The U.S. military, like every military in history, has always had information and places that it needed to protect. In decades past, those were limited to things like secret documents, secure meetings—which could have included telephone lines and radio frequencies—and powerful hardware, such as weapons vaults and ammunition storage magazines.
 
In the information age, traditional security needs remain, but things like computers, cables, networks, and Internet transmissions now must be secure, also. Facility designers and engineers are entrusted to design systems that will prevent unwanted access to both traditional and modern resources and information. 

In order for facility designers to accomplish this task effectively, it is difficult to overstate the need for good communication throughout the design and construction process. Designers must recognize that military personnel need to limit the designers’ access to sensitive military information, which may even include information about the actual protection systems. On the other hand, system designers will surely fail to meet their clients’ needs unless they are provided with sufficient information.
 
The best time to begin discussing the needs of an electronic security system, or at least its infrastructure needs, is at the very beginning of the design process, ideally at the kickoff meeting between the project owner's representatives and the design team. Early discussion should focus on who will design and specify the actual security systems. Will it be the firm that is designing the building, or will it be the facility owner, with the design firm just responsible for the infrastructure?

Access Control System

Other questions that need to be addressed early in the process are: What areas of the facility will require access control? Will access to the entire facility be restricted or just certain interior spaces, or both? Will there be any Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities areas? Should access control systems include proximity cards, simple keypad code systems, or both? Also, will biometric systems or something else be needed?

The designer will also need to know if there will be any Secret Internet Protocol Router Network systems in the building that will require Protective Distribution Systems.

Intrusion Detection System
In addition to the access control discussion, designers will also need to know if the facility or parts of the facility will require an Intrusion Detection System (IDS). If so, will it be a separate system, or will it be integral to the access control system? What types of sensors will the IDS system need? Will there be motion sensors, including infrared, ultrasonic, microwave, or dual technology sensors? Balanced magnetic switches? Glass break detectors? Audio? Wall vibration? Video motion detection? Others?

CCTV System
Another time-tested security tool is a closed circuit television (CCTV) system. Early on, the owner should specify whether the designer should place cameras outside a secure area, both outside and inside, or not at all.  Should the cameras utilize IP Network technology, allowing for more flexibility in the viewing and storage of the footage, or will real-time analog cameras be sufficient?

Also, will the images be recorded but not monitored in real time like at an overnight bank automatic teller machine, or will there need to be a viewing area inside the facility where someone can monitor the live images?

Decisions also need to be made as to what kind of power and communications the CCTV cameras will use—traditional electrical outlets at the camera location or power over Ethernet (POE) technology? If POE is chosen, will additional power be required for Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras, or heaters for exterior mounted cameras?

The answers to all of these questions and others will determine the type of security system infrastructure that will be required in a new facility.

Security Breach Response
Access control, intrusion detection and CCTV systems can also be used together. For example, in the event of a security breach, authorities can verify not only that there was a compromise, but also narrow the list of suspects.

The owner may also want to design additional security measures into the facility. For example, should access only be controlled and recorded as people enter, or also as they leave? If a system records both, there will be record of exactly who was in a controlled space at any given time, which may be useful in a security investigation.

Similarly, the access control and IDS systems can record the exact time when a door or window- mounted balanced magnetic switch or motion detector was activated.  This information can be used with video from a CCTV system to aid in the investigation.

Keep Communicating
Extensive two-way communication should not end after the early phases of a project. The design firm will likely provide the owner with plans for review at various stages of completion, for example, at 35 percent, 60 percent and 90 percent. The owner’s team should respond with technical reviews of the security system plans.

The purpose of such reviews is to identify errors during design—while they are easily corrected. However, most design firms’ experience is that extensive feedback from such design reviews is rare. Lack of feedback leads the firm to conclude that either everything is acceptable or that the design has not been carefully reviewed. In either case, the firm has no basis on which to make changes, therefore, the plans will go to construction as they are—right or wrong.

It is not just the owner’s technical staff that should review the plans. The system installation contractors should also review the plans. Competent installers are able to spot infrastructure inadequacies during design that could be corrected before the project is bid.  Many experienced contractors can tell stories of receiving plans that were inadequate for the needs of the specified system.

One difficulty with getting plans to installation contractors in advance of actual construction is that installation contracts are often not awarded until designs are complete. Even worse, because installation contractors are among the last to arrive on-site at a project, the installation contracts may not be awarded until construction is nearly completed. While there are good reasons for owners to manage projects in this way, it omits a valuable perspective from the review process that could potentially prevent changes, delays, or system inadequacies. 

Post-Project Feedback
Even as a project winds down, feedback to the design firm should not end. In the world of changing technologies, the next project may benefit if the designers have the luxury of hearing how things went during the last installation.

Of course, there are installation contractors who will conclude that it is not worth their time and trouble to think through and articulate such information to the designer. However, because many businesses survive on their ability to attract and retain repeat customers, there is a reasonable chance that a contractor will work with the same design firm repeatedly. Therefore, it will likely help all parties—owner, designer and contractor—to have conversations and debriefing sessions at or near the conclusion of a project.

Protected areas and systems have never been a bigger part of military operations, and design firms need to ensure that they assertively and intentionally rise to the challenge of securing those areas for their military clients.


Doug Peckinpaugh, P.E., LEED AP, is Electrical Department Lead, Mason & Hanger; 859-280-3519, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..