The Big House
PLC controllers provide reliability, greater security and lower risk
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Aug 01, 2015
A large corrections campus encompassing more than 30 buildings in the
southeast United States houses approximately 5,000 inmates with separate
jail facilities for men and women who are awaiting sentencing, serving
sentenced jail time and are in maximum security.
RELIABLE AND ROBUST SYSTEMS
Correctional institutions require extremely reliable and robust security systems to
ensure the safety and security of both personnel and inmates. The linear design of
the jails at this facility requires inmates to be moved between locations—including
cell blocks, meal areas, recreation and visitation—individually, in small groups or
via mass movement.
The correctional facility’s 20-year old door control system was made up of outdated
PLC controls and old relays with old wiring to control secure doors and
mantraps. A massive upgrade was required to enhance and provide state-of-the-art
security technology using high-quality, reliable door control systems. The unique
challenge was to maintain maximum security during the technology system upgrade.
Additionally, new maintenance policies and procedures needed to be implemented
to sustain security and guarantee stability.
ENGINEERING A FIX
Over the past two years, Dortronics has been working with Next Level Security
Systems (NLSS), which has been engineering and standardizing Dortronics System
4700 Series PLC Controllers for use across its base of correctional facility customers.
In tackling the project, NLSS partnered with systems integrator American
Security Group (ASG) of Vista, CA, who is deploying the security logic controls
and the NLSS Gateway product as part of a total technology update across the
approximately 30 buildings that make up the correctional facility.
After considering risk-avoidance, the team chose solutions from Dortronics to
ensure the highest level of security. The scope of the entire project calls for 4,900
Dortronics PLC controllers to be installed to control more than 840 doors and
85 mantrap controls. The implementation is being conducted in stages and is ongoing
with completion of the project expected in 2015.
“We chose Dortronics due to their reliability in the
industry,” said Bill Jacobs, president of NLSS, and
who is managing this project. “One thing was certain,
we didn’t want to take any chances that may compromise
security at a corrections facility. Mantraps are
critical portals where controlled access can mean life
or death, and the Dortronics 4700 series PLC Mantrap
Controllers have proven themselves. We’ve had
no downtime at all.”
ASG has finished installation for two of several
systems scheduled for installation, the first of which
required securing more than 30 doors, about a dozen
of which were mantraps. The NLSS Gateway is used
to control cell doors, with Dortronics mantrap controls
incorporated to insure compliance with regard
to interlocks. The second system consisted of fewer
total doors, but almost all of them were interlocked.
“The controllers have been integral to ensuring
compliance with regard to the correctional institution’s
desire to maintain the highest level of security
for interlocked doors,” Jacobs said.
The correctional facility’s previous system was,
as Anthony Sparks, ASG general manager calls it, “a
hodgepodge of mismatched PLC controllers,” which fell
far short of the state-of-the-art technology now offered.
The disrepair of the system led to the decision to upgrade
with the goal of standardizing across all buildings.
“The corrections campus had an aging system that
was antiquated in many ways, and they were unable
to get adequate service. Many of the installed components
were either no longer manufactured or supported,
or the manufacturers were no longer in business,”
By contrast, Sparks says Dortronics has been very
responsive and helped ASG design a solution that
met the facility’s requirement to have a spare controller
on-site that could be easily swapped if necessary.
Because every building on campus is different, each
system installation requires the controllers to be custom
programmed, which presented potential service
issues. Working closely with engineers, ASG devised
a set of standards that could be implemented in the
event of a component failure, which involve next-day
turnaround for new PLC controllers that are pre-programmed
for each building.
“This is a custom job, and Dortronics turned
around the designs very rapidly, which was impressive—
especially because in many cases, the design
could change almost on an hourly basis,” Sparks said.
“In addition, their ability to provide spares that are
pre-programmed for specific building virtually overnight
is an additional huge benefit.”
Another requirement for the new system was switchover
capability that would allow the facility to
alternate between new browser-based system control
and traditional analog graphic display panel
control as needed or desired. The combination of
NLSS and Dortronics technologies allows on-site
security staff to control the system locally using either
method, while also allowing door control to be
transferred to an off-site location via a browser in
the event of an emergency.
“In the unlikely event of a riot or takeover, remote
control of the system can disable local door controls,
preventing unauthorized individuals from controlling
doors on-site,” Sparks says. “This also ensures that at
either software or analog control, mantraps and interlocks
are able to function as intended.”
Since implementing the new systems, the correctional
facility has seen a number of benefits, most notably
increased safety and security.
“The immediate ROI is that security personnel
know the mantraps operate in the manner they were
designed to operate. They also know that there is no
security risk based upon how the
system protects the various areas
from each other,” Sparks said.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Security Today.