A fire breaks out on a large business campus. Almost immediately, emergency alerts -- via emails, texts and a loudspeaker -- direct employees to safely and calmly evacuate the area. As fire engines race to the scene, the fire chief goes to a web portal, where he views a video surveillance feed of the situation, along with the building plans of the campus, so he can advise firefighters on the best ways to control the blaze.

In an age where security, emergency response, and fire and safety systems run over IP or Internet protocols, companies are realizing tremendous benefits from a holistic approach to security that pulls all these different systems together.

"The more integrated the system, the better your data," says Renae Leary, vice president, global accounts for Tyco International. "Instead of continually reacting to situations, you can be proactive and potentially prevent events from occurring."

She points to a system that integrates the video surveillance system with access control -- card swipes and other mechanisms that allow people to enter a building. When those systems are integrated, a security operations center can immediately determine if a door alert was tripped by an employee or a thief. In the latter situation, an integrated system can lock down the area in question.

Access control is usually the starting point for integration. But once companies begin integrating systems, they quickly see many other opportunities. For instance, companies can link their security systems with their HR applications. When employees are hired or leave the company, their privileges to enter the facility or log into the data network are changed at the same time.

Hospitals are using a holistic security approach to improve safety and patient well-being. An integrated system can provide a nurse with a single access badge and track her movements, from entering the parking lot to moving through secure areas. It can even record usage of hand-hygiene stations in patients’ rooms to monitor and deter hospital-acquired infections.

At one U.S. Veterans Administration healthcare facility, a physical security information management (PSIM) solution, which integrates unconnected security applications through a single user interface, was employed to manage hundreds of cameras and readers and nearly 1,000 alarm points. The cost savings were significant. For one thing, a smaller team of security operators was required to man the central monitoring room, where sensor data can be viewed on a large video wall. The new technology also makes it easier for the facility to link old and new systems, so companies can take advantage of the latest security advances without abandoning their current investments.

As with all technology introductions, Harold C. Gillens, president and CEO of Quintech Security Consultants in Summerville, S.C., warns that, initially, there can be stumbling blocks to integration. The biggest is not the technology itself, but lack of coordination among the different departments. "Too often, people implement security for one area, like an IT department protecting its server room, without thinking about the other parts of the organization," he says. "If people take an operational view, they can see the true need to safeguard their employees and company assets. You shouldn't have to wait until an active shooter gets into your facility to think about how the different systems could work together more effectively."

For those reasons, an integrated security plan should be a collaborative effort, developed jointly by the heads of security, IT and real estate. "Security needs to be joined at the hip with IT or the plan can't be implemented effectively," Leary says. She notes that IT has a larger budget than security, as well as the ability to define technical requirements and provide the documentation needed for a well-executed enterprise-wide plan.

Authored by Joe Mullich for the Dow Jones Advertising Department

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