Integrating technology with design

Monday, October 1, 2007

Today end users understand that integrated security systems reduce the cost of providing essential security services. Integrated systems permit more economical and efficient use of manpower usually assigned to building patrols and fixed guard posts. In fact, integrated systems have become electronic extensions of security services by allowing remote monitoring of critical locations at a lower initial equipment cost versus continuing manpower expenditures.
The next step for integrators is to fully take advantage of environmental and architectural design strategies to deliver security to end users, in the process possibly reducing cost and gaining the trust of long-term partners.
Whenever a new building is being constructed, security design and technology should be planned in advance, but that is often not the case. While architects and contractors have always been aware of the need for security in buildings, many fail to plan ahead and install the system when it is easiest to do so, before the building shell is complete. The failure to plan ahead can result in potentially significant additional expenses and time, and open the possibility for litigation due to negligence.
Often, an electrical engineer, and not an electronics specialist, designs fire alarms and building automation systems. The design profession can be of the mindset that security is much like the telephone company, in that you construct the building, and then request that the security contractor come and install their equipment. Today's facilities require far more planning and design. Architects, engineers and security professionals must all communicate and coordinate their specific requirements with each other, but they do not need to do each other's jobs. Clearly we must appreciate what each one has to offer to the design process and not interfere.
The architectural process has a lot to offer the security designer, but first the architect needs to fully understand the requirements and implications of integrating security into the built environment. Security integrators must encourage their customers, the heads of security departments, to make sure they are involved in the planning of the new building or renovation. Much to your surprise, you may be invited to attend the next week's architectural presentation design meeting.
At this meeting, the architect will have plastered the walls with schematic design drawings and color renderings of his or her newest creation. As you look over the plans for spaces or features identified as "security," you might begin to get that sinking feeling. The entrance lobby looks way too small for your screening equipment, there is no security command center, the generator and fuel tank are placed against the side of the building--the issues go on and on. This process is repeated nationwide, day after day, in hundreds of buildings.
It gets worse: Since the architecture firm never considered the multiple sites of the client, they have only concerned themselves with the current project being renovated. However, as is true with most locations, each possible site has attributes that may help or hinder the security plan, and you may want to make sure the network and the access control work both in New York and Kalamazoo.
The correct approach is to determine positive and negative aspects of each site attribute and then associate an overall cost with your security plan, taking into account what technology is absolutely necessary.
For instance, one site may be adjacent to a river that provides a natural barrier against vehicular intrusion, thus eliminating the need for bollards, while another site has absolutely no defined perimeter from its neighbors and is accessible on all sides. Since the proposed facility is concerned with this type of threat, the countermeasure cost on the first site is minimal, while at the second site the client will need to make a significant investment in aesthetically pleasing barriers. Sometimes the process leads to logical solutions and sometimes it does not; however, the early development of a security program does avoid last-minute and costly surprises. Developing the security program is where one-on-one meetings with the architect can provide the most effective communication of the security programmatic needs and security systems functional requirements. The architect and/or engineers may also have concepts that they have used on other sites that may be relevant or applicable for this new job.
The greatest challenge is to keep the planning and design process from getting too far ahead of you and your customer, the security director. Depending on the contract the architect/engineer has with the client, any change order may incur additional costs to the job. If the end client intends to sign-off on each of the design and security drawings, it is important to make sure the security director/consultant is part of that process, so that the changes, recommendations, or alterations are incorporated prior to the end client's acceptance.
If a functional security design system is not carefully planned and programmed, the security features in a building can become non-functional and very expensive, useless hardware. In the past, the security systems did not "talk" to each other. It was understood that the security guard who was monitoring the security equipment knew that door number 8 is associated with intercom station number 3, and was viewed by camera 19. In the past, the closed circuit television system had a wall-of-monitors that usually provided more heat for the room they resided in than actual security for the facility. Typically the monitoring equipment was piled up on top of itself, with little concern for ergonomic design. The security equipment was designed and placed as an after-thought. How do we avoid making the same mistakes again?
We should go back to the architectural process, specifically the programming phase. If function really does drive form, then the security consultant and systems designer must consider the mission of the space and users in the finest detail. If the architectural program accounts for the space and functionality of each item that requires square footage in the facility, then security needs must be considered with the same foresight as electrical equipment, lighting systems, fire safety systems, accessibility equipment and acoustical treatment.
Architects and engineers who know the value of a functional integrated system that includes electronic intrusion, perimeter protection, interior space protection, and access control devices can be much more effective in producing better asset protection programs that are cost-effective and reduce staffing levels. The complex nature of hardware and technology systems present complications for building owners responsible for determining which equipment is used, where it is used, and which systems will most effectively meet their safety and security needs. The only viable, cost-effective approach to crime reduction and risk mitigation in any environment is a fully integrated system incorporating the technology into the architecture.
Randall I Atlas, Ph.D., AIA, CPP, is vice president of Atlas Safety and Security Design, Inc., in Miami, Florida. He is a member of the AIA Architecture for Justice Committee and ASIS Security Architecture and Engineering Council. Dr. Atlas is a CPTED trainer for the Institute of Community Security and Public Safety, University of Louisville and is a professor at Florida Atlantic University School of Architecture. Look for more of his writings in his new book titled 21st Century Security and CPTED: Designing for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Crime Prevention, published by Francis and Taylor. He can be reached at