Security and Life Safety Converging


They've got cameras everywhere," declared Bill Sako, executive vice president of Sako & Assocs., security design firm, in reference to the city of Chicago and its new Operation Virtual Shield program. "They'll have the whole city wired up and will be able to pass on video to provide intelligence to first responders [if a building or corner has a surveillance camera]."

Sako spoke recently with CSE about the latest trends in security, including the fact that the lines between that discipline and fire-protection/life safety are continuing to blur. His own company is a testimony to this fact as it was acquired a couple years back by the Chicago-based RJA Group in an effort by the latter to increase its offerings in the increasingly sophisticated security technology marketplace.

"The software just keeps coming and coming," said Sako. Hardware too. "Take digital video recorders; there are new products coming out every 30 days."

This, in fact, is perhaps the security designer's greatest challenge—staying on top of what's new, and more importantly, what's relevant to the client. "We have to look at it [new technology] and evaluate it, particularly its length of life. It's almost overwhelming," said Sako.

Digital video, of course, is perhaps the most visible technology impacting the industry. In fact, Sako said, it's really changing the way his company does everything. "I think it's exciting because we can train video cameras to do anything we want them to," he said.

Whether it's responding to a gunshot on a corner or a smoke alarm, cameras and related software are making great advances along the lines of pattern recognition that are truly saving manhours and power. For example, at Cape Canaveral, NASA is also implementing "thing" recognition so they can tell alligators from true potential security violators.

But these high-tech systems are also evolving roles beyond security. At Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Sako's firm is implementing the technology for United Airlines, but it's also using the system as an instructional communications tool to allow passengers to be better informed.

"The United lobby is usually pandemonium, but digital video is going to be able tell you the time until your flight actually leaves and what you should do [if you're pressed for time]," said Sako.

Another interesting tool is something called Video Flashlight. Developed by Southwest Research, it generates a 3D model of a facility or campus where the operator can use a camera like a flashlight to look at areas they're most interested in. "You can look at your whole facility without ever leaving your site," said Sako.

As far as advice he offers to fire-protection engineers charged with security, Sako suggests getting up to speed on IT. "You have to learn how to do network design," he said.

While he understands there's a clear difference between most security system designers and fire-protection designers—fire is based on physical science and security is based on behavioral science—legislation like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is starting to put real teeth into reasons why there is a greater need to integrate life-safety and security systems, and an even greater need for both types of designers to get to know and love IT.

"It's a challenge trying to merge the two," Sako said. But it's definitely doable. In fact, he revealed that one of his best system designers is a former architect by training.

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