Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple

With the goal in mind, don’t do stupid things

Over the past decade, high-tech devices, megapixels, Power over Ethernet, and many other new offerings and improvements have revolutionized the physical security landscape. They have provided the industry with new capabilities at a high level of consistency and performance, and helped to evolve security departments from primarily reactive functions to more proactive team members. Advances in surveillance, access control, monitoring and data management technology have been adopted almost universally, and we are even seeing many of these security solutions migrating to the consumer market in the form of IP cameras, remote locking devices, apps and web-based tools. The Internet of Things (IoT) is sure to take this trend even further in both the commercial and consumer fields. What could possibly go wrong?


It certainly happens less frequently now than it did when computers and hard drives were a new technology, but equipment and power failures do occasionally happen. Power outages could be caused by a natural disaster, or a routine thunderstorm. It could be a traffic accident where a vehicle hit a vulnerable pole or transformer. It could be a fire in a switching center miles away, but the fact is, it happens. Equipment failures also happen in network equipment, hard drives, transmission equipment, cameras, basically any part of your system is a potential failure point. Using “cloud” services doesn’t change this fact either. That phrase just means that you are using someone else’s computer, and you don’t know where it is.

The more we rely on our electronic and networked systems to help us, the more important it is for us to understand what happens if and when they fail, and how quickly we can get them back online. And the more critical the system is, the more priority we can give to redundancy and backup systems to decrease the chances that any single failure will take down the entire system.


The first step is to undertake an assessment of the security risks of a facility, its operational requirements, the importance level of the equipment, materials, or staff, and the steps required to bring the facility back on line after an incident. After completing the assessment, it may well be found that a fully automated and integrated security system is either not sufficient to ensure the security of the facility in the foreseeable conditions, or that such an integrated system may be overkill for that facility.

In either case, one option to consider is to add a simple overlay system that is either sufficient on its own to meet the security needs, or that can supplement the automated system to provide additional functions and serve as a backup system in the event of a failure.

Two simple systems that fit this description are stand-alone key management systems, and guard tour systems. Both of these systems can operate when power and/or network capabilities are compromised, and both can provide additional functionality to supplement integrated security systems while network and power conditions are good.


Many organizations, regardless of size or type, employ the services of on-site security guards to provide security and related functions such as visitor badging.

Duties may include patrolling the property, monitoring alarms and video surveillance cameras, helping control access at main entry points, and responding to incidents. Because of these additional functions and high visibility, a guard can be a greater deterrent than just camera surveillance or a standard physical security system.

While on patrol, guards are expected to check for suspicious activity as well as be on alert for doors left unlocked, burned out lights, water leaks, broken windows, etc., and capture these issues for follow up action. Automated and interactive guard tour systems provide a convenient and accurate method to complete this task. Stations are set up around the facility and as the officer visits each area, a handheld device records the location and time of the visit.

Better systems feature rugged, handheld data recorders that allow security personnel to input incident codes while on tour, often with a built-in keypad and display. This efficient approach eliminates most paperwork and provides for easy data capture, review, and audit, if necessary.


In addition to the basic beneficial functions described above, guard tour systems can provide other advantages by keeping it simple. For example, guard tour systems can be programed to include random tour commands which initiate a completely different tour every time a patrol is initiated. This simple function adds an element of unpredictability that discourages wouldbe thieves, because they can never be sure when the next patrol will come by. Some systems can also provide an “auto pilot” capability that displays the next station on the LCD screen, keeping the officer on track, or helping a substitute be effective. With this simple function, there is no excuse for incomplete or forgotten stations.

Note that none of these functions require the data or communications network to be functioning in order to work. Battery-powered portable units provide the simple functionality to keep security officers on track and effective as both deterrents and as on-site support staff, ready to detect anything out of the ordinary or help someone who needs assistance.


Of all the security measures that can be implemented in an organization’s physical security strategy, control of keys is certainly one of the most important. This is true for all facilities, large or small, and whether they have electronic access control systems or not. In the case of a power outage, network outage, or similar incident, physical keys remain the common denominator that will allow emergency and security staff access to the facility and control over who else has access.

Without formal key control tools and procedures, facilities and their occupants and assets are in a vulnerable position, regardless of how many high tech security tools might be in place. Knowing the identity of authorized key holders, which keys they currently have or have access to, and when they were used is all essential information needed to help ensure a safe and secure environment.


Key management systems are designed to hold facility keys in a tamper-proof cabinet and only allow access by authorized users with a proper code, badge or biometric identification. All access activity is automatically recorded and from this data, management has a complete history of who used which key and when as well as the current location of each key.

Like the guard tour systems discussed above, key management systems do not have to be networked in order to function. This is great for smaller facilities that do not require networked functions, but it is also great for fully networked installations that need to have a backup in place in case that network fails.

Modern key management systems can accommodate a wide range of key types and sizes, and some can be configured to hold other essential emergency or back-up items, such as radios and access cards. In the event of an emergency, and when networks or general power is down, electronic access controls and locks may stop functioning across a facility, complex or campus. Having a backup system to provide physical keys to authorized staff can help manage the facility until power and network functions are restored. By using a key management system for this backup function, some measure of control and tracking remains in place, despite the challenging emergency circumstances.


Engineers and security professionals alike appreciate today’s availability of impressive network and security devices with complex functionality, but they will also tell you they keep a spare key under a specific rock in their back yards. Why? Because these professionals know that having a simple back up is a worthwhile investment and in the case of an emergency, the simpler, the better.

For any organization and any application, comprehensive risk management is a big job. The capabilities of today’s integrated security systems are more impressive than ever, and not only meet security needs, but help organizations manage their risk, ensure policy compliance, and deliver other efficiencies and benefits. Enacting a simple back-up system, perhaps including key control and/or guard tour systems, can be one way to address emergency situations efficiently and cost effectively. Or, you can put a spare key under a rock.


This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Security Today.


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