Nov 1, 2004 12:00 PM

The security control room, or Security Operations Center, is often seen as the "trophy" of an integrated security management system. Senior management likes to see lots of flashing lights and Star Wars-like command consoles to help them feel better about their sizeable security investment. But does a lot of flash and noise equal effectiveness?

The most important consideration for a control room must be usability. New digital systems are making the old model ! a bunch of video monitors and less-than-vigilant security personnel ! increasingly obsolete.

To design the type of security control room needed to address today's security needs and budgets, technology must be used to maximize the utility of the control room. Considerations such as cabinetry, ergonomic chairs, lighting, white boards, shredders and other accessories are also important.

Communication and command centers are at the heart of any security operation. Think of the average security control center: various alarms coming in, activity displayed on several surveillance monitors, roaming guards calling in on the radio, intercom feeds and the phone constantly ringing. It would seem a minor miracle if a security control room could operate with just one or two staff members. Considering non-integrated solutions and poor system layout, and the added stress on security personnel could severely reduce overall security program effectiveness. Even with effective strategic planning and proper installation, the best solutions will fail if an effective, well-planned control room is not part of the mix.
Everything and the kitchen sink

Let's examine a recent example ! a mid-sized university ! and walk through how to set up an effective security control room. The initial steps should be to determine the amount of space needed for equipment and to decide the minimum and maximum staffing required for an efficient and effective command and control room.

The first problem to avoid is the tendency for designers to throw anything and everything into the space. The following are examples of just some of the systems normally installed in the security communications and control rooms:

  • fire alarm control panels
  • video servers and DVRs
  • CCTV monitors
  • radio and communications head-end equipment
  • logging systems
  • workstations and terminals
  • key control cabinets
  • badging printers
  • 9-1-1 response equipment
  • public address equipment

How can all this great equipment fit together to make a user-friendly control center? It can't.
Functionality over quantity

The most effective control rooms are not defined by shoving every possible piece of equipment into the space. Instead, installers should start by placing all equipment that does not require hands-on attention for day-to-day operation in an equipment room connected to the command and communication center. This plan provides a cleaner, less-cluttered environment and will take some confusion out of the command center.

Next, it is good practice to position most, if not all, of the security control consoles and work surfaces in the center of the room to allow for movement on all sides and to create an open workspace ! both in feel and functionality. All workspaces should be clean in appearance, which can be accomplished by having sufficient, accessible storage areas and using wall space to hang certain equipment ! white boards, clipboards, etc. There should be one or two workstation computers per security operator position with built-in keyboards and an ergonomic task chair.

There should be one workstation PC per security operator position for the access control or ISMS (integrated security management system) GUI (graphical user interface). The workstation PC should be configured with two monitors with access control, video, fire alarm, emergency phones, intrusion detection system, lighting control, as well as building control and automation integrated into the ISMS. The integration enables quick response to an emergency such as shutting down the HVAC system due to a possible airborne contaminant from a lab or acts of terrorism. Usually, an auxiliary computer workstation is needed for any adjunct systems not integrated into the systems interface, GUI and for use of productivity software such as word processing, reporting tools like Crystal reports, and any other applications deemed necessary by the security director.

Two large displays should be positioned on the wall in front of the work area, preferably digital projectors on 7-foot screens. This will be where video is displayed for both active and non-active monitoring. Active monitoring is where the security officers actively monitor a camera or group of cameras for an incident, such as in casinos, prisons and retail environments. Non-active monitoring is where the video displayed is incident driven or controlled by automated or intelligent processes, such as motion detection, license plate capture, abandoned bag detection or facial recognition and statistical analysis. The current trend is to use a combination of both to effectively cover critical areas with active monitoring but to realize the effectiveness of intelligent video solutions to monitor for predetermined incidents; thus reducing operator fatigue and increasing response time.

With a newly effective and efficient control room, the focus should now turn to training. Without a comprehensive training program for security officers, the command center cannot operate effectively. Qualified staff are as important as the equipment installed. A training officer should be designated and certified in the administration, operation and troubleshooting of the control room's systems. Then, regularly scheduled trainings should be held for security staff on an ongoing basis.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE 8 Rules for the Control Room

Here's a summary of eight rules that will drive better design and increased functionality when embarking on setting up a new control room or re-designing an existing one.

  1. More is not better: Choose wisely what equipment goes in the operations center and what can be put out of sight.

  2. Maximize digital technology. Managing security over an IP network increases functionality, enhances integration potential and cuts down on hardware and infrastructure cost.

  3. Place the main work and monitoring functions in the center of the room to create an open environment and increase the flow of movement in the control room.

  4. Exploit integration to manage as many control functions as possible from a single GUI ! again, this reduces hardware footprint and creates greater efficiencies and effectiveness.

  5. Centralize monitors with a tiled set-up on one wall ! increases space available and intensifies focus of all personnel on what's important.

  6. Plan for sufficient, well-designed storage to reduce clutter and increase efficiency.

  7. Implement comprehensive, ongoing training to better ensure a first class security control room and overall security operation.

  8. Don't skimp on the small stuff ! good lighting, sufficient ventilation, proper chairs, adequate work surfaces, essential materials within reach ! contribute in a thousand different ways to a better working environment and more motivated employees.

James Gompers is founder of Gompers Technologies Design Group Inc. and Gompers Technologies Testing and Research Group Inc. He has more than 20 years of expertise in the security industry as a consultant from the end-user perspective. This is another in a series of columns he is writing for Access Control & Security Systems. E-mail him at

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