More than most industries, resorts—whether for skiing, golfing or horseback riding—are vulnerable to crime and other security lapses. With multiple access points, large sprawling spaces and thousands of visitors and staff members, resorts face unique security challenges. Add to that the geographic and physical obstacles to installing an integrated security system, and it becomes a specialized area in which few but the most experienced electrical and low-voltage contractors enter.

Resorts usually begin looking for security systems in response to an incident. These incidents may not be common, but they can be costly. In May, for example, Scottsdale, Ariz., police arrested four people in connection with a scam that tricked ATMs at three luxury Scottsdale hotels into spitting out more than $100,000. Video surveillance tapes helped police nab the two men and two women suspected in the heists.

But who is providing the surveillance and access control that resorts are looking for? Vendors and intergrators provide much of it, while a handful of electrical contractors also are getting in on what is a competitive and lucrative security environment.

However, the complexity of security systems in resorts gives resort owners pause. Until recently, few resorts had more than a fire alarm system and burglar alarm at an outbuilding. But with better technology, that is changing quickly.

Typically, resorts are transitioning from systems managed by a maintenance or facilities director to technology that requires the oversight and participation of a broad group. The group, consisting of the information technology (IT) department and facilities, security and administration departments, help build a system that uses bandwidth wisely and protects the resort’s assets and its visitors.

John Becker, president, Digital Security and Electronics, Camarillo, Calif., advises any resort, whether new construction or one undergoing a security upgrade, to bring people from IT, facilities, security and administration to the initial “get acquainted” meeting with his company.

“I won’t hold a second meeting without IT,” Becker said.

Security is becoming more complex electronically, and without cooperation from IT, there are likely to be problems, he said. For one thing, security needs a lot of bandwidth, and often, it is the IT backbone that makes the security system possible at all. In addition, tracking data that comes from surveillance systems requires input from IT. And IT has another incentive to get involved in physical security. Increasingly, data security is tied into physical security, and the IT department can’t afford to have security breaches any more than the facility can.

Among new resort construction, about half already have a security system drawn into the plans and factored into the cost. That kind of proactive approach tends to happen when the architect and the resort owner have experienced security problems in the past. Without that, they don’t tend to include provisions for security.

Most new security systems include integrated access control along with a camera system that is easily accessible from several locations. Integrating systems on a resort that could include a golf course, horse stables or a ski slope is not for everyone.

“It’s not something you dabble in,” Becker said.

And, often, resort security systems can be spread over a mile or more, crossing over or through a golf course, a water park or other large open area.

Horse stables offer a unique challenge since the acidity in the stables can eat through copper wire, which makes connectivity difficult; however, security cameras and access control are essential to protect those very expensive assets.

What’s needed?

Resorts hope to prevent theft or criminal activity as well as address liability issues, such as slip-and-fall claims. Cameras can help provide that.

“I think the focus has shifted from providing archival data to loss prevention and reduction of future losses,” Becker said.

Increasingly, resorts rely on camera analytics to help with the large volume of digital footage coming from the cameras. Today, cameras commonly are programmable, allowing the user to be notified if a specific event occurs, such as the motion of putting a store product into a coat pocket, which might happen in the resort gift shop.

Several manufacturers are making products that resorts easily could put to use.

GE Security cameras installed in gift shops also can be integrated into the point-of-sale system, said Russell Bandy, director of sales for vertical markets, GE Security. That way, store owners can use the point-of-sale data to track back an event on camera, making the task of reviewing video content much easier.

Honeywell offers products that can recognize specific activities, and Digital Security and Electronics has set up a system to send an e-mail or text message to resort personnel if a specific event seems to be happening.

And for the resorts, it’s not just avoiding theft and the financial hardship that could result, but convincing guests that the facility provides a safe and secure environment.

“Resorts are a business like any other, and they face theft, shrinkage and liability concerns,” said Eric Roybal, regional CCTV sales manager, Bosch Security Systems Inc. “One of the driving forces behind getting budgeted for security is the reputational risks.”

From the resort’s standpoint, there is a level of guest experience that needs to be guaranteed. That means not leaving the guest with the impression that they and their belongings are anything less than perfectly secure.

On top of the world

Bosch recently provided a security system to Vail Ski Resort, one of the largest in the world with more than 1.6 million visitors each winter. In fall 2005, Vail began seeking ways to upgrade its analog VHS recorder and camera system with something digital, said Neil Colclough, risk manager for hospitality at Vail Resorts. The resort chose the Bosch system because it provided a hybrid solution with Internet protocol (IP) addressable technology and user-friendly video management system software that ties the entire system together.

“They also provided us with the support we needed, from the exploration phase to installation and follow-up service,” Colclough said.

Vail installed Bosch AutoDome and Dinion day/night cameras. Bosch VIP X1 single-channel video encoders convert the analog camera signals into digital format and transmit them across Vail’s network to DiBos digital video recorders. At Vail’s 24-hour communications center, an employee can monitor remote cameras and search for motion across 100 video channels.

By creating a hybrid system, Vail was able to keep much of the surveillance equipment it already had been using on the 5,289 acres of Vail resort. The IP capability makes it possible for security managers to access surveillance data from remote locations in real time that would otherwise require up to a 45-minute drive. This is especially useful, Colclough said, in cases such as wildlife closures, where an area should not be accessed by anyone other than emergency personnel. Today, if an alarm occurs at such a location, operations managers can easily access footage of what is happening there.

“The sheer nature of the geography poses challenges,” Roybal said.

The environment is large, and the equipment must be able to withstand high elevations, heavy precipitation, light winds, and even lightning strikes.

Vail has deployed cameras wherever there are common access points, such as lift lines, building entrances and exits, and outdoor structures, such as storage areas for explosives that are used for avalanche control.

“That led to an intrusion system integrated to the video system,” Roybal said.

Vail’s camera feed is now piped to a central security area that also manages access control and fire alarms. Vail is unique because the company partners with four other resorts, including Breckenridge and Keystone resorts, and all five organizations can share security data.

Altogether, it took about a year to get the video deployment completed, Roybal said, connecting hundreds of cameras on slopes and around buildings. Vail, Roybal said, is ahead of most ski resorts in security technology, although he expects others in Colorado and elsewhere to begin similar installations.

“Vail has kind of paved the way,” he said.

Future plans for the system include adding IP cameras at the base of the mountain and installing a Bosch video management system for more extensive alarm handling and playback features, Roybal said. Colclough added that he is looking at expanding surveillance to much of the area lodging facilities.

Countering theft

When it comes to crime at ski areas, most theft occurs when thieves target skiers. Skis and snowboards typically are stolen when they are leaning against a wall at an entry point while the skier is inside a store or restaurant. Bandy said technology will be more commonly used to address that kind of crime in the next few years. GE Security is providing the security system for the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010 as well as at the ski slopes in Whistler, Canada.

Other new security trends relate to lift tickets. European resorts commonly use lift tags equipped with bar-coding or RFID technology, which reduce the need for staff to manually check lift tickets each time a skier ascends the slopes.

In addition, resorts increasingly are charging for parking and providing valet parking services. Guests tend to feel that, if they are paying for the parking service, they at least want a guarantee that they and their vehicle are safe. Pan/tilt/zoom cameras offer that.

“I think we see a changing dynamic,” Bandy said. “[Guests] have higher expectations for security and comfort.”

For the resort owners, maintaining that level of security may be the way they stay competitive.”

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.