Integrated Security

Based on my visit to ISC West 2008, I have the impression that security is one of the fastest growing areas of integrated building systems. While the general construction industry marketplace may have slowed in the past year, security demand has maintained a steady growth since Sept. 11, 2001.

Security systems, by their very nature, use integration. Except for local card entry locks, there’s hardly an area of security systems that doesn’t require an integrated approach. Physical access control is becoming much more than a simple lock. For example, the lock also can be tied in with a biometrics ID system.

“Examples include the use of an ID card or [personal identification number] in conjunction with a physical characteristic. The biometric component of the process is to compare a stored biometric template to a real-time scan of an eye, finger, or some other body part,” wrote Allan B. Colombo in the June 2008 SECURITY + LIFE SAFETY SYSTEMS Security Focus. That means the door lock requires communication with a server that has stored the template data.

Video is another security system that relies on communication. High-resolution digital CCTV was one of the highlights at ISC West. This type of system permits easy access to stored images and computer analysis of the images, which aids in deciding to focus on an individual or location or to send a warning message or alarm. Once data and control are moving on a communication link, they can easily tie in with other systems, such as the fire alarm system, the lighting control system, the HVAC system and computer access control, to name a few.

The projected expansion of power over Ethernet (PoE) is a very important development in the integration of security with other building systems. The major building data communication link is Ethernet, whose power will be increased by the proposed enhancement of PoE, to probably 30 watts, per the proposed IEEE Standard, 802.3AT, as compared to the existing 12.9 watts called for in 802.3AF. With this kind of power in an Ethernet cable, it is possible to operate door locks and cameras with the same cable that ties them into the building’s LAN—a real selling point that is going to further stimulate an integrated approach. Ethernet will be distributing both data and usable power.

Although developments in biometrics will enhance the use of communications, there is at least one trend counter to that: the use of smart cards carrying a person’s biometric data. A smart card reader compares the data stored on the card with the live data read by the biometric scanner—no need to transport the information back and forth from a server. This is essentially a high-tech return to the local card-entry lock, but there are some problems that will slow the growth of this particular technology. If your card is lost or stolen, someone can gain access to your personal biological identifier, and it’s a major hassle to replace it. Practically speaking, smart cards will be used only as part of a larger, layered security system.

The installation of sophisticated access control systems in commercial buildings is a new trend toward systems convergence. Honeywell’s Lobbyworks is a good example. It scans a photo ID, business card or passport ID of an arriving visitor, then instantaneously checks whether the visitor is expected or has been in the facility before and makes sure the visitor is not on a watch list. After scanning the information, it takes a digital photo or captures the visitor’s signature. It then can contact the visitor’s host by phone, e-mail or with real-time network messaging.

The Indiana State Museum’s Panasonic installation ( is a much more complex example. It involves more than 130 cameras distributed through two separate buildings, all of which download their data into a digital video recorder (DVR) system, using Panasonic proprietary software.

“The networked DVRs provide us with a tremendous degree of versatility,” said James Toler, the museum’s security manager. “We can assign any camera to record on any DVR via PC control. We have the ability to call up any camera recording from virtually any PC located here in the facility, virtually anywhere in the world.”

This type of system expands the communication from a mere Ethernet LAN to worldwide monitoring and control over the Internet. In addition, this surveillance system integrates all critical security functions, such as alarm, fire and access systems, allowing the security staff to simultaneously monitor all systems from the centralized security command center.

“If an alarm is sounded, the signal automatically activates the Panasonic system to bring up cameras located in the affected area, so we can instantly view the incident,” Toler said. “We also have the capability to control all the lights throughout the entire building, as well as the HVAC system. Facility management also has a similar monitoring station in their offices in the event they see a condition that warrants attention, such as humidity control in the exhibits area.”

When we combine the scope of the new integrated security and life safety systems, we can use specific notification systems to let the building occupants know what is going on and how to properly react. Integration and security are powerful tools for improving everyone’s safety.

BROWN is an electrical engineer, technical writer and editor. He serves as managing editor for SECURITY + LIFE SAFETY SYSTEMS magazine. For many years, he designed high-power electronics systems for industry, research laboratories and government. Reach him at

About the Author

Edward Brown

IBS Columnist and Freelance Writer
Edward Brown is an electrical engineer, freelance writer and editor who draws on his years of practical experience designing industrial processing and high-power electronics systems. In addition to writing the Integrated Building Systems column for E...

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