

Gamble's caution paid off. The new product did encounter a delay.

"In the end, the contract for the original project came in on budget, and we saved over $1.7 million," Gamble says. "This is the difference between negotiating contracts and putting them out for bid in the conventional way."

Thanks to the temperate weather in Southern California, many commercial buildings offer external as well as internal seating areas for people to gather. After Sept. 11, MaguirePartners, whose managers declined to comment for this story, apparently altered this philosophy and set out to restrict the free flow of people around the perimeter of the building, into the first floor, and onto the elevators.

The Library Tower had accommodated tenant security needs with parking deck and elevator access control systems. Universal Protective Services (UPS), a contract security firm, provided physical security for the building in the form of patrols. UPS also managed and monitored the Tower's 42-camera CCTV system from a console in a security command center.

The post-Sept. 11 risk assessment suggested that access control should be tightened immediately. It also called for a re-evaluation of the CCTV system.

Gamble and Hicks recommended expanding the access control system to include optical turnstiles in the first floor elevator lobbies, proximity card readers in all elevators to all floors, photo ID badging for every tenant in the building and sophisticated visitor controls.

"When we originally planned the access control system, we specified modularity, growth, and flexibility," Gamble says. "The new access control requirements put those specifications to the test."

The Hirsch Velocity system met the test. The system accommodated the dramatic increase in the number of people receiving cards as well as the photo ID badging system, for which Hirsch supplied the computer workstation, camera, and printer. Velocity's SQL Server database also provided convenient storage and retrieval of photos for the security staff.

The hardware for the new access control system was installed, and using Velocity, Maguire created photo ID badges for everyone working in the building. At virtually the same time, TRL Systems, Ontario the installer began working on one of the chief installation challenges: the main communication riser that runs from the bottom floor to the top of the building. "We had to install a dedicated TCP/IP network to replace the old 485 communication backbone," Hicks says.

Nobody wanted the changeover to cause any downtime for the access control system, or for that matter in the ability of tenants to use the elevators. So the new communications line went in next to the old one.

Bringing the new system on line required the coordinated night-work of several teams. TRL installed Hirsch DIGI*TRAC intelligent panels in elevator equipment rooms distributed throughout the building, HID proximity readers in the elevators and the parking deck, and optical turnstiles in the first-floor elevator lobby.

Otis Elevator added controls that would enable the elevator electronics to respond to zone information received from Velocity. A third contractor added smoked glass covers to the proximity readers, for aesthetic purposes.

Throughout the installation period, UPS provided additional security officers to patrol floors taken temporarily off line.

However, the largest challenge facing C. A. Gamble and Maguire involved visitors. How could legitimate visitors, including clients, suppliers, and delivery people get into a building protected by strict access control?

"We needed a system that would allow tenants to notify building management about visitors, a system that would not enrage visitors detained in the lobby because no one knew they were coming," says Hicks.

Working closely with tenants and MaguirePartners, Hicks developed a visitor badging system capable of accommodating one to 100 visitors.

"MaguirePartners had its Web designer develop a Web page allowing tenants to enter visitor information," Hicks says. "Thanks to Velocity's SQL Server 7.0 technology, Hirsch was able to develop a process that allows the Web page to download visitor information into Velocity.

"Then we added two visitor management stations in the lobby," Hicks continues. "Visitors check in here and present their credentials. The security officer at the station types in the first few letters of the visitor's name, and information entered on the Web page by the tenant pops up in the Velocity visitor management screen. The visitor receives a proximity card that allows them to visit a certain tenant on a certain floor."

The preprinted cards, paid for in part by the tenants, include the name and perhaps the logo of the company the individual is visiting, and a large "V" for visitor. The visitor uses the card to pass through the optical turnstiles and to use the elevator to get to a specified floor. When the visitor has completed his or her work, the card must be turned over to the receptionist on the floor being visited. From there, the visitor must return to the lobby. Velocity settings prevent someone without a card from using the elevator to access any floor other than the lobby.

What if a visitor gets off the elevator with someone else before getting to the lobby? "Tenants are strongly urged to wear their photo ID badge," Hicks says. "In addition, we spent a lot of time training tenants about the importance of calling security when they see someone they don't know without a badge."

Despite the many design and coordination challenges, the new access control system was up and running at the Library Tower in a matter of months.

Just as the technical challenges proved daunting but manageable, the most important piece of the puzzle involved obtaining the cooperation of tenants. "You need to get a consensus that they will adopt and enforce security policies," Gamble says.

After activating the new access control system, C. A. Gamble is turning its attention to CCTV in the Library Tower. "We plan to build on what is already here," Hicks says. "We're going to add cameras to additional areas of the building, and we plan to switch from video tape to digital video recording."

In addition to convenience, digital video also represents an important security upgrade, notes Gamble. When an event requiring review occurs in a signature downtown building like the Library Tower, no one wants to wait for someone to load a tape. Not anymore.

Michael Fickes is a Cockeysville, Md.-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems.

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