Establishing a common protocol to make it easier for systems to work together is a major goal of the security systems sector. Consider what Ian Johnston, CTO, IqinVision, wrote in the Winter 2010 issue of the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) newsletter: “Today’s jumbled mass of protocols and software interconnects are now inhibiting the momentum that [Internet protocol] devices have built over the last 24 months. Standardization is the next logical step in the maturation of these devices.”

The high cost of setting up a traditional integrated security system is one of the key factors driving this movement. Using open protocols would make it easier to integrate security, not only with other building systems but also with business systems. In this way, IP would enable the systems to share both data and infrastructure, which reduces the cost of installation and programming. It also improves the enterprise’s efficiency and productivity.

What would this do?
Access control could exchange useful information with human resources (HR). For example, a swipe of a key card could cross-reference HR’s personnel list to see whether that person is still employed by the company. An interconnection between access control and the network manager could compare virtual private network (VPN) and access data and send an alert if a certain person supposedly entered the building or logged onto the VPN from outside.

Smart card usage in colleges is another prime example. Some schools issue each student a single ID card, which uses radio frequency identification (RFID) plus a barcode, so it can be used for multiple purposes, such as access control, purchases in the cafeteria and school bookstore, and even as a library card.

Large organizations that have multiple subsystems usually adopt integration at this level. If the subsystems are integrated at a high level and can share a common protocol, a command center can be established to present a unified operating picture. Facilities personnel, therefore, won’t have to be trained in the different systems if all of the interfacing is done at a central location with similar reporting and control techniques. But even more important, much of the building operating status can be seen and understood as part of a single picture.

Standard organization
PSIA is one of the organizations working toward the goal of promoting interoperability of security system devices (www.psialliance.org). Supported by a number of the big players in the field, the alliance develops and publishes standard IPs for security devices.
“PSIA’s goal is to enable the interoperability of an end-to-end IP solution, from video and access control to intrusion and analytics,” said David Bunzel, executive director.

Manufacturers who adhere to the PSIA standards know that they will be able to seamlessly interact with any other PSIA device, regardless of the manufacturer. This interaction will help the industry grow. Until now, most manufacturers have their own protocol for controlling their own cameras, so custom application programming interfaces (APIs) are needed to interact with them.

“The goal of PSIA is to develop interoperable solutions. Each specification that is developed is another step toward ensuring IP-based technologies will come together and work seamlessly with other systems such as intrusion, building management, and fire and life safety,” Bunzel said.
Building information

As security systems evolve toward using standard IP, they will become a normal part of the overall building management and business information networks. There are two basic attitudes about this kind of integration. The first is that security should have a separate network, and the second is to use what already exists, since most organizations already have a network infrastructure.

There are some problems with this second approach. The most obvious is the need to segregate security data. Also, almost all security systems include streaming video, which requires a great deal of bandwidth. This could bring down an entire network if it is not managed properly.
For now, networks are generally kept separated but with communication pathways between them. But as people get smarter about how to manage the video, that data is being stored on the corporate network.

What needs to be done?
Two goals make a lot of sense. The first is to use integration to generate a real-time picture of a building’s condition, which will be included in an enterprise business information system. The second goal is to use standardization to bring down the costs of integration so its benefits become available to small-scale users. These benefits are more than purely economic; they can make valuable contributions to life safety and quality of life.


BROWN is an electrical engineer, technical writer and editor. For many years, he designed high-power electronics systems for industry, research laboratories and government. Reach him at ebeditor@gmail.com or at www.writingengineer.com, an independent professional writing service.