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Security blanket

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Instead of being viewed as an add-on, security systems are now central to the future of intelligent, integrated buildings

Anyone who can confidently say what a building currently under construction will be used for 10 years from now is either gifted or foolhardy.

Society is increasingly fluid; new companies, new organisations and new ways of working are constantly being developed, and facilities must reflect this. But how do we ensure that the burgeoning desire for security - and security systems - can adapt quickly and consistently to the changing circumstances?

Today, security is a grudge purchase for most facility owners and operators. It neither adds revenue nor reduces cost. Additional staff are often required to operate the systems. To act as a deterrent, security must be obvious enough (and sometimes ugly enough) to be noticed.

Most senior directors of a company only pay attention to security when something goes wrong, like a burglary or a fire. Little wonder it is nobody's favourite purchase.

But security, like most building systems, is changing. Outwardly it is blending in - unsightly ironmongery to support pan-and-tilt camera mechanisms are being replaced by ceiling-mounted acrylic domes and large card-swipes are giving way to more attractive radio-frequency proximity readers for access control.

Less obviously, more radical changes are happening beneath the surface at the control level. Instead of rigid, stand-alone systems with limited functionality, security is blending into the intelligent and integrated building: adding value and functionality while adapting easily and painlessly to a continuously changing working environment.

Today's systems The four main electronic security systems in use today are fire detection, intrusion detection, access control and CCTV. Each uses very different technology for its function. In most buildings, each is bought separately - often at different times to guard against different threats. Fire detection and control is usually mandatory, with regular inspection of the system by a regulatory authority. Commercial intrusion detection systems are usually linked to a central station alarm monitoring service and in larger facilities may be supplemented by a manguarding service. Access control often comes later - as a result of incidents in the building, such as theft of lap-top computers by walk-in thieves. CCTV is increasingly used for alarm and incident verification, and image recording can give an audit trail for subsequent investigation.

Today's methods for acquiring 'security' are sub-optimal. Building layout and operations are usually defined first and security is fitted in around that. This is not going to change. In fact, it will accelerate as companies restructure and move more frequently.

Environment pressure Some architects and clients might be surprised to know that, during the first 15 years of operation, initial construction costs can account for less than 30 per cent of the total cost of ownership.

Since local taxes are usually proportional to the area occupied, every square metre adds to the total cost.

Not only must a building be created, clad and carpeted but it must be welllit, heated and secured.

The American EnergyStar program has identified improved control of buildings as one the major ways to reduce energy consumption and the resulting savings can be considerable. In the US, heating, ventilation and air conditioning accounts for about 40 per cent of energy use in the typical office and a further 30 per cent goes in lighting.

The Building Owners and Managers Association estimates that potential savings in electricity costs for a typical city office building can amount to more than $205,000 per annum, while at the same time these savings can increase the value of the building by more than $2.5 million. In Europe, with higher energy costs, the savings could be even greater.

Intelligent buildings The goal of the intelligent, integrated building is to achieve cost savings while increasing flexibility and functionality. Practically there are three problems to solve: connecting devices together; devising a language they all can speak; and then adding some intelligence.

Structured cabling is now ubiquitous, cheap and reliable. Pulling individual cables through a building for different systems should really be a thing of the past. Almost all computers use Ethernet to attach to the company network. The costs of adding Ethernet IP (Internet Protocol) connectivity to devices is very small - certainly lower than running a separate cable to connect them.

Connectivity is one thing but devices, like people, must speak the same language in order to communicate. A common protocol is required.

The building services industry has developed a number of communication and command protocols. In recent years, there has been a movement to consolidate these to simplify choice and open the market. At present there are three protocols which are pulling away from the rest:

LonWorks®, BACnet® and Konnex.

Each has a devoted following, with some manufacturers offering products for all three. However, they are mutually incompatible and it seems unlikely that just one of them will prevail in the short term. The security industry, due to its fragmented nature, has yet to adopt any of these protocols as a standard. Developments in IT will now overtake these older protocols to provide a single IP-based framework for building automation.

Once devices and systems talk to each other, software must be added to provide intelligence. A camera may show the image of an office worker, for example, but it takes software to perform facial recognition, and then signal to the building system the location of a particular person. Most current security software only deals with its own area of responsibility, such as intrusion detection or access control. To achieve the required benefits, older programs need to be integrated into a larger whole.

IT shows the way A generation ago, the IT industry was facing similar problems to building services. In the 1980s, companies chose one supplier for their computer needs and stuck with them for everything: processors, storage, printers and software - to do otherwise was suicide.

Each company used its own jealously guarded command and communication protocols. Not only could one company's processors not connect to another's printers, to do so would invalidate the warranty of both.

Today we have a hardware level playing field. The PC (originally an IBM design) is an industry standard - no matter who you buy them from, they work in the same way. This is complemented by the Windows operating system from Microsoft. Open competition between suppliers has brought prices down to the benefit of end-users, and at the same time, a single standard for connectivity - IP over Ethernet - has prompted an explosion in connectivity.

The same is now happening for software. For years, incompatibility between different programs in a company caused mistakes and extra expense. Output from one software package was usually incompatible with input from another.One solution was for a human operator to retype the data in - usually with mistakes.

Another alternative was a special translation program which often cost more than the original software.

Faced with such dilemmas, the industry has developed an open platform to allow intercommunication of data and instructions. It is based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language, a very similar language to HTML that powers your Internet browser). At the core, this is a simple human-readable notation and the language can be adapted for any industry including building automation. For example, an alarm notification would be represented by 'alarm time=fi12:45fl location=firear loading bayfl'. This simple message is easy to send over a network or as an SMS message to a mobile phone - both operator and computer can understand and act on it. Using XML, the IT industry has developed Web services based on open standards. They offer the powerful technology to implement intelligent, integrated buildings.

Tomorrow's security In tomorrow's building the security devices (detectors, card readers, cameras, displays etc) will all be connected to a single network along with the other parts of building automation (HVAC, lighting, elevators etc). The entire building will then be configured and controlled as a single system. Instead of trying to control separate operations which might conflict, the facilities manager and security manager will be able to cooperate. For example, motion detectors, which usually only operate at night to catch intruders, can now signal which offices are unoccupied for energy conservation purposes.

Changes to the building layout or function are easily accommodated.

Freed from dedicated wiring, security devices can easily be relocated and connected to the network. The entire system can be reconfigured centrally.

Before very long, adaptable, intelligent, integrated buildings will become the norm, and electronic security systems have a crucial role to play by working with monitoring systems for safer, more cost-effective facilities. Already, networks and control protocols are converging to allow all system elements to easily connect and intelligently inter-operate. As a result, buildings will continuously and painlessly adapt to the changing needs of their occupants.

Peter Manolescue works for SecurityXML in Belgium. Email manolescue @pandora. be or visit www. security xml. com

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