Building access and security is a case of knowing your onions

For all the startling advancements in technology, building access and security – whether in the public realm, at CNI sites or secure corporate facilities – must start by limiting access at the perimeter and integrating systems that can monitor, check and allow passage through perimeters with those that then offer access to buildings themselves, says Steve Bailes, Business Development Manager at the Zaun Group.



echnology in access control is advancing at a staggering pace. A few years ago, it was felt sufficient to block unwanted access with old-school metal keys or basic swipe cards.

Now, IP-based security systems can monitor and record in HD signals, warnings and alerts from a multiplicity of sensors and systems anywhere on site and send responses back in real time.

Seamless integration of physical, electronic and human systems is creating a protective cordon around sites.

This means every event is recorded and analysed, both in real time and for training, learning and prosecution purposes after the event.

One of the most significant events is entry through building access points. The swipe of a card, the print of a thumb or even the scan of a retina can trigger a cascade of recording and monitoring systems, allowing security operatives to track personnel while on site.

We are even now seeing a growth in the use of trusted identities with smart cards, mobile devices, wearables, embedded chips and other ‘smart’ devices, especially in industries with a focus on regulatory compliance, such as Government, finance and healthcare.

This will accelerate the move from legacy systems to NFC, Bluetooth Low Energy and advanced smart card technology.

But, for all the smart technology security managers now have at their disposal, I wonder if we are losing sight of the old ‘onion-skin’ principle to security.

This approach ensures an increased level of security the closer an intruder gets to the most critical and sensitive assets.

As with the old saying about poachers turned gamekeepers, it is vital that intelligent security solutions are designed from the mindset of the potential intruder and the multiple methods of attack they might use to get in.

The outer skin starts with the perimeter

The principle is perfectly, but tragically, illustrated by the story of former England one-day Captain Adam Hollioake, who remained in the International Cricket Stadium in Kabul, where he was working as a coach, while a bomb blast killed at least three this month.

As he explained: “The protocol is that we have three stages of security. They have to get through the first stage, which was probably 100m from the ground; then there is the second stage, which is about 50m from the ground, and the final stage is about 15 to 20m from the ground. 

“The gentleman was caught at the first checkpoint and, on being caught, he detonated his device and, unfortunately, several individuals from our security and some members of the public were killed.”

Our approach to building access and security systems design mimics this. We develop multiple layers of security protection around the potential target – much like the skins around an onion.

The idea is to design from the perimeter in towards the centre, taking each successive boundary as an opportunity to harden the security to thwart an intruder and enable security personnel to respond to any attempted security breach.

Clearly, the latest technology at access points is beneficial in this fight. But this is worthless if the physical security of the centre isn’t up to the same standard.

Thorough site audits will take into consideration existing security measures and identify any potential weaknesses, and will play an active role in the development of a fully integrated security system, fit to face the challenges of the various methods and forces of attack employed by the modern-day intruder.

CCTV and enhanced video analytics on the outer layers and at doorways allow us to gather intelligence about attackers and relay them live to guards via their mobile phones or tablets. We also integrate lighting, surveillance and perimeter intrusion detection systems to deliver a holistic solution to security.

Limit the number of entrances and exits to a site through the perimeter and secure them more effectively with speed gates, ANPR and appropriate turnstiles to allow the effective flow of authorised personnel onto the site.

The balance between maintaining this flow and locking out unauthorised people is a tricky one to strike, as would-be intruders have become increasingly adept at ‘tailgating’ to get through security barriers and doorways.

In this instance, it may be necessary to introduce airlock-type control ‘sterile zones’ to lock down high-security areas more securely.

This is where biometrics may come into their own, offering the ability to identify personnel uniquely, with an ‘unlock code’ that only an individual inherently possesses.

Biometrics are even being incorporated into advanced CCTV-based face-tracking systems to identify unique facial traits.

But just make sure that you don’t get wowed by the sci-fi and forget the basic know-how of time-honoured security principles.

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