SP&T News

Features Applications
West Edmonton Mall upgrades access control across the board

Securing North America’s largest shopping and entertainment centre is no easy task, considering it employs more than 23,000 people and sees between 60,000 and 150,000 shoppers on a daily basis. So West Edmonton Mall — featuring the Galaxyland, World Waterpark and Ice Palace attractions — was looking to upgrade its disparate access control systems into a unified security solution.

October 6, 2009  By Vawn Himmelsbach

Over the years, WEM deployed a number of different access control
solutions, all of them analogue, in different phases of the mall. With
disparate access control systems that required different access control
cards, HR and security personnel had an administrative nightmare on
their hands. The security department would grant credentials on a
user-by-user basis, but the credential itself wasn’t linked to a photo
ID — it was just a piece of plastic.

Working with Contava, an Alberta-based security reseller and
integrator, WEM upgraded its disparate systems to Genetec’s Synergis
access control system, which it integrated with its existing Genetec
Omnicast video surveillance system. Security personnel are now using
Synergis to protect more than 70 doors at WEM, with plans to continue
expanding the system.

“We wanted to replace technology that was more than 20 years old, so we
wouldn’t have to worry about unsupported products we couldn’t fix or
repair,” says Joseph Schuldhaus, vice-president of information
technology at Triple Five Group of Companies, which owns and manages
West Edmonton Mall, as well as Mall of America in Minneapolis. The IT
team also wanted to integrate workflow with HR as much as possible.

WEM had already been working with Genetec from a video surveillance
standpoint for about six years. Between WEM and Mall of America, it has
between 500 and 600 cameras — and that number is increasing all the
time. Given that history, WEM turned to Genetec for access control.


But another factor in the decision was that they wanted to move the
organization from user-based permissions to role-based permissions –
and Synergis would allow them to do that. “There’s a big differentiator
there,” says Schuldhaus. In a role-based model, you assign permissions
for access, resources or applications based on the employee’s position.
That way, when a new person is hired, they inherit what the position
offers them. “We’re no longer attaching permissions to the user
account, we’re attaching them to the role or the group, and that group
could have multiple people in it.”

WEM worked with Genetec to integrate its access control system with
Windows Active Directory, so for every position, access control is tied
to the relevant Active Directory group. That means, for any new hires,
HR prints out their ID card, which has an RFID chip in it. The chip is
read by an RFID reader in the printer, and that information is uploaded
into the access control system. When an employee leaves the
organization, the account is automatically disabled and the credential
no longer functions — and HR doesn’t have to phone or e-mail anyone in
security. This has taken away a lot of the administrative work from HR
personnel who no longer have to wait for security to issue or activate
a badge.

“When we talk about the total cost of ownership for managing IT, a big
component of that in any organization is the time you need to dedicate
to the on-boarding process,” says Schuldhaus, “so this role-based model
makes that a lot more streamlined.”

It also allows them to be much more granular when assigning positions
to door groups. “We look at doors, schedules and groups – we match the
group to the appropriate doors and the schedules on those doors. So now
we’re able to not only manage the door policies in an integrated
fashion, we can audit them in real time.” This gives them access to
logs, for example, of when people enter and exit certain areas of the

Integration with the video surveillance system allows security
personnel to do things that weren’t possible before. If an employee has
access to a sensitive area from 6am to 6pm, for example, and they
forgot their car keys at their desk and the card credential won’t let
them in, they can contact dispatch by hitting a button outside the
door. Dispatch can see the person’s photo ID on a monitor, but they can
also see the person over the video surveillance system, allowing
dispatch to do a remote door override and release that door. And that’s
all logged. “We can even put in workflows where these kinds of
exceptions get e-mailed to their supervisor, so that’s the next step,”
says Schuldhaus.

“That’s the power an integrated access control and video surveillance
system gives you in a large campus environment like a shopping centre
to really manage access control in a much more granular way,” he says.
“You don’t have to loosen your rules because it’s too much of a hassle.
You can tighten up your policies and allow security to help you manage
the exceptions without making it onerous on them to do so.”

The IT team has also used Genetec’s Software Development Kit to
integrate its mall map – a floor plan of all door locations and the
status of those doors – with its security system. “We built our system
using Silverlight XAML, and we were able to seamlessly port a map with
no programming needed into the Genetec environment,” says Schuldhaus.
“It blew me away that our programmer just copied the file into the
Genetec system and it worked.” This allows them to zoom in to any area
in the mall and see the status of a door in real time — if it’s locked,
if it’s unlocked, if it’s been propped open.

“It gives security a much more visual view of the door locations,” says
Schuldhaus. “We can get a real-time snapshot of all the doors to make
sure they’re secure, so we don’t have to worry any longer about
visually inspecting doors to see if they’ve been left open or propped
open — we can see it on the screen, and the door contacts will tell us
if the door is locked.”

David Chauvin, regional sales manager with Genetec, oversees Western
Canada and worked closely with WEM on the integration project. “It’s a
unified interface, so their operators don’t have to switch from one
program to another,” he says. “If they need to do a video search based
on an access control event, they don’t need to switch to another window
– it’s all unified.”

While the market is moving toward a unified interface, it’s also moving
toward a platform that sends events to operators, instead of having
operators try to find events in half-a-dozen different systems. On TV,
and often in real-life applications, we see a video wall with 40
monitors, and operators are supposed to find an event across those 40
monitors. “Many studies have proven that’s extremely ineffective,” says

Operators can do monitoring on-demand, which means certain cameras or
doors are proactively monitored, as well as spot monitoring, where
specific events appear when they happen, such as motion being detected
or a door being forced open. The software includes incident reporting
that tracks how operators react to the specific events that were sent
to them.

“The main two components of a security system are access control and
video surveillance,” says Chauvin. “What we offer is out-of-the-box and
that’s where the market is going. The biggest problem when you deal
with different manufacturers is version compatibility. It might work
today but nothing guarantees that in six months it’s still going to
work when a new version comes out.”

This was a factor for WEM in the decision-making process. “They also
have an open platform that can use anyone’s server technology, anyone’s
network equipment, anyone’s cameras, so we didn’t have to go with a
proprietary solution,” says Schuldhaus. “That, in the past, was an area
where costs were quite high. As soon as you got into bed with a
manufacturer of a certain brand, they basically had you for any
upgrades or any additional cameras.”

Schuldhaus is able to choose any of the cameras that Genetec supports
and can negotiate the best deal for the features and functionality he
requires. “When we’ve had problems with certain cameras, and that has
occurred in a couple of instances where we adopted a camera that had an
overheating problem or some other issue, Genetec was helpful in making
sure the vendor made good on that or the system wasn’t left with
cameras that don’t work.”

Mall of America recently went through an upgrade of its video
surveillance system and standardized on Genetec’s Omnicast. Down the
road, it will likely take the same approach as WEM by integrating this
with Synergis.

Print this page


Stories continue below