Newer generations allow companies to get more information and do more with it.
Many end-users tend to think of a guard tour system as a basic piece of security equipment that tracks officers and “proves” they have done their job correctly.
While this is still, fundamentally, the job of a guard tour system, security directors such as Jesse Martinez at Kessler Collection Hotels are discovering that this technology is an essential information gathering tool that can provide companies with vital information and the ability to act on it.
“It is a great
While many companies will never need the more “advanced” features that are coming up in the guard tour world, others will find them essential.
“There is a very diverse customer range,” said Tuhin Ghosh,
software development manager for Tiscor,
Recent guard tour product offerings take all customers’ needs into account.
GUARD TOUR BASICS“A guard tour system logs the rounds of employees in a facility,” said Fernando Pires, vice president, sales and marketing, Morse Watchmans, Oxford, Conn. “It helps ensure that the employee makes the appointed rounds at the correct intervals and can offer a concrete record for compliance requirements as well as legal or insurance reasons.
“These stations are typically placed at the extreme ends of the tour route and at critical points such as entrances and exits. Systems can be configured so that the interval between the stations is timed, as well, to help monitor the guard’s activity and ensure their safety.”
The technology used can vary. “At each location (checkpoint) that the officer is required to visit during his patrol, a ‘data point’ is mounted that the officer must read with his scanner to confirm that he was physically at that location,” said David Alexander, manager, security assurance sales, Detex Corp., New Braunfels, Texas. “The data point may be a barcode, a touch-memory button, a magnetic data strip, an RFID tag or some other proprietary medium; and its data is generally a number that uniquely identifies that specific data point.
For contract officer companies such as Executive Security Systems, Inc., Austin, Texas, these guard tour systems can be a vital tool.
“Our clients typically put the stations at various locations on the premises so that they and we know that the officer went by that area at a certain time,” said Johnny Atkinson, senior vice president for the company.
This is important, said David Reed, president of Practical Products Group, Orlando, Fla., a Videx business partner. “I look at security tours as a liability deterrent as much as a security feature,” he says. “Often the biggest obstacle that security people overcome is the concept that nobody is really doing the rounds. With this they can actually say with documentation that, yes, my officer was there.”
Atkinson’s officers use the scanners on their tours and then download the information. “Typically we get that information,” Atkinson said. “The information obtained out of the readers is then sorted and put into report format. We review it to see if the officers are making the rounds as designated, then we send the information on to the customers that are interested in it.”
This report is the key feature of any guard tour product, Alexander added. “It is this report that is the end product of a guard tour system, and it is the main reason for its existence. The report has three basic uses: 1. For correcting the officer’s performance of his duties; 2. To document that the officer was (or was not) performing his duties if there is an incident from which legal liability arises; and 3. For contract security firms, to justify payment from their clients.”
COLLECTING THE INFORMATIONIn today’s climate, collecting this information has become more important than ever before.
“Beyond just ‘did my officers do their patrols as required’ is the increasing attention being paid to litigation,” said Barry Markwitz, president, Timekeeping Systems, Solon, Ohio. “It goes beyond just a corporate desire, to something that is mandated by legal considerations rather than just by security.”
Reed agreed. “It is really a matter of realizing that you need documentation not only to justify staff, but also to justify what that staff does for the organization in terms of being in the right spot to prevent incidents.”
Going hand in hand with this is the trend to collecting more and different types of information than in the past.
“One of the transitions that we have seen taking place over the last couple of years is that officers are being asked to do more than previously,” said Lucia Morales, director of marketing for Tiscor. “Inspections or maintenance checks are being added to the list of their duties.”
This is true of the Kessler properties, Martinez said. He is using them as a safety tool, putting stations on fire extinguishers and AED stations.
“Now it is possible for a guard to provide much more than a security function,” Pires added. “Moving around the facility, the guard has become a source of data that can assist with risk management and facility assessment in real-time. Using handheld tools such as an interactive guard tour system with an LCD and keypad, a guard can communicate incident reports for situations that require immediate action. In today’s environment of extreme liability and accountability, this can be a tremendous benefit to any kind of facility or business.”
And manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to provide the technology that can allow this to happen more seamlessly.
“Our system has a way for the officer to record incidents or observations,” Markwitz said. “We offer a wallet that holds 12 different buttons. Our software allows a manager to assign specific codes or meanings to the different buttons. The officer can then record operations such as boiler room readings, or information on a fire extinguisher. It is also possible to use a numeric keypad for customers who want to enter information like room numbers.”
The software also allows for standardization across an operation, Atkinson said. “Our people are able [with the Timekeeping Systems software] to set up rules and things like that on a consistent basis across all of our offices. Instead of having five different chefs cooking the cake, we have two. We have standardization across all of the offices so we all know the best way to implement and gather this information through this system.”
Tiscor recently introduced a barcode-based Pocket PC unit, which allows end-users to consolidate the technologies they carry, as well as gather more information.
“There is a trend to convergence of devices,” Ghosh said. “This has a phone, text messaging, camera, all on one device.
“Then we have proprietary software, the Synch Server, used for data synchronization. When a guard is out in the field doing a route, he can use the Synch Server to get the route down, or get a new route.”
Other manufacturers rely on different technology to enhance the reading capabilities. “We use RFID tags at the checkpoints,” Alexander said. “The main advantages of proximity are that the RFID tag can be easily read without physically touching it and the tags may be concealed behind non-metallic surfaces where vandalism or aesthetics are a concern.
“Proximity technology has also made it much easier for the officer to obtain accurate readings of the data points.”
Morse Watchmans recently introduced its latest system, PowerCheck, Pires said. “Officers can enter incident codes on-site to report a range of conditions that need attention or maintenance. The Auto Pilot feature displays the next station on its screen as a guide for the guard, and there is a random tour command to eliminate the predictability factor.”
USING THE INFORMATIONOther enhancements are allowing end-users more freedom and options on the transmitting end of the equation.
Videx, for example, recently introduced a small key-sized collector that can communicate via infrared. “It uses infrared to communicate to a database remotely from the reader to the IR encoder,” Reed said. “You can either bring the reader back to the main database and download it through infrared communication so you don’t need cables and docking stations, or, if you have it set up remotely, you can use it with JAVA to communicate to whatever database you need. It allows you to streamline data collection and eliminates the necessity to have a central downloading point.
“Most people have a network set up with WAN capabilities. It is becoming much less cumbersome for the guard staff to get the information back to the administrator.”
In fact, the proliferation of networking has changed the way information is used in all kinds of ways.
“Our customers are looking much more for client/server applications now,” Markwitz said. “They want ways to move data more widely across an enterprise.
“Along with that idea, customers are looking to more of an enterprise level kind of configuration. More often they are gathering data from multiple sites.”
Atkinson agreed. “The main thing for a lot of our customers is it’s easier for us to get the reports to them via e-mail. By having the system networked and on our WAN, we are also able to manage the program and its implementation in the field more effectively.”
Pires added: “With electronic data, a variety of software applications are available to generate a wide range of reports that can be used on a business operational level. In a networked system, the information is transmitted automatically from the collectors into computers.
“So much more information is available now, a business or other facility can use the data to drive changes across all levels of operations. It can be used for cost savings, security functions, compliance and much more.”
Some networked systems even operate in real-time, said Jim Kasperek, product marketing manager, enterprise systems for Bosch Security Systems, Inc., Fairport, NY. “With [these] networked systems, data is communicated from readers to the system software when the guard presents his credentials at each point in the tour. This allows the person monitoring the system to run reports to track where the guard has been – helping to determine if the guard is ahead of or behind schedule as well as providing insight into the guard’s last location if he or she does not return from the patrol.”
IP has brought other advantages as well.
“The advent of IP-based guard tour systems has enabled enterprise level applications, with the ability to know what is happening at all the remote locations,” Pires said. “Information can be accessed instantly, in real-time, and it is always accurate. The processes of gathering and of transmitting information has been simplified significantly.”
Kasperek added: “IP technology has delivered a common language, where devices and systems can now work together and allow for improved integration. For example, an organization can now integrate a guard tour system with video surveillance as well as HVAC and lighting controls.”
THE FUTUREAs in other areas of security management, integration is the way things are heading.
“There will always be a need for guards on-site,” Pires said. “But in the future there will be more connectivity and interoperability between systems such as HR, facility operations and security – the converged network in which all systems work together to optimize efficiency.”
Kasperek concurred. “Integration with video allows for video verification, where video is automatically recorded when the guard reaches a point in the patrol,” he says. “Integrating environmental and lighting controls with the system can also link the use of heating, cooling and lighting to the guard’s occupancy of a particular room or zone. This approach ties energy use to need, such as turning on the lights and HVAC system when the guard enters a certain area. When the guard exits the area, these systems would return to their previous states.”
That is something Martinez would really like to see. “We do have [guard tour] buttons next to the entrances of our employee entrances. It would be nice to integrate that software with their ID badges, so as they scan, they can scan through the patrol guard, too.”
Many of these technologies exist already, or are possible now; they are just not widely used yet. “In my view, the future is now as it relates to real-time guard tour systems,” Alexander said. “These products are currently available, but they haven’t even begun to trickle down to all of the potential users and applications. They are the best-kept secret in the guard-tour industry, in my opinion.”