Twenty-three years ago, when I worked with the Federal Protective Service policing federal facilities where security contract oversight was key, the General Services Administration and U.S. Justice Department designed systems that complimented each other to provide concentric layers of protection against unlawful entry and other threats. These measures included the use of contactless access control cards, pan, tilt & zoom (PTZ) surveillance cameras, interactive alarm systems, security guards and the use of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Now, more than two decades later, I still notice that the very technologies I worked with then are still not prevalent in most workplaces.

Now, with the threat of active shooters and new regulatory compliance requirements governing privacy, integrating access control systems with other systems has become an appealing best practice for many organizations. If systems are designed and integrated correctly, gone are the days where surveillance cameras are deployed with the mistaken belief that they are a “deterrent” and access control systems only open doors. When security systems are designed with interoperability in mind, integration technology makes it possible to connect access control systems to a number of other systems like CCTV, alarms and building control systems. This interoperability simplifies administration and aids response and mitigation. As a result, the integration of security technologies is a concept gaining plenty of momentum among developers, engineers and end users alike.

However, there is a misconception that interoperable systems have to be purchased as a suite of software and hardware from the same vendor to avoid being forced to perform costly retrofitting and/or complex installation work. If systems are designed with integration in mind, they can be scalable and interoperable without being burdensome on your budgets. To address today’s standard of care, integrating security systems has become a necessity for security professionals, to assure that CCTV systems are alerted to access control or alarm incidents, and complement each other to provide evidence and tactical support as needed.

Integrating surveillance camera systems (CCTV)

Integrating CCTV with access control systems has many benefits. First, when someone unlocks a door or worse, tries to circumvent a lock, the system can alert a pan tilt zoom (PTZ) camera to focus on and record potential threats. The same type of interoperability has the capability to alert cameras record at a higher frame rate when the door opens, capturing more valuable evidence. In some systems, you can access CCTV footage via access control software, giving you a one-stop shop, which also allows users to receive email and text alerts when a person opens or unlocks a door or leaves it open, depending on how alerts are set up.

Integrating access control with alarm systems

Alarm integration enables fire alarms to alert the access control system that it needs to unlock all of the doors. Likewise, if intruder or active shooter alarms are tripped, the same access control system may be programmed to lock doors to create a "man-trap". Therefore, in the event of an emergency, staff can then exit the building or shelter-in-place quickly and safely.

This type of system interoperability can also help first responders as well. If an entry abd exit system is used (such as lobby turnstiles), these systems make it possible for first responders to print a roll call/headcount of everyone in the facility, which can be used to cross off occupants’ names from the list as they arrive at the muster point.  Depending on the system, this can also be performed digitally, by issuing a card or fob reader at the muster point and checking off staff that have left the building on a smart phone or tablet.  

Integrating access control with intruder alarms and CCTV systems is less common but is worth heavy consideration. It is usual to have certain staff members who have authorization to deactivate the intruder alarm. Integrate the intruder alarm with the access control system and it can be set up to unlock doors only when the intruder alarm is disarmed. If one of the authorized staff members has not arrived, the access control system will not work for others.

Building management systems (BMS)

When BMS (commonly known as smart building integration) is interoperable with access control, alarm and CCTV systems, an organization can essentially trigger any outcome related to incidents in facilities. Combining security systems with BMS allows you to alert lighting, thermostat, parking lot gates and other controls when staff members enters the facility. Similarly, when an access control system locks down at night, the system can switch BMS off, saving time, energy and money.

Active Shooter Systems – a Case for Interoperability

After campus shootings in Virginia Tech University and Parkland, Florida, systems began to flood the marketplace that demonstrated the strengths of interoperable security measures. By adding a gunshot detection and/or panic button system to BMS, access control and CCTV systems, an automatically locked shelter-in-place can be triggered by the sound of gunfire or identification of an armed threat. Once this occurs, the shooter can be trapped and/or funneled into a hallway with cameras trained on them, allowing those cameras to be live streamed via secure IP to arriving first responders. At the same time, the integrated alarm technologies can trigger SMS and audible alerts to facility stakeholders to keep people outside the perimeter away and safe from the threat.

At the same time, the same technology can be used in burglary and other crimes as well, depending on the settings and hours. Thus, integrating an interoperable access control system with your alarm, CCTV and BMS systems can greatly help ensure the safety of a facility. It is important to ensure that, while considering interoperable technologies that have room for growth and addition, an organization’s cybersecurity is also strong enough to prevent the hacking of networks and SCADA systems that can enable a breach of physical security, as well.