From left to right, John Mooney (Paulson & Clark Engineering), Anita Kempf (Hennepin County), Ralph Michaels (VTI Security) and Chris Marra (Hennepin County) all played significant roles in the team that designed and implemented Hennepin County’s security system.

Traditionally, the design and implementation of security systems has been a piecemeal process. While members of the security staff at the company or entity receiving the system are usually active in every step along the way, others involved in the design and installation might only participate in a very limited capacity.

Too often, a consultant will provide an overall design for the system and then step out of the picture entirely. Sometimes, integrators focus solely on providing and installing the necessary hardware. Internal IT personnel may resent the project as an infringement on their resources and keep their involvement to a minimum. In the past, installations could succeed in spite of this haphazard way of doing things, but with the complexity of today’s systems, such an approach is an invitation for inefficiency at best and failure at worst

Hennepin County’s SOC (Security Operations Center) is manned by two dispatchers and is responsible for monitoring the downtown campus, in addition to providing backup monitoring for sites that are networked into the system from throughout the county.

Hennepin security hodgepodge

A decade ago, county facilities at Hennepin County in Minnesota contained a hodgepodge of security systems. Due to this lack of standardization and variety of systems, gaining entrance to all of the county’s 25 facilities with access control would require nine different access cards. Additionally, standalone video surveillance systems were in no way linked to each other, access control systems or alarms.

Today, employees of Hennepin County can enter any county building with an access control system using a single card. Access control, alarms and video surveillance are intricately interwoven. Systems at 25 of the county’s satellite facilities are currently networked directly to its Security Department Headquarters, located in the Hennepin County Government Center, with more of the County’s 122 facilities constantly being added. In total, the system contains over 1,100 cameras, 60 net controllers, 500 card access points, 300 intrusion alarms and 400 duress buttons. The size, scope and capabilities of Hennepin County’s security systems are a testament to the value of increasing the level of involvement of all parties working on designing and installing a system.

Taking a big picture approach

In 2001, Hennepin County identified a need to upgrade the security systems at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Working as it always had, the county budgeted for three separate, standalone projects: access control, video surveillance and a remodeling of the building’s Security Operations Center (SOC), which had been operating on the same technology for over a decade.

At the outset, Hennepin County approached the projects as unique entities. The county’s Property Services Department pursued the remodeling of the SOC with an architectural firm. Meanwhile, Paulson & Clark Engineering, Inc., an engineering consultant with a specialty in security systems, was contracted to update the access control system. VTI Security Integrators, which had worked on Hennepin County’s video surveillance systems since the late 1980’s, was selected to manage the installation of a digital video recording system.

“As we worked on the projects individually, we became aware of the fact that an engineering or architectural firm would not have the ability to fully meet our needs in regards to the SOC,” says Anita Kempf, senior project manager for Hennepin County’s Property Services Department. “Simultaneously, we realized that technology had evolved considerably, giving us a greater range of options. It became apparent that it was in our best interest to merge these separate projects and integrate our systems.”

In addition to pursuing the integration of video surveillance, card access and alarm systems, Hennepin County also discovered the possibility of networking satellite locations so that other sites throughout the county could be fully linked back to the SOC. With the framework to this expansive system envisioned, Hennepin County began working towards bringing it to fruition.

Building a coalition around a single vision

“Before any physical work began, we needed to establish a common vision among all the involved parties,” says Chris Marra, security supervisor for Hennepin County’s Security Division. “We literally spent months in the planning phase, evaluating what was technologically possible and what would provide us with the most benefit. It was a Herculean task undertaken by a relatively large group of people, which made it even more challenging.”

The historic Municipal Building Commission Building houses the Minneapolis City Hall and is part of the downtown campus monitored by Hennepin County’s SOC.
Indeed, the scope of what was to be accomplished required the involvement of many parties, both internal and external, that were not used to working together. The team effort included members of Hennepin County’s Security, Property Services and IT Departments, along with representatives from Paulson & Clark and VTI Security. Uniting such a diverse group of people to achieve a common goal was vital to the project’s success.

“Whenever you have a large group of people coming from different perspectives, you’re going to have a difference of opinions on the best way to get things done,” says Marra. “To avoid the potential problems this could cause, we focused on making sure that everyone involved recognized the unique strengths and areas of expertise of everyone else within the planning group. Once we were able to appreciate each other’s knowledge, we found ourselves working in a way that allowed us to complement and augment each other, as opposed to letting egos or opinions have a negative impact on our efforts.”

In addition to recognizing the expertise of other members of the group, it was also imperative to Hennepin County’s success that all internal parties understand the benefits they would be receiving from the updated system. Because it results in sharing servers, bandwidth and other assets, updates to security systems often receive resistance from the IT departments at many companies. Hennepin County avoided this problem by focusing on ways the system could help to protect the IT department’s assets. By involving IT personnel early in the process, a mutually beneficial relationship was forged.

Installing the backbone

As the project moved forward, special attention was paid to the SOC and systems at the Hennepin County Government Center, as they would form the core of the county’s security network. After evaluating the possibility of expanding on the previously existing, but outdated, cabling in the building, the decision was made to install a room containing a new UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) backbone system, with infrastructure cabling throughout the building.

“It was a more expensive option, but by establishing a strong backbone in the building, we knew that anything we would need to add in the next 5 to 10 years could easily be put onto that existing infrastructure,” says John Mooney, security and technologies manager at Paulson & Clark. “After that, we brought other areas of the immediate downtown campus into the system through pre-existing fiber optic cables. Once we had that designed, we knew we could bring satellite locations into the system by utilizing the county’s wide-area network.”

Equally important was the selection of access control and digital video products for use in the installation. To fulfill its plans, Hennepin County required products with both high levels of integration and customization. After reviewing a wide range of candidates, the county selected Continuum SE access control and DS XPress digital video recorders, both produced by Integral Technologies.

“We saw a lot of benefit in the Plain English programming capabilities of Continuum SE,” says Ralph Michaels at VTI Security. “Coupled with the high levels of integration allowed for by Integral products, it was exactly what Hennepin needed. The products allowed us to easily put together a customized graphical user interface, or GUI, that provided the functionality that Hennepin was after.”

Going live and branching out

All of the planning and hard work paid off. With all of the hardware in place, Hennepin County was ready to go live on the new system.

“Cutting over to the new system presented a significant challenge,” recalls Kempf. “In addition to our video and access control, we also had our elevator control, fire and phone systems coming over, and all of the systems were too vital to allow for any lapse in service. Through careful planning, especially by VTI Security, we were able to achieve a seamless transition.”

With the new SOC and Hennepin County Government Center online, it was time to start networking other sites throughout the county into the system. To do this, locations such as libraries, courts and parole centers have been standardized on systems. To date, 25 of the county’s 122 sites have been connected to the SOC, with new locations constantly in the process of being added.

“We view a successful security program as having three main components: technology, staff and awareness,” says Marra. “We had the staff and awareness, and now we have the technology. Through a wide variety of people coming together to work as a team and careful attention to the technologies we chose, we were able to make this system a true success story.”

SIDEBAR: Determining Value from an End-user Perspective

The true measure of the value of a security system is in the benefits it provides to those it means to protect. All of the effort expended on updating the technology of Hennepin County’s system would have proved worthless if it failed to make conditions safer and more efficient for the end users. Fortunately, the security officers using the system have found that the changes made have provided dramatic advantages in carrying out their duties.

For security officers at sites throughout the county, the majority of the system’s tangible benefits are derived from the custom GUI and integration afforded by Integral Technologies’ Continuum SE access control and DS XPress digital video recorders. Through Plain English programming capabilities, Hennepin County has added many beneficial functionalities such as automatically repositioning cameras to show duress calls or alarm events.

“When someone here hits a duress button, it’s important that we know what’s going on as quickly as possible,” says Craig Stern, a Hennepin County Security Officer at a county detox and drug rehab center. “In the past, it could take up to 30 seconds just to find out where the alarm was coming from. With the new system, we usually have a visual on the situation with a second or two. In this environment, that can be the difference in being able to prevent someone from getting hurt.”

It is not irregular for the security station at the detox and drug rehab center to be manned by a single officer. In the past, this would create potentially dangerous situations when a duress alarm was triggered with only one officer to respond. The new system has gone a long way in improving safety during these scenarios.

“The Integral video products allow the dispatchers downtown, at the SOC, to view and control our PTZ cameras,” says Robert Estes, another Hennepin County Security Officer working at the detox and drug rehab center. “If I’m alone and get a duress call, I buzz the dispatcher on duty at the SOC and let him know. He’s able to see everything that’s happening and track my movement throughout the building, while simultaneously getting in touch with another officer in the area or local police. It’s really made my job safer.”

Security officers at locations throughout Hennepin County consistently report the same benefits and describe an increase both in their personal safety and their ability to help others. Indeed, perhaps the strongest testament to Hennepin County’s success are the regular inquiries from officers at sites that have yet to be updated, inquiring when the system will be coming to their location.