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Looking out for business

Security firms have their eyes, cards, cameras on you

By Nancy Salem
Tribune Reporter
January 31, 2005 - The intruder looked like he belonged. He walked into the business, nicely dressed, and smiled at the staff. They smiled back. He strolled away, popped into an office and walked out with a laptop tucked under his arm. Nobody noticed.

At a customer service center, a thief waited until dark, broke in, opened the computers and left with the hard drives. Gone was the customer information database.

At a college, a homeless person snuck into the gym, swam in the pool, took a shower then broke his leg trying out a treadmill. He sued.

At a retail store, a spurned boyfriend walked in, pulled a gun and shot his ex, her boss and a customer.

Security is no longer a luxury to many businesses. With theft costing U.S. employers billions of dollars a year, and assaults and threats of violence against Americans at work numbering about 2 million cases a year, workplace security has emerged as a key concern of companies seeking to protect their employees, assets, and data.

"Our lives have changed," said Daved Levine, owner of the security system company SCI Inc. of Albuquerque. "My parents never locked the house. So many people grew up in that environment. But it's not like that today. Go out to lunch Monday through Friday in Albuquerque and count the number of people who have ID badges on. People have expectations of security."

Layers of protection

Workplace security systems that once consisted of a weary guard, a lone camera or a dubious motion sensor, have evolved into multi-layered "smart" systems that can thwart intrusions on many fronts.

LAYERED SECURITY
Here are the key components of an integrated security system:

• Photo identification badging
• Card access
• Visitor management
• Alarm monitoring
• Video surveillance
• Digital video recording
• Digital video distribution
• Digital video management
• Intercom
• Gate controls
• Asset management

Integrated security systems, as they're called, are a $1 billion sector of the $60 billion security industry, according to the Professional Security Alliance, a national co-op of security integrators. SCI is among the group's 150 members.

Levine said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, piqued interest in heightened security. "The topic of conversation has been greater since 9/11," he said. "It has been a little easier to describe the business to people. Before, we'd go to a dinner party and people would say 'What do you do?' And we'd watch their eyes glaze over."

While awareness and understanding increased after 9/11, business didn't. "It's probably not until today, 2005, that we're seeing nationally that business has increased," he said.

A state-of-the-art integrated system starts with a new employee being entered into a company's human resources and payroll database. A picture is snapped and an ID card issued. "It's your ID credential," Levine said. "It allows you to do a multiple of things."

Employees can open doors, log on to computers, dispense fuel, make long-distance calls and buy supplies. The list goes on, depending on the business and what level of access the employee has. The cards issued to a cleaning crew, for example, will open doors only during specific hours and in specific areas, while other workers may have access to the building at any time of day, but not to secure areas.

"Those databases are all linked - the HR (human resources) and payroll databases, the financial systems database, the security system database - the software that manages it talks to all of them," Levine said. "There's logic that correlates you, the card, the building and the systems."

If an impostor uses a valid card to enter a building, a camera system linked to the HR database can compare an image of the person entering with the real employee's face - and set off an alarm if they don't match.

"It's a marriage between video and access control," Levine said. "The video systems nowadays aren't just looking, they're smart."

The same is true for computer access, both on-site and wireless.

"The network security system that controls passwords talks to the physical security system to know if you're in the building," Levine said. "If you didn't come into the building, but someone stole your password, the system recognizes the card wasn't used and won't let the impostor log onto the network."


Linked to the network

The systems can identify people in a variety of ways: by PIN (personal identification number), card keys, even biometric readings of the face, hands, retina and voice.

Cameras create a physical record of all activity, and alarms can be sent in a variety of ways, including video images attached to e-mail.

"Everything is linked to the security side, where systems have the ability to send an alarm across multiple platforms," Levine said. "All this happens across the network, and networks are worldwide. If an e-mail is sent, a video clip can be attached that shows a person coming into the building or leaving with contraband, or coming in and leaving making a legitimate delivery."

The systems are the result of technology that has been evolving the past 15 to 20 years.

"In the beginning, it was leading edge, emerging technology," said Bob Lucero, co-owner of SCI, which is one of several integrated security firms in Albuquerque. "It's become a more mature market. It used to be a facility would have several stand-alone systems - a camera here, a guard there. Now it's all a combined unit."

Lucero said the systems are designed so they can be built upon and upgraded as needed.

"All companies have different needs. Maybe today you need to control access to the front door. Maybe tomorrow you want to add a door. Then you might need a camera system," he said. "What we're trying to supply is a product you can use for today's needs but that's scalable - it can grow as the company grows, even across networks to separate manufacturing or remote facilities in other states or countries."

A powerful tool

At the University of New Mexico, the Lobo Card issued to all students and faculty controls access to various benefits and services, and is linked to the university's database. The school issues about 17,000 new cards a year and has about 47,000 active cards.

"The card provides students with discounts to sporting events; it allows access to recreational facilities and our libraries," said Minerva Carrera, manager of ID Card Services at UNM. "When dealing with that large a population we want to know, 'Are they enrolled? Are they employed?' You don't want to be providing privileges to people who are not at that moment affiliated with the university. Access is much easier to control via a card. It's a powerful tool for us."

Levine said the systems can cost from a few thousand dollars to millions. But there is savings in reduced need for security manpower and in the cost of insurance.

"It can certainly help, and it definitely doesn't hurt," said Nick Urzetta with Berger Briggs Real Estate and Insurance Inc. in Albuquerque.

Hal Stratton, commercial property manager for Mountain States Insurance Group, said such systems can save from 15 percent to 40 percent on the property portion of a business insurance premium.

Integrated systems are being used by large and small companies, universities, and city, state and federal governments.

Lucero said the state's high-tech companies have been quick to embrace the technology.

"We have a high-tech mentality here," he said. "They like that kind of security; it's a course of doing business. There are so many mandates from different groups for security."

Samantha Lapin, president and CEO of Pod Inc. in Albuquerque, said her information technology company installed layered security last year, in large part to protect public health information that falls under the federal privacy act known as HIPAA.

"We needed to make sure that information was secure," she said. "We now have a computerized record of who comes in and out of the building, and we can control access to secure areas. Images are stored digitally and it's all tied to alarm and security systems."

Lapin said she feels safer with an upgraded system and the ever-watchful eye of a camera.

"I'm very trusting," she said. "But now that it's in place, everybody feels better."

Paul Sandoval, security manager at Presbyterian Hospital, said the hospital went to access control five years ago to keep patients and visitors safe. Data system protection was added more recently.

"We have a wide range of property that we cover," he said. "Security is very important to people, assets and data."

Big brother

Diana Alcala, building security supervisor at Public Service Company of New Mexico, said the company began building a layered security system in 1995 and now has selective card access tied to human resources, cameras and security guards. She said the system will grow as warranted.

"The Oklahoma City bombing was a real eye-opener for facility managers and companies," Alcala said. "As each thing happens, whether workplace violence or 9/11, it continues to emphasize to us that our buildings need to be controlled and not just open to the public anymore."

Levine said the days are gone when it doesn't matter who you are. He said businesses want to know exactly who they're dealing with.

"People like to think they're anonymous," Levine said. "But everyone should realize that's not true. It's 2005."

 

 

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