Increase Security Not Complexity
Why many systems that integrate access control and video management do more harm than good
- By Paul Galburt
- Nov 01, 2011
As any security officer will tell you, there’s a compelling reason for integrating
access control with a video management system (VMS).
Key cards and PINs are just the first line of defense against unauthorized
access. Cameras trained on entry points provide visual
verification, a second level of authentication, to confirm the identity
of the person crossing the threshold.
The problems arise in the execution. Two separate displays arranged side-byside—
one for access control and the other for the VMS—force the operator to
divide his attention, leaving him struggling to synthesize data from two sources
into a cohesive understanding of the event. The other problem arises when an
access control display becomes too complex to manage when it pulls in a stream
of video from the VMS associated with a door. Neither option is ideal because
each requires the operator to sift through mountains of extraneous data, extract
the information essential to a particular entry point and formulate an appropriate
response—all in a matter of seconds. Over time, even great multitaskers find this
mission completely overwhelming.
An important principle to keep in mind is the perception tunnel people experience
under stress. Complex or nonessential product features that look appealing in
the manufacturer’s demonstration become inaccessible and dangerously distracting
under the stress of seeing someone on the “most wanted” list appear at your
door. This is why law enforcement duty weapons have been stripped of useful addons
like manual safeties and magazine lockouts. Even well-trained officers can be
derailed by these features during the extreme stress of a shootout.
Where Typical Access Control-VMS Solutions Fall Short
Most combination systems in use deploy a single camera at the access point that is
typically zoomed in on individual faces. The standard of keeping this tight viewpoint
overlooks the possibility that there could be other individuals—possibly armed and dangerous—out of camera range ready to rush through the door once
the first individual gets it open. To maintain adequate security, most facilities need
A second shortcoming is found in the user interface. Most access control systems
are quite complex, displaying a quantity of information that far exceeds what
the security operator needs to know about a door event. Adding cameras to that
environment makes the situation even worse because it adds a lengthy learning
curve for operators, who may never fully master the system’s intricacies.
A third shortcoming is the inability to review video easily. Most combined systems
present the operator with live video streaming. But if operators want to go
back to look at recent history—perhaps something seemed just a little off about
the event and they want to take a second look—it quickly becomes problematic.
The interface simply isn’t designed to support that option.
Finding a Middle Ground
The key is to provide an uncomplicated integrated solution that boils down the
security guard’s experience to just the essential elements: who’s coming through
that particular door and what he should and can do about it. All the bells and
whistles that supervisors or upper management might need—such as creating new
key cards or a PIN, running statistical analysis or, in the case of a VMS, sophisticated
analytics—should be stripped away to provide the frontline user with a
simpler, more easily actionable version of the combined systems.
A truly uncomplicated interface cannot be created by patching video images
into the access control system or dragging some access control facilities into the
VMS. Either would create a complexity that would be difficult, if not impossible,
What’s necessary is a “middleware” program that can integrate the essence of
access control and the essence of video management into a single, unified, easily
The ideal system would allow the security guard to control door access and
opening and locking mechanisms at will, as well as to see a list of the cameras associated
with each entry point he’s monitoring. From the display, the guard would
be able to call up any and all camera views—including current or recent history—
as well as manipulate any pan/tilt/zoom features the cameras may possess. And
most importantly, the interface would be so simple that the program would take
10 minutes or less.
As with today’s hybrid cars, such a program requires a great deal of complexity
under the hood to make the operation appear so simple. If you had to stop to
think about the conversion between gas and electricity every time you touched the
accelerator, you’d be too distracted to drive the car.
Mastering the art of simplicity is what’s going to make adoption of access control-
VMS solutions really take off.
Nothing More, Nothing Less
A well-integrated access control-VMS solution aims to avoid presenting more information
than necessary—thus averting decision paralysis—or presenting less information
than necessary—which could lead responders off in the wrong direction
because pertinent event data is missing.
Marrying the essence of both systems while minimizing complexity
for operators can raise security to a new level without taxing
the human resources deployed as your frontline defense.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Security Today.