There’s more to security system work than installing a few cameras and card readers in a building, but to understand the depth of security systems work, you have to understand what drives it.

The first major trend driving security system design, according to Keith Kushner, director, security engineering and technology for TRC Cos. Inc., Irvine, Calif., is improved convergence with information technology (IT) products and architectures, that is, the proper assimilation of security products with existing and new networks.

“In addition, there appears to be progress toward installing applications and data in virtual and cloud environments,” he said.

Another trend, the broad distribution of intelligent data-gathering system components, puts system devices on the “edge” of a network and decentralizes system control.

“A major question concerning decentralized system design is whether the edge devices and their data infrastructure are secure from all forms of attack,” he said.

Also, improvements in detection and imaging technology support a secured environment better than ever before.

“Cameras are supporting much more sophisticated imaging and intelligence capabilities at reasonable price points, and more recently, IP [Internet protocol] security cameras equal much of the performance and physical construction parameters of the more robust analog security cameras,” Kushner said.

Furthermore, video analytics is at the edge of becoming widespread; however, as Kushner said, “Processing power and rejection rates of unwanted alarms still need to improve.”

In general, according to Kile Unterzuber, vice president of business development and training for Security Management Consulting, Raleigh, N.C., the industry continues to seek total system integration, particularly of video systems with access control and intrusion detection.

“The goal of system integration is to have the ability to use common databases, increase user flexibility, link information between the systems, and to have the security system operate and look similar to other building systems,” Unterzuber said.

The challenge in the market now, however, is that it is difficult to integrate video surveillance systems because of issues, such as noninteroperability, the high demands of video surveillance systems for IP bandwidth, and the fact that IP cameras are a specialized component that require skills that don’t necessarily overlap electrical contractors’ existing expertise.

According to Unterzuber, security system commissioning is similar to commissioning electrical systems; although, it may include specialized testing requirements for certain equipment. However, he believes it would be an easy adaptation for an EC to make.

“Any electrical contractor used to working in commercial applications can use the instructions that come with the security equipment to develop excellent acceptance protocols,” he said.

Kushner, however, believes that security system providers and electrical contractors should not be looking at commissioning as merely an acceptance testing activity.

“There is still an overall lack of clarity as to the difference between functional/acceptance testing and a true commissioning process,” he said.

The complete commissioning process seeks to guarantee that a system operates properly, that it properly addresses vulnerabilities, that it can be supported adequately in the future and that staff members can use it effectively.

“If full commissioning were a requirement, it would result in a much more effective system and help smooth the path to full integration,” Kushner said.

Need-to-know basis
According to Unterzuber, there are several areas of specialized knowledge an electrical contractor needs to have to be considered for security work, including being an authorized dealer of the manufacturer’s products being specified for the project, an understanding of the operating system of computer-based components, database management, data networks and switches, and IP configuration.

“Electrical contractors need to be able to seamlessly deliver varied levels of expertise to the customer and need to understand that security system work offers recurring revenue,” he said.

It’s already typical for electrical contractors to partner with fire alarm vendors who provide specialized skills and certifications, while the contractors provide manpower and knowledge of wire and raceway installation.

“The same opportunities exist with security vendors. These companies are best at providing final termination, testing and programming, but they don’t have the electrical contractor’s resources and experience to efficiently pull wire or install raceway,” Unterzuber said.

John Harlow, director of global account operations for Aronson Security Group, Seattle, recommended that contractors look for integrators to partner with who want to focus more on the assessments, strategy, design and project management and less on the electrical and low-voltage implementation.

“Partnering with integrators helps electrical contractors develop both alliance and specific client strategies and expand their offerings geographically,” he said.

The security market can provide ECs with consistent work as end-users adapt to advances in technology, more cost-effective solutions appear and mandates and regulatory requirements shift.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.