Keeping the Bad Guys Out

Keeping the Bad Guys Out

Facilities may require something simple and low-tech

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.

Entry Security

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.

Interior Security

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 patrolling guards.

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- all plan.

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 agencies.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Security Today.


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