Special report

Who should set security standards?
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

A maturing security industry, impacted by factors ranging from the false alarm issue to emerging technologies to mandates related to government contracts, is increasingly turning its attention to the creation and adoption of standards to keep it competitive and viable.

Most observers seem in agreement that standards administered and coordinated by the American National Standards Institute, which helps develop voluntary standards in the United States, will improve the industry and its standing within the global business community, as well as that industry-specific organizations should address issues related to their members. But, they are less inclined to state which standard-writing groups should take the lead on industry-spanning topics such as premise security and alarm system installation and maintenance.

Now in the midst of a turf war is the National Fire Protection Association, which is crafting full consensus codes for buildings, which security is a part, and the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association. The NBFAA is also working to develop an installation standard, in conjunction with the Central Station Alarm Association and deploying a neutral review group, the Security Industry Standards Council, or SISC, for ovesight.

Consultant Craig Leiser, president of Kismet Group Ltd., identified three driving forces behind the move to a standards-based industry: The continuing move toward security-related licensing reciprocity among states; the need to deal with the problems and image issues caused by false alarms; and as a way of addressing the loss of “cumulative historical knowledge” as mergers and acquisitions on the manufacturing side reduce the number of industry participants.

“There has always been in any industry an opportunity to raise the bar by developing standards,” Leiser said.

Besides raising the bar, the goal is to also bring the security industry together.

“This is a fragmented industry - right now, anyone can get into the business,” said Steve Doyle, executive director of the Central Station Alarm Association. As a result, Doyle pointed out, “the rest of the industry gets tarred and feathered for the excesses of some who don’t follow standards or common practices.”

Doyle, a veteran in the non-profit sector, said he has witnessed first-hand how industries without written, comprehensive, enforced standards have failed. “No industry ever survived by dumbing down to the lowest common denominator,” he said. “Survival means having standards.”

CSAA, which is an ANSI-accredited standards developer, has written several standards aimed at central station operators over the past seven years and has others in the works, including those on disaster planning and management and double verification. A standard addressing licensing and reciprocity is currently on hold.

“We feel strongly about standards - the higher the better,” he said.

CSAA also participates on both the National Fire Protection Association’s Premise Security Technical Committee and as a member of SISC. SISC serves as a balanced, consensus review committee for the standards-writing efforts of its participants.

For the Security Industry Association, also a SISC member, its standards-development efforts are part of a $1 million investment, said R. Hunter Knight, president of Integrated Command Software and chairman of SIA’s Standards and Technology Permanent Committee.

“Our interest and our commitment to standards today are (focused on) changing the way the industry is structured and how we see it,” Knight said. He said SIA’s Open Systems Integration and Performance Standards project are the result of requests by government agencies to create standards for security products.

“The government has indicated that only products developed under these standards will be purchased by the government,” Knight noted. “Compliance with a credible set of standards has become the basis for doing business with the government.”

SIA’s current standards activity covers PIRs, communication transport mechanisms, digital video servers and the interface between computer network security and physical security systems, Knight said.

And Knight foresees further spin-offs from some of these.


Meanwhile, as standards-setting activity continues to mount, it is the activity of the NFPA and the NBFAA on broad installation standards that is garnering much of the industry’s attention of late.

The perceived duplication of efforts on an alarm installation standard has observers wondering which groups have the right-of-way on certain topics, or if it’s best to let any and all develop a standard and have the industry decide which one to implement.

According to Richard Bielen, chief systems and applications engineer at NFPA, his organization has had premise security and related topics on its radar since1985, when it was approached by the insurance industry to develop a standard related to burglary and hold ups.

As a result of that request, he said, NFPA decided to tackle “full consensus codes for the building environment,” of which premise security is a part.

The development of NFPA 730, a guideline on premise security, and NFPA 731, a standard for installation, are the work of the organization’s Premise Security Technical Committee, Bielen said, which boasts several security-related organizations as members, including CSAA, SIA, ASIS International, the Virginia Crime Prevention Association, as well as groups representing electrical contractors, architects and shopping centers.

Absent from the consensus group is NBFAA. “When the project was first started,” Bielen said, “we put out a call for members. We thought NBFAA should participate. And if they asked, they could.”

Bielen said under the ANSI process, the committee needs to be balanced.

In addition to having been asked by the insurance industry to develop a security standard, Bielen said NFPA has a long history of developing standards, many of which aren’t limited to fire issues.

“When you look at the people on our committee, many have security expertise,” he said.

Still, there has been some criticism, he acknowledged, of NFPA’s decision to delve into premise security-related issues, both because of its background as a fire-related group and its use of standards as a profit center.

Scot Colby, president of the Standards Committee for NBFAA and the association’s incoming president, is one of those who has questioned NFPA’s role. “They are the life safety and fire experts, but we are the security experts,” he said.

NBFAA’s decision a couple of years ago to develop a standard on security alarm installation is aimed at its membership, Colby said. “Our members are installers,” he said, “and we felt we would be a good organization to move forward and set standards.

“People have asked why there isn’t a standard for burglar alarms,” he said, adding that having one “makes us all more professional.”

It will also help address the issue of false alarms, Colby noted, which has plagued the industry and caused many communities to institute regulations regarding them.

NBFAA has a remote station standard in the midst of the ANSI canvass process, Colby said, and is looking to address CCTV next.

As with NFPA, NBFAA’s efforts would result in an installation standard that could be adoptable by local government and enforceable by AHJs.

Mark Visbal, associate director of technology for SIA, said SIA “is staying out of that arena,” referring to the installation stardard-developing process.

In fact, SIA Standards Committee Chairman Knight questioned whether any group could come up with a standard to address such a broad topic. “I think there are some out there who think they can write a global, canonical standard. I’m interested to see what they come up with,” he said.

CSAA’s Doyle acknowledged there are competing interests at work in the development of an installation standard, and it will eventually be up to the marketplace to decide which standard is most appropriate.

“There are so many competing interests for so many reasons, I’m not sure who will be first (with a standard) or even if being first is best.”

Doyle said if SISC members can arrive at a consensus standard written by NBFAA, “then that’s what our guys will go by.”

Although some are viewing NFPA and NBFAA as writing overlapping standards, Lou Fiore, owner of L.T. Fiore Inc. consultancy, and a member of both the NFPA’s committee and the outgoing chairman of SISC, said the installation standards being developed “will probably not conflict.”

The NFPA’s committee, he said, “is taking a global view,” which he said he sees as enhancing what NBFAA is working on.

Leiser of Kismet Group also views NFPA’s efforts as worthwhile, based on its history as a standards-developing organization and its credibility with end users. “[The NFPA] is a good place to have a toe in the alarm (standards) water,” he said.

However, Leiser is less supportive of NBFAA’s efforts, calling the group a “toothless tiger” that is made up primarily of state BFAAs that “give lip service” to what the national group is doing.

Rather, he said an organization such as SIA, “which represents a broader spectrum of technical expertise,” could effectively author an installation standard with input from CSAA and NBFAA “on intermediate user needs.”

For Fiore, the bottom line is that standards are needed, both to assist the manufacturer who is developing products for an increasingly sophisticated industry and for those who must install and use the product.

“We would have better products if we’d had standards early on,” Fiore said.

But Leiser said the history of the industry has precluded the type of cooperation needed to get broad, systemswide standards in place. “The industry has always had a parochial, localized, independent bent,” he said. While there has been an undercurrent to have a overseer organization representing all interests of the industry, “no one is willing to give up their turf,” he said.

Ideally, he said, efforts should be symbiotic, “requiring everyone involved to make it work.”
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