Public places need easy access—and reliable security

For those of you who are in charge of security at a museum, or any other public facility that allows unrestricted public access, it’s a tricky environment in which to provide protection and detection. In the post-9/11 world, security in public places has been upped to the point that entering city hall or your local congressman’s office building might be as daunting a task as attempting to board an airplane. Metal detectors are the first, most obvious signs of access restrictions. However, if you have tried to enter the back door to a judge’s chambers, you have also discovered that security locks are used increasingly to restrict access to sensitive areas or people.

An expert in the security for public places, Andrew Turk is chairman of the Museum, Library and Cultural Property Council of the American Society of Industry Security (ASIS). This Alexandria, Va., organization is dedicated to providing members with information and educational resources in the security field.

Turk most recently served as associate director of security and safety at New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Now a consultant, he is working on a $60 million project at the United Nations that includes evaluating and developing new security systems.

The industry is moving to a “one card does it all, multiple-program approach,” he said, that will provide universal application. For the electrical contractor, an increasing awareness of security risks translates to the deployment of state-of-the-art hardware and software for new construction and retrofit applications.

Museums like the AMNH present a prime example of the types of risks planners face. Of the hundreds of interior and exterior doors, many must be fitted with restrictive locking devices or access control. Similarly, windows must be secured. There is also a need to prevent prying fingers from accessing cabinetry and the wares inside. Finally, laptops and computers also need a helping hand of protection.

Like most public facilities, city hall and the county courthouse are like museums and art galleries in that they are magnets that attract a crowd, whether it is to see valuable artifacts or purchase a permit to construct a septic field.

“Many of these facilities are essentially open 24/7,” Turk said. “In the last five years, new technology has become a major part of renovations and retrofits,” he said. “But the challenge for electricians is operating in an environment that may include marble or stone walls and historical sites, so traditional methods of connecting devices is impossible or impractical.”

Turk said that as a result, there is an increase in the installation of wireless devices, including touch detectors, force fields and equipment that measures volumetrics, the change in pressure on a display case when someone attempts to open a lid or a door, for instance.

In these environments, copper wire and fiber optic cables are not efficacious. Neither are uniformed guards, whose primary responsibility may be doing checks of visitors and acting as safety officers in the event of an emergency.

In addition to the obvious need for high-tech monitoring devices, a need exists for an emergency electrical system. In a museum, an electrical failure could disturb the mechanical system that controls temperature and humidity, which must be carefully controlled so as not to damage the artifacts. On a more universal scale, a power outage affects the ability of the security staff to perform the functions necessary to control the video equipment and elevators and more.

“The key for the electrician is to be creative,” Turk said, “and become a member of a team of architects, engineers and end-users responsible for the purchase and installation of these types of systems.”

No longer simple key and bolt mechanisms, locks are considered “limited access devices,” concluded Mark Berger, president of the Securitech Group Inc., Maspeth, N.Y. Berger said “in the public arena, it’s no longer a matter of having a door knob or limited access control with keypads. Special considerations must take into account both access and egress and situations for those with physical impairments.

“We have a unique ability to test innovations in door locks,” he said. “In principle, the industry is concerned with a multitude of potential risks, including life safety, alarms, access control, smoke and fire containment, and overall protection.”

Berger’s firm specializes in developing products that are unique and subtle. The firm develops invisible switches built into door handles; signaling devices that replace an electric release; electric release in a door’s trim, rather than the instrument; and dual locking systems that use mechanical and electromagnetic locks for emergency exits.

Along with talking to specialists on the manufacturing side of the field, head for city hall, or a museum, and poke around to find the opportunity. EC