Security and Building Automation Systems Converge
Facility owners combine security and traditional building systems
- By Andre Greco
- Jun 01, 2013
Here’s a typical building systems setup in a large commercial office
facility. The security function—video, access, intrusion, fire and
other systems—is run over a dedicated network. Critical environmental,
lighting and other building systems are on a separate
network. The different systems, which continue to increase in
numbers and complexity, aren’t integrated and require separate staffs and points
Generally, this pattern of redundant networks and labor is not the most efficient,
convenient or cost-effective way to operate a building. But that’s beginning to
change, as more facility owners and managers choose to converge security and traditional
building systems onto a single local area network (LAN). That can involve
integrating two dozen—or more—disparate systems and their related software.
To some, it may seem odd to link video surveillance to water conservation
systems; access control to heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC); and
visitor management systems to lighting controls. Yet convergence is bringing facility
managers and security directors the tools to improve and simplify operations,
reduce or redeploy manpower and gain critical insights into the processes of their
facility and function.
The security industry has had its own concept of convergence—physical security
information management (PSIM)—for the past several years. PSIM software
has provided the open architecture to integrate security systems into a single
operating platform. This solution shares data, enhances event management and
improves situational awareness. By collecting, normalizing, correlating and analyzing
information from various systems, PSIM software can interact with them to
generate automated activities.
Facility managers have their own version of PSIM-like technology. Building automation
systems (BAS) monitor, integrate and control HVAC, lighting, voice and
data, water conservation and many other systems. By helping to fine-tune facility operations,
BAS have helped to drive the green building movement. They also proved
robust enough to integrate with PSIMs and control individual security systems.
Open Standards Drive Convergence
One of the biggest enablers of systems convergence has been the push toward open
standards. In the building automation industry, the two major standard protocols, BACnet and LONWorks, allow for real-time, remote interface between systems
and controls. The security industry has been slow to adopt open architecture, but
most leading equipment manufacturers now support one or both of two standards-
setting organizations—ONVIF and PSIA.
Open architecture allows end users to choose among vendors, selecting security
or BAS equipment based on features and price. And now they can choose partial
systems upgrades without fear of making investments in obsolete legacy systems.
Total systems convergence is easiest when designed into new construction. But
open standards have made convenience, higher service levels, greater efficiencies,
lower utility and employee costs and scalability highly applicable to retrofit projects
in existing buildings.
Benefits for the Security Director and Facility Manager
Some security directors may fear they are giving up too much control by converging
with the facility folks. Then, too, facility managers may ask what’s in it for
them to share a network with the security function. Those are fair concerns. But
convergence offers much more than just convenience and operational efficiencies.
Here are a few more benefits that can result from the convergence of these two
major building functions.
Faster incident response. Freeing redundant staff members from a console
makes them available to respond and investigate sooner to reports of security incidents
or problems with building equipment.
Mitigate risk. More complete and intelligent data from all building systems
helps to identify and quickly alleviate potential risks.
Create more detailed and accurate compliance reports. The data provided by
converged building systems helps facilities to comply with government regulations
regarding security, energy use and other building operations.
Save money. Convergence creates intelligence to take better control of building
systems. For example, air conditioning and lights can be turned off once the access
control system indicates all employees have left an office.
Also, from the security director’s point of view, the single LAN will make it
easier to add peripheral systems, such as parking and gate control and visitor management
The Role of the Cloud
Savvy facility managers and security directors will see value in using the computerbased
cloud environment as a reliable, secure and cost-effective means of accessing
and storing data from disparate building subsystems. On the security side, this
opens up a host of managed services that integrators can offer customers. That
may include managed or hosted video and access control, alert notification and the
monitoring of system health. Demand for these services will grow in the coming
years and provide a source of recurring monthly revenue for integrators.
Bandwidth challenges still exist when using the cloud, especially when related
to video transmission. However, the latest compression methods and edge recording
are helping alleviate the problems.
How the Systems Work Together
The best way to relate how the convergence of security and building automation
functions can improve facility performance is through an example. Here are two,
taken from real situations.
One Southern California cancer center integrates nearly 20 different systems to
provide authorized staff with access to real-time monitoring and controls data. Integrated
systems include access control, RFID, video surveillance and recording,
fire alarms, voice and data, nurse call, HVAC and lighting controls.
By leveraging the capabilities of the access control and RFID systems and integrated
clinical systems, the building interacts with the patient. When a patient first visits the center, he or she is enrolled in the access system’s database and selects personal preferences for treatment rooms, including lighting, temperature, music
and video imagery to create a personalized experience. Then through the use of
RFID badges issued to patients, the building, business and clinical systems stay
two steps ahead when the patient returns. When checking in for treatments, receptionists
greet patients by name and clinicians are able to identify their location and
prepare procedures for treatment rooms in advance.
Billing information and a full record of patient care are immediately provided
to healthcare staff, reducing wait time and anxiety. And the pre-set patient preferences
are automatically determined before the patient enters the treatment room.
In another example, a private Florida university was designed and built from
the outset to incorporate IT and all facility and security operations onto one network.
A total of 23 systems reside on a single IP network.
From the network operations center, staff members use the building automation
system to monitor, control and largely automate the campus chiller plant,
heating and cooling, indoor air quality, laboratory air flow, lighting and lavatories.
The system also is responsible for power management and asset tracking. Other
systems monitored from the center include the internet, email, fire panels, digital
video monitoring and access control via a PSIM solution. Because all the systems
are web enabled, operators can monitor and control them from their smartphones
or tablets. University officials estimate that they save about $350,000 annually in
reduced staffing costs as compared to traditional building operation designs.
Convergence also benefits fire and life safety. If the fire alarm system detects a
fire, the building automation system signals the HVAC system to stop delivering
fresh air to the area and pressurizes the path of egress, clearing it of smoke. The
access control system will unlock doors along the route and focus surveillance
cameras on the fire to provide responders with a live feed.
Challenges for the Security Team
One of the biggest challenges in achieving full integration is finding an integrator
and other team members with experience and familiarity with many disparate
systems. For many integrators this holistic approach to building operations is still
more of a theory rather than a practice.
To gain proven experience in this area, integrators may choose to act as a subcontractor
with others, including building automation and IT system solution providers.
This new, heavily IT-based convergence process has also changed the type of
employee, from salesman to technician, which security integrators require. Finding
qualified employees will involve recruiting from new fields such as telephony,
software development, IT and related industries.
Convergence is Coming
Is there any situation where convergence might not be the preferred solution? Possibly
some smaller, stand-alone facilities with only a handful of building systems
and few, if any, staff dedicated to security and/or building operations may still
benefit from the status quo.
But in more complex projects, the value of converging security and building
automation is becoming increasingly clear. Building owners want the convenience,
efficiency, cost savings and easy scalability that convergence offers. Tenants want
space where employees can feel safe, while working in a controlled environment
that maximizes their productivity.
The days of separate, stand-alone security and building control systems are
numbered. Building owners, facility managers, security directors and IT professionals
see the value of converging potentially dozens of building systems onto
one network with a single control point. Systems convergence
has arrived and will only gain momentum for its ability to more
effectively and proactively manage large buildings and other
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Security Today.