Novelist E.L. Doctorow wrote, “History is the present. That’s why every generation writes it anew.” Electrical contractors can write their own history every day. They act on the increased emphasis on the electrical infrastructure and integrated building and automated components that support multiple functions within the home and office, as well as the explosion of the World Wide Web and Internet protocol (IP) products. They learn the software and information technology (IT) side of the business or partner with people in the know.

According to recent research conducted by Electrical Contractor, nearly 50,000 contractors engage in security and life safety systems, and those numbers surely will continue to rise.

There is more to this phenomenon. Electrical contractors are becoming design/build specialists that select brands and specify equipment (see August EC, page 38, “Gaining Respect with Specs”). They find the right solution tailored to the application and scalable for growth. Instead of starting from scratch, they use legacy products to help the client stay with existing equipment and within their budget by applying new software and hardware technologies that make use of the network.

The role of electrical contractors continues to evolve; they no longer simply pull wire and cable. Structural engineers and general contractors also point to the increased dependence on computer technology. The architect, end-user, IT and electrical contractor teams are huddling together to find the right solution. Creative engineering often comes into play.

The billion-dollar behemoth known as security is the place to start. It almost always is coupled with some other function, and much of the integration we see today comes from linking basic products, such as access control and closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV), or fire alarms with energy management and HVAC and door controls.

CCTV continues to drop in cost and size and is becoming the preferred solution for cities, towns and municipalities. Captures and other successes in dealing with criminals or thwarting felonious behavior have dispelled concerns over privacy.

Homeland Security endeavors

At the nation’s airports and other critical infrastructures, a new type of biometric and smart card access control technology that uses vascular technology and pre-enrolls users with an infrared scan of the back of the cardholder’s hand (Unisys Corp., Halifax, Nova Scotia) and an innovative baggage-screening device with advanced computer tomography that yields 3D images (Analogic Corp., Peabody, Mass.) are just two of the dozens of recent innovations in the news.

Connectivity and remote convenience lend credence to applications that operate over the Internet or are IP-based. American Airlines, Dallas-Fort Worth, recently announced plans to work with AirCell LLC, Louisville, Colo., to become the first U.S. airline to test the capability of providing passengers with high-speed broadband connectivity in the form of 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi.

“We understand that broadband connectivity is important to our business customers and others who want to use their PDAs and laptops for real-time, in-flight broadband communications,” said Dan Garton, American’s executive vice president of marketing. “This is part of our continuing effort to enhance the travel experience for our customers and meet their evolving needs.”

Customer needs do continue to evolve, and the advantages are for the consumer and the electrical contractor alike.

The convergence of IT and physical security is the name of the game. Robert Connaghan, director of marketing, Infinova, Monmouth Junction, N.J., advised electrical contractors to go straight to the IT department when designing and building network-based solutions and work with them as trusted partners. “The electrical contractor needs to develop new skill sets in line with the continued advent of network-ready cameras that require software programming, IP addresses and other IT-centric parameters. Their job has moved from installation to encompass programming, service and maintenance,” he said.

Create your own place in history by getting started in security and integrated and automated building functions. When you look back, you’ll know you made the right move.  EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.