Building Entrance Security: Access Technology and Smart Design Work Together to Ensure Occupant Safety

Building Entrance Security

To be successful, buildings in the 21st century must find ways to balance many, oftentimes competing, goals. Buildings must be comfortable but energy efficient. They must be economical but functional. And they also must be welcoming and secure at the same time.

All around the world, the news is filled with stories about theft of data and property, as well as attacks on public spaces in buildings that are assumed to be secure. These events have raised public consciousness and created a renewed emphasis on threat identification and deterrence. The first responsibility of any building is to keep its occupants safe, and the best way to do that is to secure the entrance.

Any building that houses the public, whether it’s a commercial office building, health-care facility, museum or public space, must account for the safety of its occupants. As times and technology have changed, so too have philosophies and techniques for building entrance security.

Changed World, New Philosophy

“Twenty years ago, as an industry and as a society, we were comfortable with a lock and key approach to building entry. If you had a key, you could get in and we didn’t care who you were,” explains Rudy Wolter, a building security specialist who has designed systems for large financial firms for 36 years. “There is no question that 9/11 changed our lives forever. It changed our collective outlook. We used to believe that no one wanted to hurt us, but after that attack we had to acknowledge there are very real threats. Today, we want to make sure we know who is coming into a building, know whether it’s really them, and also be able to follow them and control their entrance and egress.”

“Business owners today are concerned with their public spaces, but they don’t want to disrupt the continuity of business or incorporate security measures that will give their facilities an institutional feel,” says Bill Edwards, vice president of security services for the Operational and Technical Security Services group at Thornton Tomasetti in Denver. “Many clients that we work with are incorporating things like visitor management systems and turnstiles to secure public spaces without taking away from the building’s aesthetics. From a threat perspective, it’s very important to secure areas where people congregate since they are soft targets.”

“If the entrance of a commercial or public building looks like the entrance to a prison, we haven’t done our job,” Wolter says. “We’ve got to make it pleasing to the eye and it has to serve a high mitigation of risk. At the same time, it has to be easy to push personnel and visitors through the portal with minimal effort. If it takes too long for staff to get in the door, you lose. If you haven’t assessed an area for visitors to come in and feel welcome, you lose. It has to be protection with a touch of class. The key is to make it a appealing for people to be involved with their own safety and not really know it.”

For any owner looking to retrofit his or her building’s entrance for enhanced security, the first step is to have a very clear understanding of what the owner is securing it from. There is a wide array of building entrance technologies, systems and designs available, but one size does not fit all.

For any owner looking to retrofit his or her building’s entrance for enhanced security, the first step is to have a very clear understanding of what the owner is securing it from. There is a wide array of building entrance technologies, systems and designs available, but one size does not fit all.

Understanding Threats and Solutions

For any owner looking to retrofit his or her building’s entrance for enhanced security, the first step is to have a very clear understanding of what the owner is securing it from. There is a wide array of building entrance technologies, systems and designs available, but one size does not fit all.

“The first thing we do is identify what the true, realistic threats are for a particular space. A large sporting venue, for instance, will require a very different protection plan from a hospital or an office,” Edwards explains. “The system used at an entrance used by 25 people a day is unlikely to be the same as one for 3,000 people. Building owners and operators want security to work, but it has to allow for the flow of people.”

“You don’t want people to feel like they are going through several chambers and being looked at five different times. You don’t want people to have to drop their bags off, go through three chambers and then pick up on the other end,” Wolter adds. “You want a system that can make threat determinations more smoothly.”

Ultimately, the goal is to design entrances that are on the cutting edge of safety and security but balanced with the need to welcome people and move them through as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, the goal is to design entrances that are on the cutting edge of safety and security but balanced with the need to welcome people and move them through as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, the goal is to design entrances that are on the cutting edge of safety and security but balanced with the need to welcome people and move them through as quickly as possible.

“If you go into a museum, you want to enjoy the experience but you also want to feel safe,” Edwards says. “A building manager will use camera systems, turnstiles and access controls to do that, yet they have to make it easy for customers to come through the system. We consider crowd management and throughput in everything we do.”

Layered Approach

Although every entrance is different, there are multiple layers of protection and mitigation that tend to be applied to most modern security systems. And each level of protection involves technological elements and basic human analysis and judgment.

“With the technology and techniques available today, we use a three-layered approach,” Wolter says. “The first layer in most quality building entrance security systems is to have a good camera system that will identify people before they get to the doors. So if you see someone running with a weapon in their hands, you can lock the doors ahead of time and keep that person out. The second level is to have equipment with interlocking capabilities to be able to control how many people are coming through and eliminate piggybacking.”

Piggybacking is a term that refers to instances when a person unauthorized to enter a space essentially tags along with an authorized person to pass a checkpoint. Sophisticated new detection systems have enabled entry portals to better sniff out and stop the practice.

For example, certain revolving doors can prevent piggybacking through the mix of optical and near infrared sensors to identify shapes and volume. From this data, the technology can actually assess and determine the number of people trying to enter and physically halt the door when there is an attempted violation.

View a 15-second video demonstration of piggybacking detection and rejection.

Similar results can also be achieved with high-security mantrap portals. Another approach is to deter and detect piggybacking attempts by combining supervision (reception or guard) with optical turnstiles that contain infrared sensors along the interior of the cabinets to detect shapes moving through a lane, sounding an alarm if an intruder is detected.

“The third piece is to have things like card access, PINs and biometrics to limit access inside the facility,” Wolter continues. “This three-level approach mitigates risk. We funnel people into one area first and make sure they belong where they are before allowing them into a live, functioning facility.”

Integrating Evolving Technology

The technology available to security practitioners is vast, and it is growing, changing and evolving constantly. Everything from basic cameras and locks to biometric sensors and 3-D visualization is available for deployment on building entrances.

The technology available to security practitioners is vast, and it is growing, changing and evolving constantly. Everything from basic cameras and locks to biometric sensors and 3-D visualization is available for deployment on building entrances.

The technology available to security practitioners is vast, and it is growing, changing and evolving constantly. Everything from basic cameras and locks to biometric sensors and 3-D visualization is available for deployment on building entrances.

“Technology just keeps getting better and more refined every day,” Edwards says. “The average evolutionary cycle of technology today is anywhere from 18 to 24 months, so it’s important to design systems that are plug and play and can keep up with the pace of change. You have to create infrastructure and a technological architecture that can easily transition to next generation.”

“For access, some people are using card readers or biometric readers. Some are using facial recognition systems, and some are even starting to look at systems that read a person’s gait,” Wolter says. “We can tell who you are by how you walk. Any combination of these enhances your security and lowers your risk. The whole idea is to drive that risk level down as low as you can go.”

Of course, technology is simply a tool in the overarching security design. It is the task of the security practitioner, often in tandem with others like architects, interior designers, engineers and owners, to properly apply solutions in an integrated building entrance security strategy.

“We partner with clients to develop the best security solution to mitigate what we’ve assessed as their true, realistic threat,” Edwards says. “Working together, we can come up with a realistic security approach that resonates.”

Given the threats to people and property that exist today, the stakes are high for securing building entrances. “With security, there is no second chance because you’re dealing with lives,” Wolter asserts. “There are people we are obligated to protect. Security goes above and beyond property and information. The first priority for anyone protecting a site is to protect the people. The most important asset any corporation has is its people.”

PHOTOS: Boon Edam

About the Author

Allen Barry
Allen Barry writes about architecture and sustainability from Chicago.

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