Making the Connection
Making the Connection

Aug 1, 1997 12:00 PM

Beyond cables and cameras, true system integration involves communication between integrator and user to identify what's needed. Only then is it possible to create a successful system. Here's how some integrators have done it. Integrating security systems means more than connecting cables to cameras, VCRs, switchers and access control readers. It means finding the real problem and creating a system that solves it.

In building a security system, the equipment comes last. The first, most important step in the process is creating a security concept that solves specific problems.

"Every project is different in that you have to interpret specific needs and concerns and develop system solutions," says Marvin Schnapper, president of MSI Security Systems Inc., Kearny, N.J.

Skill at interpreting needs and concerns of a system separates top system integrators from what one integrator calls kit builders.

Steven Eisensmith, system sales engineer with Controlled Access Inc., Moorestown, N.J., creates solutions by developing scenarios. "What is the primary goal?" he asks. "Do you want to protect people? Do you want to protect property? If a client wants a lobby camera to watch who comes into the building, then he is more concerned with protecting people. If he wants to watch people leaving, then he is more interested in protecting property."

Needs are not always obvious

Top integrators study needs before making system decisions. Sometimes, clients don't understand their needs well enough to get it right on the first go-round.

Jim Webster, an account manager with Controlled Access, worked through three concepts before arriving at the right badging system for the North American headquarters of the Union Bank of Switzerland in New York City.

"Union Bank asked for a badging system that could be integrated with their existing systems," Webster says. The client specified two unique needs. First, bank executives wanted to use the photos and the data from the badging system in their Internet directory of employees. Second, they wanted a badging system that would not require employees working in remote locations to trudge over to the badging center.

Webster focused on the remote badging concern first, developing a system that used a digital camera to capture images at a main location and at remote locations. The photo files were then returned to the central badging station.

But the transfer rate of the digital camera proved too slow. "Transferring the image into their software application took between 30 seconds and a minute," Webster says. "That was too long to handle a large number of employees efficiently, so we took the camera back and replaced it with a Sanyo 3964 video camera with a board that outputs in digital, NTSC and SVHS formats.

"To further speed the process, we integrated a notebook computer into the system," says Webster. "They could go out into the field, videotape the employee, download the image into the notebook computer, manipulate it and send it back to the badging center through existing wall jacks."

That solved the time problem, but the bank was unhappy with the quality of the video on the notebook computer screen. "They couldn't tell whether the picture was of high enough quality for the Internet catalog," Webster says.

Back to the drawing board. On the third try, Webster touched all the bases. A PC-3 lunchbox computer with a Flash Point video card and a high-quality video display screen allowed the photographer to view the image and reshoot immediately, if necessary. Software in the portable computer facilitated touching up the photos and transmitting them back to the main badging center. The resulting quality satisfied the Bank's requirements for both their badging system and Internet catalog.

To integrate where none have integrated before

As the Texas Workers Compensation Insurance Fund grew, the company wanted its existing security system to come along for the ride. But it refused.

The Insurance Fund employs 2,500 people in five offices located throughout Texas: two in Austin and one each in Dallas, Houston and Lubbock.

By 1996, the Insurance Fund had outgrown its existing access control system, in which the badging system had evolved separately. As new employees came on board and old employees left, the badging system, operated on a Gateway computer, could not keep pace. "Every time we had a badge change, it had to be handled manually in separate databases, both the access control system and the Gateway system," says Monica Pankau, facilities manager for the Insurance Fund.

"They tried, but they couldn't make the two systems talk," says Al Wenzel, a systems consultant with Chubb Security Systems Inc. in Austin. The Insurance Fund's access control system controls 120 perimeter doors. In some cases, those doors are located on contiguous floors in a high-rise; in other cases, the doors take up only part of a single floor and are isolated from other offices.

The host computer for the system resides in Austin, and the system operates without the supervision of security guards.

With the old access control and badging systems, a terminated employee could use his or her badge at any facility that had not updated its readers. Lost cards also posed a problem. Anyone finding a lost card could simply paste a new picture onto the card and gain access. There was no easy way to turn the card off.

Chubb developed and integrated a new system. It includes Software House photo badging software, an off-the-shelf product that runs on a Macintosh computer. The Mac communicates directly with the access control host, a Micro-Vax, which controls 120 new Indala readers installed at the perimeter doors. Pankau can add new cards and cancel old ones from either system. Either way, the entire system gains immediate access to the new information. Pankau liked the concept but questioned its security - the multi-office, Insurance Fund network ran off of both hardwire and the telephone network. Could hackers get into the badging system? Chubb handled that concern with a firewall.

"The new system enables the Insurance Fund to verify employment," Wenzel says. "If someone shows up without a badge in any office, a supervisor can access the system, check the picture, verify that the person is an employee and is who he or she claims to be. The supervisor can then issue a temporary badge.

"If the person has been terminated, that information only needs to be entered once, from any terminal in any office on the network. Lost cards require nothing more than a phone call to deactivate the card throughout the system."

A token ring connects the host system in Austin to the rest of the system through a TCP-IP address, which is where the firewall protection is required.

Reverse Integration

Sometimes, existing systems can be tailored to handle new concepts.

One East Coast insurance company had installed a sophisticated access control system designed to protect against unauthorized entry.

The system did its job well, but failed, however, to prevent unauthorized exit. The company had a series of protected emergency exits. Laptops were disappearing, and the security manager suspected that a particular door was being used, based on its intense alarm history.

The manager called DEI Integrated Security and Control Systems in Baltimore for help.

"The first question I ask any client is: 'What end result do you want?'," says Tom Steg, president of DEI. "Then I work backwards through systems and applications to get to the goal."

In this case, the client's goal was to find out quickly and easily who was using that door. Steg surveyed the system, which included many CCTV cameras scanning parking lots and other areas outside the building. Many of the cameras used pan/tilt mounts.

"A person will play with pan and tilt, by watching it go back and forth and timing his or her exit for when the camera points away," Steg says.

With that in mind, Steg turned to the matrix switching system controlling the cameras. "It had several presets available," he says. "So we used one of them to direct a camera to adjust to a specific pan/tilt/focus aimed right at the door whenever the alarm went off."

At the same time, the system activates a time-lapse VTR and records the incident. This satisfies the "quick and easy" part of the assignment. "We could have put a full-time VTR on that camera," Steg notes. "But that would have required reviewing hours of tape. With the time-lapse VTR, set to activate when the alarm goes off, the client only has to review exceptions."

The concept worked, and the thieves were caught. The client has 60 cameras within range of 100 doors. "Not all of the doors need watching, but the company can add doors to the system as necessary," Steg says.

Steg's solution proves an important point: Throwing money at a problem usually solves it, but it's far less expensive to throw ideas at the problem to find the cleanest, lowest-cost solution. That's the difference between a system integrator and a kit-builder.

5% keys to effective communication between security providers and buyers John Wood, a systems engineer with Chubb Security in Austin, Texas, lists five keys to establishing solid relationships with clients. Wood's list works in reverse, too. If you are a security manager looking for a systems integrator, these ideas can help you evaluate your supplier.

1.Honesty. Integrators must be explicitly honest about what a piece of equipment and what a system will do.

2.Education. Many systems integrators today hire salespeople off the street and send them out to sell security systems. This doesn't work in a consultative business like ours. Clients expect systems house people to answer questions on the spot.

3.Interpreting needs. Sometimes a client will ask for an access system to guard a door, when a camera is what is needed to solve the problem. You have to define the problem before you can solve it. Simply buying a list of specified equipment does not get the job done.

4.Know your product. One client had 11 security alarm panels in their building. All those panels made it impossible to figure out which alarms were set and which were not. As a result, they had a lot of false alarms. We solved that problem by integrating all of the alarms into a Radionics 9112 alarm panel, which allowed the guard in the security office to control the alarms from one location.

5.Communication between installation and sales. In many systems houses, the installers and salespeople are at war. Antipathy between these two sides always squeezes the client. You can't satisfy a client's needs when you do that.

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