Increase Security Not Complexity

Increase Security Not Complexity

Why many systems that integrate access control and video management do more harm than good

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 multiple cameras.

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, to master.

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 understood screen.

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.

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