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Feeling secure - January 2018

16 November 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, James Kelly reflects on burgeoning trends within the fire and security markets and the striking shift towards greater system integration and compatibility leading to the rise of ‘smart buildings’.

ACCESS CONTROL systems have long been respected as the backbone of effective security protocol. By controlling, monitoring and restricting the movement of people, assets and vehicles, effective access control can prevent unwanted intruders, account for assets during an emergency and if necessary direct individuals towards the safest exit path.

Typically, access control consists of three key components; a physical barrier such as a door or gate; the identification device such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), smart card and reader, swipe card and reader or PIN entry pad; and the door controller software that makes the decision on who can gain access, through which entry points and at what time of the day.

Recent trends in building security show a marked movement away from standalone systems and data points towards optimising integration with other critical systems such as CCTV, alarm management, human resources (HR) and performance management. By adapting a more joint up, smart approach to building management, organisations can streamline operations, increase efficiency and maintain superior security and safety standards. 

‘Smart buildings’ can be accessed, monitored and modified wirelessly through cloud-based systems and unlike normal buildings, they can use sensors that transmit real-time monitoring data, allowing for more meticulous management than manual efforts. This enables a multitude of functionality; from turning on and off heating and lighting based on the known occupancy of different areas of a building, to showing access control events on the graphics of a Building Management System. 

This ability to integrate Building Management Systems with access control by sharing data amongst systems facilitates quicker response rates to certain events and can reduce overall energy consumption. For example, in the event of a fire, the Building Management System can control the access to the doors to better guide occupants out of a building, whilst also controlling the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to extract smoke from the building. Of course, in this example, current building regulations for fire evacuation and safety will need to be taken into account.

Building on the use of smart systems, developments in biometric and Bluetooth technology have broadened the potential for ‘frictionless’ physical access control measures. Making use of this technology removes the need for individuals to carry access cards/passes or memorise a pin to be granted access to an area of a building. While presenting obvious benefits in terms of convenience, decreasing human error and generally speeding up the access process, such technology must be carefully considered within a security context. For example, access granted though a mobile phone device could leave the system vulnerable – if stolen, unauthorised personnel could access restricted areas unnoticed.

This is where biometric technology (i.e. mobile fingerprint, facial and voice recognition) presents the opportunity to improve frictionless physical access control measures in terms of how secure they are while maintaining convenience. Making use of the cloud, such systems can draw from one common database containing a variety of biometric systems. 

With the integration of building components, their communication, and management system assimilation, smart buildings have the potential to reduce operating costs and energy consumption whilst facilitating a comfortable environment and increasing the effectiveness of fire and security response rates.

Looking to the future, early integration of smart technology in the building life-cycle will be key to optimising the benefits current and future technology presents. For example, working alongside architects and consultants from the outset of new build projects, system designers and integrators will be able to design innovative buildings that possess the ability to respond to their environment efficiently.

Another trend to watch out for with smart buildings is the implementation of machine learning - the field of computer science that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed - it looks like ‘smart buildings’ are set to get even more intelligent in 2018.

When sourcing an access control solution, it is imperative that you choose a system from a reputable, quality supplier. Members of the BSIA’s Access and Asset Protection section are committed to best practice and are heavily involved in the development of standards. All Members of the BSIA are all required to meet strict quality criteria and their membership of the Association is your assurance that a supplier will provide a reputable service. 

James Kelly is chief executive of the British Security Industry Association. For more information, visit www.bsia.co.uk