Large System DesignSay what you mean
Large System DesignSay what you mean

Jan 1, 1999 12:00 PM

Whether new or retrofit, the design of large security systems presents security directors with a special set of management challenges. Chief among them is clear communication.True story: A security director hired a design firm to plan a security system for a large corporation. "I need an access control system," he said.The design firm went to work. Designers selected a badging system that could handle a large number of employees and contractors. They developed cabling schemes, looked into sophisticated management software, studied appropriate card-reader systems, checked out field panels, analyzed support hardware, sketched a security center layout, selected potential vendors in each area and, finally, made recommendations to the security director."No, no," he told them. "I want access control. You know, a guard house and a gate in the parking lot."

The cautionary tale, related by a security system designer, illustrates the importance of communication. In fact, given the different definitions that people apply to the various components of security systems, communication represents perhaps the single most important element of the security system design process.The bigger a system gets, the more important clear, consistent communication becomes, according to a number of security system designers."The simplest part of any security system is installation," says Ray Rogers, project manager for security systems and telecommunications in the Spartanburg, S.C., office of Lockwood Greene Consulting, Design and Construction. "Pulling wire through a conduit from a camera or other device back to a command center just isn't that difficult, as long as the security director and security designer have been part of the facility design process from the beginning."Because security system design is partially driven by the equipment itself, the security director needs to have the outlines of an equipment plan in mind before talking to the designers, says Patrick Finnegan, manager, security operations, for BDM International Inc., Germantown, Md.

Such a plan must answer a host of questions, each of which influences cost and performance, he says. (See sidebar, page 26)

Retrofit system planningIn most cases, large system planning and design grows more complicated when an existing system must be retrofitted. Consider what kinds of systems currently protect the corporation's facilities and whether they can be upgraded. Will they work with each other and with modern security management software applications? How are the existing systems cabled? Where is the data stored?

A security director must evaluate these questions by studying system documentation. If adequate documentation does not exist, a qualified person must look at every component in every facility and develop the documentation.

"The bigger the system, the more up-to-date the documentation must be," says Tom R. Allen, vice president for security services with the security division of Scientech Inc., Gaithersburg, Md. "System documentation cannot come from someone's memory. Poor documentation leads to more costs and maintenance during retrofitting, as well as software security breaches," he says. "We work with an automated documentation system called Network Atlas by Aperture Technologies of Valhalla, N.Y. It allows quick updates of drawings, and shows database access points and maintenance histories. It records information on terminal boxes. It also enables you to store photos of installation areas that are hard to get to once they have been closed."

The time and money required to file and then update system documentation on the computer can be high for large systems, according to Joe Barry, CPP, a senior security consultant with Scientech's office in Virginia Beach, Va. "But the cost of sorting out poor drawings of systems protecting a number of facilities can be even higher," he says.

Not only is documentation important for maintaining an installed system, it is vital to designing a retrofit security system."You must define every element of your existing system before undertaking a retrofit," says John Flanagan, a security specialist with Gage-Babcock in San Francisco. "You must understand the physical architecture and security system architecture in every building. What operating systems are in use? What hardware operates the system? Who is operating the system? What level of training do these people have?

"Sometimes, equipment has been embedded for years and the people on site have varying degrees of familiarity with it. In such cases, a person involved in designing the new system must go and look. You can't do it with phone calls. You can't ask for written reports and drawings. You have to go and look."What can be saved depends on the age of the technology, according to BDM's Finnegan. Many stand alone alarm systems dating back to 1982 provide back-end relays that allow remote alarm connections, he says. "This means you can still use those systems with many contemporary computerized systems."

On the other hand, computerized systems introduced in the late 1980s often run on proprietary software. The chances of one of these proprietary applications talking to another vendor's application today is relatively low, adds Finnegan. As a general rule, cabling must be replaced. "Most integrators I've dealt with indicate a preference for replacing the wiring," Finnegan says. "They don't mind salvaging sensors, but prefer to put in their own wiring. "In addition, existing card readers may not be compatible with a new system because of the way they handle data. Some card readers use two-wire twisted pair, and others use six-wire connections. If you are installing a two-wire system and the card readers use six wires, it may work, but it may be too expensive. In making these kinds of decisions, you have to use your best judgment. There are a lot of right ways and a lot of wrong ways to deal with these questions."

Selling and protecting the budgetSystem planning and design begins from an established budget allocation that will go up or down, depending on qualities inherent in the emerging design. System designers all note the difficulties associated with developing a $15 million system that calls for substantial budget increases over the original allocation. They also warn that the security director must maintain a constant watch on the original budget because other departments will want that money for their own needs.

"There's an art of talking to finance people, and security directors have not learned this art," Finnegan says. "Security directors can articulate why they need different technologies, but they must also address bottom-line issues."For example, explains Finnegan, the fact that cameras and bright lights in a parking lot can prevent assaults does not necessarily give a financial executive a reason to preserve or increase a security budget.

On the other hand, a security director can show that such a system will improve productivity by making employees feel more comfortable about staying longer in the evening. In addition, it is possible to show how such a syste m will reduce worker's compensation costs.

"Figures are available in all of these areas," Finnegan says. "For example, a single lawsuit may cost a company $200,000, no matter what happens. If you can show that a system will eliminate five potential lawsuits, that translates into an immediate savings of $1 million per year.

"Financial executives typically view security as an expense, but it can also reduce costs and liabilities and contribute to profits."When budgets need cutting, security costs always show up on the chopping block. Unless a security director has prepared a case, the security budget will fall. In many cases, the cost of a new or retrofitted security system will outpace the original budget and require even more aggressive lobbying by the security director.

While a small security system carries technology and installation costs, large systems have additional cost components. Design will run from 5 to 10 percent of the value of a large system, according to Flanagan of Gage-Babcock. "Designers will spend a huge amount of time," he says. "And their time will cost between $75 and $125 per hour, for design concepts, drafting and specification writing."Scientech's Allen estimates higher design costs. "I think design and engineering for large systems will run from 10 to 30 percent of the total cost," he says. "When you deal with large systems, you get into engineering overlays that are not necessary with smaller systems. Items such as documentation, configuration management, and quality assurance drive costs up.

"In addition, you must factor in maintenance costs over a 10-year life of the system. As a rule of thumb, equipment manufacturers will warrant their systems for a year, as long as necessary repairs and maintenance follow the requirements listed in the warranties."From the second year to the fifth year, you should plan on maintenance costs of about 10 percent of system cost. This money will cover spare parts inventories, preventive maintenance, and repair maintenance."Years six to 10 will cost somewhat more, perhaps up to 15 percent of the system's original cost, as you begin to see equipment failures in printers, disk drives, monitors and so on."

Security systems must fit building systemsBuilding power systems and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems can affect the operation of security systems, according to Scientech's Barry. "These are two major gremlins," he says. "We advise customers to do power surveys in their buildings, looking for harmonics, grounding problems and voltage variations that exceed manufacturers' specifications for low-voltage access control and intrusion detection systems," Barry continues. "These systems are sensitive to dirty power. "You should also look at the HVAC system. In new construction, HVAC problems have given me gray hair. I've done great designs that didn't work when they weren't coordinated with the HVAC. Once, for example, the blowers were installed after an infrared intrusion detection system and set to blow right on the sensors, creating lots of false alarms."

Talk, talk, talkAt every stage of design for large security systems, the security director must talk, asking the right questions and finding the right answers. What does this department need? Will this system concept raise costs? By how much? What acceptable alternative will lower costs? Is it worth it and is it possible to raise the budget to accommodate an enhancement? How long will it take to install, switch-over and train for system components? Is it possible to revert to the old system if the new system fails to operate as advertised?

When it comes to planning and managing the design of large security systems, the security manager's basic job is to talk - to talk to senior management about security concepts and costs; to talk to designers about security priorities and costs; to talk to integrators about schedules, switch overs and costs.Talk, talk, talk, and talk some more. Because in the design of alarge security system, talk is cheap. It is, in fact, the cheapest way to control costs and guarantee quality.

Security system planning tipsConsider the following when planning a security system, says Patrick Finnegan, manager of security operations for BDM International Inc., Germantown, Md.Priorities

* What is the top priority, personnel or property? * What kind of property must be protected? Intellectual property? Confidential information? Assets stored in a vault? * What is the available budget?Cameras * Will the system include cameras? * What will the cameras monitor? * Will cameras provide exterior coverage? * Will cameras monitor the parking lot? * What kind of lighting will go into the parking lots? Remember, high lighting levels lower the price of cameras, while low levels may require more expensive infrared cameras. Also, if the security force cannot monitor the parking lot cameras continuously, the company could face liabilities. Discuss the issue with company attorneys. * Will the closed-circuit television system integrate with the intrusion control system?Access control * What kind of access control will the system provide? * Where will it start? Will it begin as a large circle around the perimeter, with smaller circles inside limiting access to buildings, followed by zone limitations within buildings? * Will elevator access be controlled? * Will access to offices and individual workstations be controlled? * Will you restrict rest room access? If so, how? * How sensitive are the building's environmental control systems? Will they be protected? Will the command center operate the environmental controls? * Will intrusion alarms be necessary at points around the perimeter and at doors, vents, and roof hatches leading into the building? What about the zones and offices inside the building? * How will employees negotiate the access control system? Will a guard check them through? Will the doors provide card readers? If so, will they be swipe readers or proximity readers? * Will employees have single card access to all company facilities in a region, a country or worldwide? * How many employees and contractors will pass through the access control system in its first year of operation? Overall design * How and where will the decision-making data be stored, managed and sent? * What levels of growth must the system accommodate over the next decade? * Will the security system also control the fire alarm system?Finnegan recommends discussing all of these questions with senior corporate executives and department heads. Depending on the security director's level of comfort with technology and the accompanying ballpark costs, he or she may bring a security consultant on board at this stage to help make subtle judgments. For example, the criteria supplied by one department head may indicate a system designed to government standards instead of more common UL standards. Are government standards really necessary? asks Finnegan. "It is important to decide before developing a statement of work (SOW) and a request for proposal (RFP). Otherwise, the bids may not be qualified and cost overruns may result," he says.

An 11-step security design primerJohn Flanagan, security specialist with Gage-Babcock in San Francisco, suggests that security directors follow an 11-step program for designing and implementing large security systems. 1. Outline the size of the system: How many hubs, campuses, buildings, badges and transactions must the system accommodate today and 10 years from today?2. Set the necessary levels of access control for each site.3. Define the responsibilities of security departments at each company facility. Who makes what decisions? What decisions revert back to headquarters?4. Document existing system configuration, network and local architecture, and hardware.5. Define the priorities and the equipment for the new system.6. Evaluate the existing budget. How does the allocation match the basic outline of the new system and its associated costs?7. Develop plans and specifications for the new system.8. Send out requests for proposals, evaluate the cost and quality of the proposals and select vendors.9. Install and implement the new system.10. Train personnel in system operation.11. Maintain the new system to ensure a 10-year life.

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