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Building intelligence smartens security

Building intelligence technology that merges security and environmental systems with IT networks is coming. This will allow buildings to operate as unified machines instead of a hodge-podge of uncommunicative sub-systems.

August 13, 2009  By Rosie Lombardi

Building design is slowly but surely evolving in this direction, says
Paul Ehrlich, president of St. Paul, MN-based engineering consultancy
Building Intelligence Inc. “We’re on the cusp. The dream of having
every light switch and element built on an IT network is probably still
10 years out, but parts of it are already there.”

Ehrlich points out many organizations with mission-critical
infrastructure such as hospitals, laboratories, and data centres are
years ahead of commercial buildings. By necessity, these are already
mastering the art of integrating their security, building automation
systems (BAS) and IT systems to control high-risk environments.

Smarter, cheaper hospital security
A case in point is the evolution of the London Health Sciences Centre
(LHSC), a teaching hospital in Ontario which has three campuses
covering about 3.5 million square feet.

In 2003, the LHSC upgraded its BAS to improve energy efficiency by
implementing Honeywell’s Enterprise Building Integrator (EBI), an
integrated controls platform that ties together HVAC, life safety
systems and critical point monitoring. These systems were all connected
to the hospital’s network backbone and contained many environmental
security features, such as an alerting system to personnel tied to a
fail-safe refrigerator system for the hospital’s blood banks.


In addition, the LHSC had a separate, standalone access control system provided by another longstanding security vendor.

Things changed when the SARS epidemic hit, says Sab Sferrazza, director
of customer service at the LHSC. “We had to lock down our entrances to
the hospital but there wasn’t a lot of money for security. We didn’t
have proper ID card systems in some areas, and we didn’t have all the
card readers we needed where they were supposed to be. It was a wake-up
call that we had to figure out how to protect our premises

But hospital administrators received a major sticker shock when they
received their security vendor’s estimate to expand access control
readers into one new area, says Sferrazza. “I believe their approach
was to use a fully cabled solution for all the readers and connect them
back to the security centre, which was quite some distance,” says Jeff
Mumford, district general manager for Ontario and Atlantic provinces at

Instead, Mumford proposed a less expensive approach using their
integrated BAS and IT network for connectivity instead of hard-wiring
the new readers. “We already had the elements we needed for access
control in place, so we asked the IT department to provide network
connection points in the new area, and we looked after installing and
connecting the new readers to them,” says Mumford.

It had never occurred to the LHSC’s hospital administrators that
security systems could be fashioned using the building systems that
were already riding on their network’s backbone, he says. “They like
the fact that it’s all IT-based, so they’re not spending a lot of money
hardwiring new areas and can instead leverage the money they’ve already
spent on IT infrastructure.”

Once the light bulb went on, hospital administrators looked for other
ways to beef up security using their building systems. Honeywell’s
access control approach has since been expanded across the LHSC’s three
campuses and replaced most of the old system. In addition, several new
security systems have been added, all employing network connections via
the BAS. “For all intents and purposes, Honeywell is now our security
provider,” says Sferrazza.

Security systems bonanza
One of the first areas the LHSC upgraded was its video surveillance
system. The hospital had outdated CCTV cameras and VHS recording
equipment more than a decade old that needed to be upgraded, says
Sferrazza. Honeywell proposed the idea of using networked video
recording to improve storage and performance. “We put digital encoders
on the existing analogue cameras and stuck them on the network, which
streams images to network video recorders,” says Mumford. The LHSC also
installed some new pan-tilt-zoom cameras in high-risk areas. “Motion
detection and other video analytics are next on our wish list,” says

The LSHC has also introduced a number of RFID-based asset location
systems using sensors tied to the integrated building system to read
the wireless signals. While objects such as wheel chairs, stretchers
and other hospital equipment are tracked, the real security value lies
in tracking people with these systems.

One is a patient monitoring system in the LHSC’s mental health
facility. “If a patient wearing an RFID bracelet approaches doors at
the perimeter, the system locks them down to prevent exits,” says
Mumford. The bracelets are constantly monitored, and if they’re cut or
stop transmitting, alerts are sent to the security control area.

In addition, staff working in the ward are equipped with mobile panic
buttons worn as pendants or badges for personal protection. If an alert
is sent, security personnel at the hospital’s security center can see
who sent the distress signal and where the individual is located, in
addition to video, floor plans and other supporting data.

Using the same basic infrastructure and approach, the LHSC also
introduced an infant protection system for its maternity ward. If a
person carrying a tagged baby approaches a stairwell or elevator, the
nurse’s station is alerted so staff can stop and question them. If the
person continues beyond a certain point, all exits are locked down and
security staff are swiftly dispatched. “Infant protection systems are
need-to-have, not nice-to-have, in hospitals nowadays,” says Sferrazza.

The LHSC is constructing a new North Tower, intended for patients who
are women and children, which will showcase these security systems, he
says. “Access control will be more prevalent, and the RFID systems are
being designed in from the ground up. It’s all much cheaper when you’re
not fishing for wires or breaking through walls.” On the energy side,
the facility will also feature more energy management applications and
smart meters, adds Mumford.

Security design for mega-networks
A common fear in integrating BAS and IT networks is the creation of a
single point of failure – but this is unwarranted. Elevators and
environmental systems are designed to continue working on a standalone
basis if networks fail, but they won’t be able to transmit information
to central building control management systems, says Ehrlich.

But there are other worries and many network design considerations that
need to be thought through thoroughly, he warns. “The systems that the
BAS go on have to be done right with the proper security, as you have
integration and security of both the network and the BAS pieces to
consider. We’ve seen building owners who’ve put systems in place where
people have hacked into them or taken some BAS servers and used them to
host porn.”

The impact of downtime on security systems has to be considered too. At
the LHSC, redundant servers were installed to fortify the security of
its systems, says Mumford. Initially, there was single server governing
all the integrated building applications. But as more and more security
applications were added, Honeywell separated the various systems onto
dedicated servers.

“We found the security guys got upset when we shut down the server to
do building automation maintenance because they couldn’t use their
systems. We put in dual servers for each system – HVAC, access control,
asset location, and blood bank monitoring – so you could take one down
without affecting the others. And we also put mirrored servers at other
sites as extra back-up.”

Sectors such as healthcare and retail are leading the way in
integrating security properly with building automation and IT networks,
says Ehrlich. “They’re doing today what office building owners will be
doing in a decade.”

Rising energy costs are heating up the market for building intelligence
technology, he adds. Powerful new IT players are now entering this
potentially lucrative area to step up its development for new buildings
and tackle the huge but untapped market for retrofitting existing

“In the last six months, three major IT companies – Cisco, IBM and
Accenture – have come out with practices or solutions for intelligent
buildings. And others like Hewlett-Packard are going in that direction.
This will be a big change from traditional providers like Johnson
Controls, Honeywell and Siemens.”

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