Keeping the Bad Guys Out
Facilities may require something simple and low-tech
- By Paul Hefty
- Oct 01, 2018
Protecting government agencies requires the widest palette
of security solutions with facilities ranging from a storefront
military recruitment center to a bustling international airport
or a biological research center. No matter the facility’s size,
location or the people and assets being protected, security begins at
building entries and perimeters. It is about keeping the bad guys out.
The technology exists to meet the threats of an armed disgruntled
former employee or even a common burglar. The challenge is having
the right technology at the right place before it is needed.
Protecting the Perimeter
Sometimes perimeter protection solutions are simple and low-tech.
Fencing, gates and immoveable barriers, such as bollards, are ideal
for protecting perimeters. Fencing can be made stronger by adding
razor wire to discourage climbers. Setting the fence into concretefilled
trenches can slow diggers. By weaving fiber optic cable woven
through the fence it’s possible to detect people attempting to cut their
way into the facility. Look for nearby trees or outbuildings that could
be used to scale the fence. Burying twisted-pair cable throughout the
perimeter helps detect movement across open areas.
Many government installations, such as nuclear power plants,
ports and airports are fronted or surrounded by a lake, river or other
body of water. Anchored and/or floating fences made of stainless steel
rope help block water access.
Explosive-filled vehicles have become the weapon of choice
among many terrorists. Specialized fencing, made from the same
cable used to stop fighter jets landing on aircraft carriers, is capable of
stopping a 15,000-pound truck traveling at speeds of up to 50 miles
per hour. Make sure to look for a fence’s K-rating, a measure of how
much kinetic energy—speed plus weight—it can resist.
Gates provide both pedestrian and vehicular entries. They should
be designed so a government security officer can open them after
verifying visitors’ identities and reason to enter. This can be accomplished
by a manned presence at the gate or remotely using video
intercoms. These units allow an officer in a security operations center
(SOC) to see and have a two-way conversation with visitors before
unlocking a gate or raising a barrier.
Installing surveillance cameras add a wider views of entries and
facility perimeters. Cameras are force-multipliers providing an extra
set of “eyes” on a critical facility. High-resolution cameras can capture license plate or boat registration numbers, while low-light thermal
cameras allow operators to view night images.
Ground and fence sensors can be integrated with the video system
to trigger and direct cameras to view an alarm site for verification
of events and recording images for later investigation. Another security
layer, video analytics, is used for detecting movement within a
camera’s field of view. The software-based tools continuously monitor
video, even if a security guard has stepped away from the console.
Blue-light topped emergency towers and wall stations allow
distressed employees in parking lots or on walkways to get into
immediate contact with security officers for help or to report suspicious
activities. They can even be used to assist visitors needing
help with directions.
Security needs to know more about a visitor’s intentions as they reach
a building entry. That’s easier to accomplish when there’s only one
public entry. Fencing, landscaping and signage help direct people to
the proper door.
Although glass doors are popular in many government buildings,
they don’t offer the same level of protection provided by a solid-core
wood or metal door. In all cases, doors need to be locked throughout
the day using an electromechanical lock.
Video intercoms let security officers see and talk with visitors
before remotely unlocking a door. Military recruitment centers are
good examples. After a gunman shot and killed five military personnel
at a Tennessee recruitment center in 2015, the Army Corp of Engineers
was charged with increasing the centers’ security. Many are
located in strip mall storefronts. The doors are now kept locked with
video intercoms used to let visitors in. One-button units are used for
single service branch offices. Multi-tenant entry stations are installed
when two or more branches share a facility.
Access control systems are ideal for use at employee entries. A key
pad and assigned PINs allow employees to quickly enter. Cards and
readers are another choice—but proximity cards are the better choice
as aging magstripe technology is easier to clone. Mobile credentialing
has become a viable choice, particularly for larger government enterprise
facilities. The use of smartphones adds another layer of identity
authentication with a biometric or PIN required to unlock the device.
There’s no place for mechanical locks and keys, which easily can be
lost, stolen or copied and key management in a government facility
with hundreds of employees and nearly as many doors is a nightmare.
All government employees should wear a photo ID badge at all
times to identify them. Color-coded badges can indicate what area an
employee is approved to access.
Visitors should present a government-issued ID to run through a
visitor management system. The system will record who entered and
at what time, as well as comparing the person’s name against criminal
and local watch list databases. Once cleared for entry, the system
takes a picture of the visitor and creates a temporary ID badge with a
clearly noted expiration date.
It is also best to keep interiors doors locked. That’s especially true
of areas where executives or other potential high-target employees
work. For example, many courthouses install video intercoms in hallways
leading to judges’ chambers. Each judge and a receptionist have
desk stations to monitor entry requests.
Prisons use audio intercoms as a safety precaution along prisoner
transport hallways. Call stations have a button for immediate communications
with the security operations center. A second button activates
an alarm and moves PTZ surveillance cameras to record at the
site. Each door has a system on both sides. The key is to ensure guards
are never more than 20 feet from an intercom.
Intercoms and/or access control readers are often placed outside
records rooms, evidence storage, laboratories and areas storing or
dispensing pharmaceuticals. These and other areas requiring higher
levels of security often add biometric readers using fingerprint and
iris scans to ensure identity authentication.
Surveillance cameras are vital in hallways, stairwells and doorways.
Municipal operators of stadiums and arenas often choose 4K
cameras for their ability to provide highly detailed video. Also, fewer
4K units are required to cover large areas as compared to analog or
standard HD cameras.
Government agencies are looking more often to real-time incident
management systems that monitor the data from the access control
and video systems. Users define alarm situations, such as a fight
in a stadium or a door improperly left open. Matches result in an
alarm in the security operations center or on smartphones carried by
Each of these elements—video, access, sensors and analytical
data—needs to be integrated and centralized in one location. The
integrated SOC is the day-to-day heart of security and safety operations.
Every aspect of the security effort is collected and reviewed
here. That’s why it’s important to have someone with decision-making
capabilities onsite at all times.
Their size, responsibilities and locations make government agencies
prime targets for terrorists or other criminals. Emergencies can happen
at any time. That is why it’s important to plan ahead—not to simply
react in the middle of a crisis. Plans need to be put into writing
and shared with all agency employees. Each should have a role during
a crisis. Then, the plan needs to be practiced frequently.
Clear communications are vital during any manmade or natural
emergency. Intercoms can be used to provide vital data throughout
buildings, while speakers allow them to reach people outdoors. Computer-
based emergency communications systems can share information
via email with employees not at work and, if appropriate, be used
to notify local law enforcement of any situations.
This is not an all-inclusive look at the tools available for government
security use but does show how different systems and plans
can integrate to create a stronger solution. And with the term “government”
being so broad, it’s easy to see why there’s no one-sizefits-
That is a good reason for engaging a systems integrator experienced
at working with large-scale and/or sensitive government facilities.
With a full security plan in place, it’s possible to ensure the continued
operation of vital services provided by local, state and federal
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Security Today.