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Campuses Look to Merge Security and Building Automation Functions

University Business, September 2012

Changes are coming to colleges and universities as administrators look to increase efficiencies in the way campuses are secured and building operations are managed.

Today’s campus security director already has his or her hands full keeping pace with new facilities and a growing student population. As security takes on increased importance, campuses are adding more surveillance cameras, access control, intrusion, fire alarms, visitor management, emergency notification systems, intercoms and other equipment.

Add to that the growing responsibilities of the facilities director for overseeing a campus’ interior spaces, including offices, classrooms, libraries, and labs. These spaces require an entire set of building systems to monitor and control heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), control lighting, water conservation, and other efficiency systems.

A typical campus may have dozens of disparate security and building control systems operating simultaneously. Until recently, both functions—security and building automation—were likely to operate on their own separate network. But there is a growing trend to merge these systems on one enterprise campus-wide network to provide better control and increased efficiencies that result in lower costs.

However, integrating multiple campus systems that typically run on different operating systems and have competing database structures is a challenging task.  Many systems have their own proprietary hardware making it difficult to unite and gain visibility from other product vendors. Unifying a variety of mechanical and electrical systems into one larger control system requires either a campus facilities staff with an extremely broad knowledge base or the help of a trusted and experienced systems integrator.

In either case, it no longer makes sense to have separate monitoring environments and separate teams of people managing both security and building automation functionality and alarms. Why have separate groups of employees sitting in front of monitors at different locations? It is more convenient and efficient to have one centralized point of command and control. This frees security officers and operations staff to handle other important duties or expand services to the campus community. Mobile employees can respond faster to reports of a nighttime attack near the dorms or a water leak in the basement of the art building.

One major technology advancement making this possible is the movement toward open-platform, software-based management systems on both the security and building automation sides. Today’s modern building automation systems are abandoning proprietary standards and protocols and embracing open architecture platforms that are both backward- and forward-compatible.

With no need to replace existing equipment, cabling or computer networks, administrators can begin to make these changes without fear of current investments quickly becoming obsolete.  This is a major benefit in that it allows for future upgrades to be made as budgets permit.

Two traditional building automation system protocols—BACnet and LONWorks —can be transmitted over a campus data network, allowing for real-time, remote interface with building systems and controls. That arrangement also allows any workstation with access to the network to provide authorized campus users with monitoring and control capabilities—even remotely from an authorized operator’s or administrator’s home via the internet.

Slowly, the security industry also is moving toward the same open standards concept with many equipment manufacturers supporting one of two standards-setting organizations, ONVIF and PSIA.

The industry is also moving toward acceptance and adoption of a software-based solution that collects information from existing disparate security and non-security building systems in one integrated, intelligent, decision-based system. Known as physical security information management (PSIM) software, this solution can help operators quickly manage and resolve situations following standard operating procedures. The collected information will help rule out false alarms and ultimately minimize risk to students, faculty, and staff.

The PSIM software solution provides open architecture that integrates security subsystems into a single operating platform. This solution connects security systems and devices to provide a common operating environment for shared data, enhanced event management and improved situational awareness. Not only does the PSIM solution collect, normalize, correlate, and analyze information from these varying systems, it can interact with them to generate automated system activities.

So, how does all of this work in the real world? Here's an example from Ave Maria University, opened in 2007 as the first new Catholic university built in the U.S. in more than 40 years. Located in Ave Maria, Fla., the 908-acre campus serves 1,200 students and more than 200 faculty members and staff with plenty of room to grow.

From the outset, the school was designed and built to incorporate IT operations and facility operations into one group. The university’s IT infrastructure, fire, security, HVAC, and buildings control systems would share one common platform. A total of 23 systems reside on a single internet protocol (IP) network.

The university’s vice president of technology and systems engineering had this idea, but soon found that most architects and engineers were not accustomed to this approach. So he developed his own specifications and located a technology partner with the experience and vision to implement his ideas.

The use of the open data protocol, LonWorks, allowed equipment from various venders to be installed and integrated on the same infrastructure. That avoided unnecessary network and cabling. And now any vendor or contractor can add new equipment and functionality to the infrastructure.

All of the systems on campus are managed from the network operations center. Operators use the building automation system to monitor, control, and largely automate the campus’ chiller plant, heating and cooling, indoor air quality, laboratory air flow, lighting, and lavatories. The system is also responsible for power management and asset tracking. Other systems monitored from the center include internet, email, fire panels, digital video monitoring, and security and access control. And, because all the systems are web-enabled, operators can monitor and control them from their smartphones.

The integration and interfacing of systems at Ave Maria make it exceptionally comfortable and safe. The building automation system allows operators to react to temperature fluctuations and make HVAC equipment adjustments with a click of a mouse. Integrated occupancy sensors activate lighting in rooms and lecture halls and airflow adjustments as needed.

Integration benefits fire and life safety, as well. If the fire alarm system detects a fire, the building automation system signals the HVAC system to stop delivering fresh air to the area and pressurizes the path of egress, clearing it of smoke. The access control system will unlock doors along the route and position surveillance cameras on the fire to give responders a live feed.

Additional security features include biometric readers for an added layer of identity verification at data centers. Emergency telephone stations are scattered throughout the campus and surveillance cameras automatically focus in on the emergency stations when they are used.

A one-card identification system gives students, faculty, and staff individually tailored access to dormitories and academic buildings, including laboratories and computer rooms. It also acts as a library card and debit card for the cafeteria, bookstore, copying, and printing.

An important benefit of the system is cost savings. Ave Maria saved approximately $1.5 million by avoiding unnecessary and redundant cabling included in the original campus design. And compared to traditional designs, the university projects savings of $350,000 annually in staffing costs and another $600,000 annually from reduced utility bills. The entire campus operations—facility and IT systems—are managed with just seven full-time employees.

This project shows how new construction can be designed and implemented to easily achieve building systems convergence. The results are convenience, higher levels of service, greater efficiencies, lower utility and employee costs and easy future expansion. While this newly constructed campus offered the ideal situation, this type of project is also highly applicable to retrofit jobs on older campuses.

The importance of security and building automation is becoming increasingly clear. Students, faculty, staff, and visitors not only enjoy, but also are more productive in an environment where they feel safe. Productivity, or in this case learning, also increases where environments are carefully controlled.

The days of separate, standalone security and building control systems are numbered. Campus IT professionals, security directors and facility managers see the value and are now demanding a single control-point option. System convergence has arrived and will only gain momentum.

There are many benefits, but before rushing into a convergence project, be sure to retain the services of a proven, experienced systems integrator that can work comfortably with both the security and building automation functions. Also look to the integrator to provide any necessary training of campus staff and system maintenance to keep the new system at peak operation for years to come.


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