Access Controls Are Landing in High-Class Spaces
January 13, 2003

By Staff
Appeared in Engineering News-Record

Anxieties are easing as months pass without another attack on the homeland, but enhancements to intelligent building security systems still are progressing with determination.

Security experts say the push continues because the liability facing organizations that fail to protect patrons, employees and operations is too great to ignore. Governments and corporations are busily installing smart access controls and surveillance systems, even as they lay on protection for business continuity and data.

"Post 9-11, there's been a tremendous effort to control access between public and tenant spaces," says Terry Gillick, vice president of New York City-based consulting, engineering, technology and construction firm Syska Hennessey Group Inc. He says mounting barrier and surveillance and sensing equipment in highly finished lobbies–particularly in landmarked buildings–is tricky.

"We've been seeing quite a bit of deployment of cameras in lobbies, which are usually ornate areas with very high ceilings, hard finishes, polished marble and stone," says Gillick. "People are deploying turnstiles to control entry to elevators, but the turnstiles are bottom-fed. That means you have to come in from below [with data cables] and channel under floors. It gets very, very expensive to match the finishes."

Retrofits are not the only challenge. The industry also is debating how to handle the more elaborate security installations in organizing new construction.

The Construction Specifications Institute, Arlington, Va., which has promulgated the industry-standard, 16-division MasterFormat breakdown of construction work for 40 years, currently is considering proposals that include adding a new category for telecommunications. Division 17 would bundle low-voltage fire protection, communications, security and control systems, rather than parcel them between existing mechanical and electrical divisions. The goal is to improve efficiency of design, bidding, construction and operations.

"Traditional procurement hasn't caught up," says Gillick, who favors the proposed change. "Its piecemeal. People are tying to include security, but there is a struggle going on. Nobody knows where to put it."

Even as that debate continues, security directors and engineers are struggling to install systems at a time when practices are changing rapidly. State-of-the-art systems are moving from video to digital cameras and are using more chemical and biological sensors. Some also include biometric devices that can identify people by physical features, such as fingerprints, facial features and iris patterns in eyes.

Putting those packages together in a form that works takes time, money and attention to detail. William K. Stoddard, vice president for projects and engineering at The Rockefeller Group Development Corp., in New York City, is busy with security retrofits. The company is installing multi-reader turnstiles that can read employee passes from different companies within its many buildings and decide whom to admit and where, without having to ask the companies to provide employee data or even use the same card systems.

Recently installed turnstiles in a 50-floor, 7,000-employee building on New York City's Avenue of the Americas offer examples of complexities that arise. The units, studded with sensors to detect crawl-unders and jumpers, are in a high-finish lobby on a thick terrazzo slab. They control access–including wheelchair–to four banks of elevators. They are backed up by attendants and video surveillance. Some elevator banks serve one company and some serve several, so the turnstiles have multiple scanners to differentiate employee access privileges for the various elevator banks separately.

One tenant, the McGraw-Hill Companies, parent company of ENR, cables signals from turnstile scanners in the landlord-controlled lobby to a secure panel in its private domain on a higher floor. For security purposes, McGraw-Hill employees maintain the connection and access to the corporate data network, which is used to check turnstile entries against personnel records on servers in another state. "This allows us to administer our own card access. It was beneficial" to the company and the building manager, says Anthony LaMantia, McGraw-Hill's global security project manager.

Stoddard says the cable routing arrangement for McGraw-Hill was relatively simple compared to arrangements where company offices are far from the turnstiles and scattered across high floors.

Smart turnstiles are only the tip of other, less visible security enhancements under way. Building access data increasingly is being managed over the Internet from remote master control rooms where all offices of large companies, even international ones, can be monitored around the clock by a small staff. Security alarms can be reported directly to local police, sometimes even before building operators are aware that a security breech has occurred.