High-tech security depends on best practices

Support advanced solutions with building safety fundamentals
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
By Bill Maginas

All facilities should provide a productive environment for their occupants while maintaining a commitment to safety and security by following the standards established by municipal and regulatory bodies.

As many facilities open their doors to welcome new employees, customers and visitors every day, security must remain a priority. The continuous flow of people entering and exiting a facility, dispersed across multiple floors and annexes, all with different access permits, complicate safety and security efforts.

Occupied buildings present an additional challenge to building managers as they strive to stay compliant with building system testing requirements without disrupting occupants.

Though technology is rapidly advancing, the simplest, yet most effective preventative measures stem from rudimentary security fundamentals — objective risk assessments, preparedness plans, communication and education. Investing in the latest security technology will ultimately fall short if not coupled with basic security best practices.

The following is a guide to help facility managers improve the safety and security of their occupants and buildings:

Understanding security needs

Starting with a risk assessment of current processes and programs helps facility managers ensure that all technologies and systems are fully operational and comply with regulations. These assessments can be conducted through research, surveys, test phases and other methods.

Objective assessments identify vulnerabilities and evaluate consequences of those gaps. The findings of a risk assessment can range from inefficient security to protect restricted areas to an inadequate fire preparedness plan.

Along with increasing safety, risk assessments can help identify how to reduce costs, increase operational efficiencies and improve the overall productivity of a facility and its occupants. For example, properly using integrated systems and strategically positioning cameras within a facility enables 24/7 remote surveillance to keep eyes on multiple high-traffic locations at once.

Recognizing potential threats

To maximize the safety and well-being of occupants, it’s critical to have a response plan in place for emergencies. All potential threats, including active shooters, natural disasters and fires, must be assessed.

Ensuring all employees are aware of potential threats and safety procedures helps prepare occupants, including visitors unfamiliar with the facility, in the event of an emergency. Scheduling annual training events and drills helps keep safety in mind for all, not just those who oversee security or operations.

Investing in leading-edge technology further secures key assets and safeguards against potential threats. If, for example, access management is a priority, facilities should stay abreast of emerging solutions in this area, such as near-field technology, which enables facilities to use cell phone Bluetooth technology for door access via a card reader, provided with the right credentials.

Communicating during emergencies

Real-time emergency communication systems are essential for high-occupancy buildings. To guide occupants to safety and combat chaos, mass notification systems (MNS) inform occupants of an emergency, and provide them with actionable direction about what to do or where to go, depending on where they are located within the facility.

Mass notification systems with an integrated voice-enabled fire alarm system can be programmed to select exactly which speakers are used and what message is played during an emergency. Messages can be tailored to specific facility buildings, floors and stairwells.

These systems can be particularly useful in common areas such as cafés, lobbies and individual offices or floors, allowing facilities to broadcast information to occupants in situations that require different information to be shared based on specific area or floor. For example, during a fire it may be safer for occupants on one floor to shelter in place, while others must evacuate.

While many people associate a text alert with MNS today, mass notification systems that incorporate multiple modes of communication, including audio and/or visual notification from a fire alarm system, email notifications, automated phone calls and visual messaging boards, optimize occupant safety. MNS can also be used to provide occupants with less critical information, such as parking notifications, facility closures or weather conditions.

Prioritizing maintenance

Fire and life safety systems require regular maintenance, as per NFPA regulations, to ensure performance. The cadence of testing varies by facility, but it is advised that facility managers look for a Canadian Fire Alarm Association Registered Technician to conduct full system maintenance to ensure regulatory requirements are met.

Third-party testing helps to ensure fire and life safety systems are in proper working order and can function in the event of an emergency. Notification appliance self-testing can be conducted with minimal disruption to staff and other facility occupants, and can help to make certain that the system is ready to perform in the event of an emergency.

Coordinating with local experts

A facility’s employees can further understand threats in and around their building by coordinating with local security and law enforcement resources, such as police, fire, and government offices. Each party has their own area of expertise where they excel, whether it be security, EMS, prevention, or public affairs.

In the face of an emergency, all parties must work together and function as one for the good of the occupants, community and facility. Many facilities, especially those of a smaller scale, can only accomplish so much with in-house resources, but all can increase safety by leaning on outside resources to build collaborative plans for responding to issues when they arise.

The preceding guidelines are just some of the ways in which facility managers can help to ensure the safety and security of their building occupants throughout the year as solutions continue to evolve.

Bill Maginas is area VP and GM, Canada, Johnson Controls.

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