Expanding on a previous column, System Solutions For The Design Process, here are some more details on the application attributes of alarm monitoring in a server-based access control system.

Access control system alarm monitoring, in its simplest form, is the reporting of alarm or supervisory signal transitions from normal to alarm and vice versa. Most medium- to high-end access control systems have the ability to monitor various types of alarms, such as intrusion, space protection, tamper and system supervisory, all of which are considered essential to the alarm monitoring process.

Of the alarm types listed, the only alarms I have not discussed in a previous article are the system supervisory alarms. These are usually intrinsic to the access control hardware and software. Supervisory alarms generally relate to the loss of communications between the access control server and various system components such as credential readers, control panels and client workstations. The reporting normally occurs from the monitoring point to the access control server, access control client workstation or both.

When alarm monitoring is implemented, it is obviously critical that someone be able to respond to its signal. Ideally, the system should feature a security control room with assigned personnel monitoring the system for alarms and responding accordingly. But as this is not practical in all cases, end users without the resources to provide dedicated personnel for security monitoring often have to improvise.

When implementing a centralized monitoring system, and given that you possess a dedicated and competent staff, there are several ways to execute effective monitoring of the system. Intrusion, motion and tamper alarms can be monitored at the security control room by the security staff, and supervisory alarms can be partitioned out and monitored separately by the engineering services staff at a remote access control client workstation. When the security staff receives an signal stating that the access control system has received a supervisory alarm, they can immediately respond or investigate. During that period of time, the engineering staff can query the system for information regarding the supervisory alarm and quickly mobilize to minimize system down time.

For companies with offices located in several different cities, or even multinational offices, alarm monitoring can be developed into a far more sophisticated reporting system. Companies that have a dedicated security staff may only deploy a full staff during business hours and a scaled-down crew at night or on weekends. When this is the case, the skeleton crew may be spread thin and might have to patrol and monitor at the same time. Consequently, there may be a time when the access control computer is unmanned. End user-owned digital pager and radio systems with access control system interfaces have been popular for quite a few years in this scenario. However, in some cases, these are not as practical as the commercial cellular system for use as a communication system.

Roll over the alarms

When the security staff is required to be away from the monitoring station and alarms still need to be responded to, alternative devices are necessary to facilitate the continuous monitoring of alarms. Solutions to this problem have been addressed through several creative means. For instance, when an alarm is received at a temporarily unmanned monitoring station, the system can be programmed to roll the unacknowledged alarm over to an alternate monitoring station after a predetermined amount of time has elapsed.

Additionally, the alarm can be programmed to continue to roll from monitoring station to monitoring station until the alarm is acknowledged. Of course, along with the rollover feature, there has to be accountability for not acknowledging or responding to the alarm in a timely manner. Even though the alarm has rolled over to an alternate monitoring station, the originating monitoring station has the responsibility of acknowledging the alarm and submitting a report explaining why the alarm was required to roll over, thus creating accountability.

In today’s security climate, effective monitoring and timely response to alarms is more necessary than ever before. The more sophisticated and prepared the end users can prove themselves to be at implementing the available features of access control and security monitoring systems, the more capable they will be at detecting and deterring the undesirable elements threatening persons and property.