Ask The Expert

This month's expert, J. Matthew Ladd, tells us how small and mid-sized companies can have security, too

IF you scroll through the pages of this magazine, you will find news of companies' involvement in security projects for major corporations and government agencies. Most of these end-user organizations have the budgets to afford the latest cutting-edge technologies to protect employees and facilities. But what about the mid-sized companies that might not have the same resources available? With smart planning, these companies can create solid security systems, too.

ISSUE: How can a mid-sized company maximize its investment?

SOLUTION: One of the first considerations should be scalability. Scalability refers to a system's ability to expand. A mid-sized company might want to begin with an electronic access control system to handle eight to 12 card readers. But it is important that the access control system have the ability to grow as the company does. Eventually, that same company might need 100 readers and might want to integrate a video surveillance system with access control.

It also is important not to spend too little. There may be some basic alarm panels that meet a company's immediate needs for a rudimentary access system. However, these panels offer few expansion capabilities, and should security needs grow, the company would have to invest in an entirely new system.

An experienced systems integrator will be able to suggest an expandable, yet affordable system that could save thousands of dollars in the future.

Industry trends, such as the consolidation of manufacturers, also can benefit a mid-sized company poised for growth. Components from a single manufacturer are now likely to integrate seamlessly with others. That can save time and money in designing and installing a system. Also, many manufacturers offer incentives for loyal customers, enabling them to move to more robust systems as the end user grows.

ISSUE: What else can a mid-sized company do to save money and still be secure?

SOLUTION: The use of an application service provider (ASP) is growing in popularity among many small to mid-sized businesses as a means of saving money on security. The ASP provides programming and maintenance of the database at its secure headquarters. The end user is spared the expense of buying the head-end hardware and software, as well as the personnel costs of maintaining the database.

The end user's access card activity is transmitted to the ASP's head-end software via phone line or the Internet. Cellular service can be used as a backup in case of power failures or transmission problems.

Employee terminations and new hires are simply sent to the ASP via fax, e-mail or telephone. The ASP then makes all the necessary changes and updates the system. The recurring expense to the end user varies depending on the size of the system.

ISSUE: What role can a systems integrator play in this process?

SOLUTION: A systems integrator should act as an advisor to the end user. The integrator should be someone with the knowledge and experience to explain the capabilities and options available to a mid-sized company. The application of security equipment raises many questions that require specialized knowledge not only of security, but also state and local codes. The integrator should take the time to understand a company's security needs and help it find the best solution within its budget.

In addition to knowing what equipment exists today, a good integrator also will know what industry advances are in the pipeline that could later benefit the end user. That way, end users can take into account future developments when making decisions today.

Finally, a business can expect to grow over time. An established systems integrator will be there to make that growth less painful by finding cost-effective ways to help the company's security system keep pace.

Here's this month's question directly from a reader:

ISSUE: I am a security officer for a financial institution. We would like to add walk-through metal detectors in our branch offices to alert us to anyone trying to enter with a gun or knife. Are there any government permissions required to operate this type of detector? Also, we do need crime protection, but cannot afford too many false alarms scaring our customers away. Do you have any advice?


There are no government licenses or permissions required for the installation of a walk-through metal detector. However, a metal detector in a bank or a retail operation could likely become more of an inconvenience than a security feature. It is difficult to ensure that the metal detector will be able to differentiate between a gun, a knife or the metal in a customer's hip replacement. In a retail-type operation, searching a customer before they enter could cause them to take their business elsewhere.

In order to minimize robberies, we advise our banking customers to provide a strong security presence in the office. One of the best ways to achieve that is to have a security guard present during all hours of operation. Additionally, the installation of a CCTV system -- and making it visible to the public -- also can deter a would-be robber.

We recommend the installation of hold-up buttons at each teller station so that bank employees can silently notify the police of a robbery in progress. It also is important to set up the procedures for the operation of the hold-up button in case of a robbery and to test it regularly so that employees know how to react during a real robbery. The last thing you'd want would be to have an audible alarm activated during the event that could frighten a robber carrying a gun.

In your question, you were concerned about false alarms scaring off customers. A properly installed silent alarm, well maintained and tested, will not cause false activations.

What's on your mind? Do you have a question or a topic that you'd like addressed in Ask The Expert? If so, please e-mail it to

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 79.


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