Keeping it Secure: How to Update Your Security System
It’s a facilities manager’s worst nightmare: During a routine inspection you discover that valuable office property is missing. It’s what Carol Farren, president of Facility Management World Wide Ltd. in East Durham, N.Y. experienced in 2008 when she was managing three floors of a high rise in Manhattan’s financial district.
The high rise already had tight security since it was directly across the street from the Federal Reserve building and housed IRS offices in the building. An X-ray machine at both lobby entrances and at the loading dock scanned any packages, briefcases or pocketbooks of anyone entering the building. A manned desk and guards monitored the lobby during the day.
But one night, two men—one of them an employee in the company—stole six large desktop computer towers from unoccupied desks. Since the desks were unoccupied, Farren didn’t know what date or how much time had elapsed since the theft before she discovered the loss.
Based on her experience, Farren, a CMC, CFM, IFMA Fellow, suggests following these tips to catch a culprit and stop future security breaches:
Review security reports for unusual activity
The company’s computerized security system had the capability of printing reports. One report showed activity in the building around 1 a.m. one night, which helped zero in on the actual date of the theft. “Once the date of the theft was identified, Farren says they asked the building manager to review video tapes from that night.
Have a camera system installed at appropriate heights
Footage from the building management’s elevator cameras then helped identify one of the IT managers as one of the thieves, says Fareen, which sent him to jail. “We were only able to recognize him,” Farren adds, “because he took off his hat and looked up as he was getting in the elevator.” Even after being charged with the theft, the IT manager initially denied being involved. That changed, Farren says, when they showed him a photo taken from the camera’s video footage.
Farren suggestion: consider doing a system upgrade to replace old cameras and install new ones in security hot spots around your facility. More importantly, she says, be sure all cameras are installed at an appropriate height preferably with two cameras at different heights for the best monitoring system.
Almost all of the camera shots showed the tops of thieves’ heads because of the height of the cameras. As result, the accomplice of the IT manager, who had six computer towers stacked on a hand truck, was never identified, she says. “Had the cameras been installed lower in the elevator cab,” Farren says, “we might have gotten a photo of the other fellow's face instead of the top of his hooded head.”
Use an ID card scanning system
To catch the thief, Farren used ID a system that internally monitored which ID cards were being used at the main entrance. Farren recommends having a system that monitors people, both as they enter and exit the building.
Collect former employee access cards or keys
One of the thieves used an ID card that belonged to a former employee who lived out of state and wasn’t involved in the theft. But the authorization on the stolen and forged building pass helped the thieves get out and past the lobby guard with the computer towers.
To help prevent this from happening, Farren recommends using and enforcing the following policy: if someone leaves the company, the employer should collect all keys for office doors, and ID cards before the former employee receives their final paycheck. This was a company policy prior to the theft, Farren says, but wasn’t strictly enforced.
Keep authorizations secure
Prior to the theft, anyone leaving the building with a package, other than a briefcase or pocketbook, was required to show a building pass, a pass that also include two mandatory signatures one from the individual’s department manager and another from someone in the facilities department.
A stolen building pass, which allowed employees access to leave the building, that had been forged, was used to get the computers past the lobby guard. “Someone from our department, by mistake, left an old blank building pass in the copier, which the IT manager must have found,” Farren says.
After the theft, new building passes were created and numbered sequentially and then logged into a record book. Signatures of employees in the facilities department were also posted at the lobby desk, Farrens says to be checked for accuracy.
This incident highlighted the need to track not just people, but inventory. When the computer towers first went missing, no one immediately noticed because the desks were unoccupied, Farren says, so be sure to keep your inventory up to date. That means ensuring that bar codes are put on all new and existing furniture and equipment, and that every piece is scanned as it leaves the building.
After the theft, the mailing policy also changed. Employees had to get a building pass signed by their manager and then take any outgoing packages, unsealed to the mailroom to be checked with the mail clerk who kept a log.
Potential areas to upgrade
Despite budget cuts in many organizations, security concerns still remain a top issue affecting facilities managers. Half of facilities managers reported an increase in safety or security related projects according to a 2011 report by the International Facility Management Association. “If you’re constantly calling security to come fix something,” Farren says, “it’s probably time [to upgrade].”
To determine where to start, look for gaps in your existing security system or anticipate what may be needed for a pending expansion. Figuring out what aspects to enhance requires some advance planning. As you weigh your options, consider the pros and cons of four security trends:
1. Scan eyes and thumbs
Use new iris and thumb scanning technology, because it makes it more difficult for thieves to pretend they are someone else. The technology works just like a bar scan, except that it’s used to prevent the use of someone else’s identity to access a building. The downside is “you’d have to upgrade the scanning device at each entry point,” says Farren, which could be a massive and expensive undertaking at larger facilities.
2. Go wireless
Wireless cameras and scanners save you the hassle and added expense of breaking into walls and ceilings. But they also could pose reception challenges in some environments, says Charles Baxter, PSP and VP of national accounts for U.S. Security Associates in Roswell, Ga.
3. Improve lighting
Outdoor lighting is a key ingredient in preventing burglaries and ensuring the safety of tenants, says several experts in ASIA International’s Security Management magazine. Make upgrades and improvements in areas where it might be easy for people to hide or access elevators, indoor stairwells, entrances and parking areas. Make sure you’re using lighting effectively and are not, for example, leaving dark areas in parking garages.
4. Create a standard centralized system
More than half of facility managers manage multiple buildings in multiple sites, according to todaysfacilitymanager.com, and many of them are shifting to a more standardized system. Use “something that allows you to manage multiple facilities from a centralized location,” says Baxter, who has advised facility managers in a number of diverse environments. That typically involves installing access control software, Baxter says, that enables you to manage access badges for multiple locations from one computer and actively monitor intrusion, moisture, HVAC and power disruption alarms or security cameras. Just do your homework to make sure it would be cost-effective for your facility. Baxter says centralized systems save money over time for some organizations because they could make some personnel redundant and provide ease in system management whether addressed in-house or through a third party security contractor.
Updating your security system protects a building’s assets and helps ensure the safety of tenants and reduce liability issues for your organization. But before embarking on a major overhaul, consider seeking technical advice from a physical security consultant. If you are still trying to decide if it’s the appropriate time to update or upgrade your security system, consider Farren’s final piece of advice: a break-in may not mean you need a new product or service, just better control and oversight over your existing system.