Secrets of Seamless Integration
Integration is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot. So much so that many surveys calculating the size of the security market list “integrated systems” as a separate category. In fact, integrated systems are even considered combinations of subsystems and are likely already counted under their own headings in the same survey. No matter how you count or categorize them, more and more systems are becoming integrated. Asking a client if they’d like their systems to work together is usually like asking them if they’d like a warranty. Very few say no, and most assume it’s a baseline feature.
The hardest part about integrating access control and CCTV systems is determining what the customer wants. You can’t expect them to know all the possibilities, the technology required to make it happen or the specific features. They just check off “integration” on the list and leave it to the system designer to figure it out. This article will help work through the maze of possibilities — and with today’s products, anything is possible.
Different Types of Systems
Defining an access control system is relatively simple. While IP-based systems somewhat change the architecture, the building blocks are similar to an access control system. A door or egress point has some sort of authentication device such as a card reader on the secured side, and a request to exit (RTE) device on the unsecured side. Door hardware (magnetic locks or electric strikes) secure the door, and all of these devices are typically fed to a panel that is connected to a host computer. The host computer or panel may also control a relay panel that provides dry contact closure outputs where needed.
Our opportunities for integration are at the door (through a door contact), at the relay panel or via a high level interface at the host computer. Interestingly, while access control systems have become increasingly networked, most use a serial port as the high-level integration point and contact closers as the low-level point. There are a few systems that integrate directly through a TCP/IP connection, and while most believe that is the way of the future, it is certainly not prevalent today. The exception to this is viewing live or recorded video clips through the access control system — more on that later.
CCTV systems have to be further segmented, because we’re generally talking about two separate systems: live monitoring and control, and digital recording and review. While many digital recording systems have “virtual matrix” capabilities, allowing them to select and control CCTV cameras, we’ll keep this part of the discussion focused on conventional analog matrix switches. There are many of them out there and more are being installed every day. The method for integrating with virtual matrixes is the same for digital video recording systems, since they are essentially the same system.
This type of integration refers to the access control system sending an alarm event to the CCTV system, which then responds to the event. Response can include the call-up and positioning of a nearby camera on the problem area. This can be done in several ways (see diagram), but is usually handled through dry contact closures or a high-level interface.
“The Human Factor in System Connectivity” sidebar on page 48 explains the pitfalls in directly sending camera call-up information from one system to another, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule; your application may require direct communication. Integration of access control events on live viewing systems is of limited value unless the system is monitored.
Most access control events require forensics, except for systems where a bad access control event results in an intercom call-up (further integration). For active control rooms where personnel will review and respond to alarm events, this can be very effective, but it’s always recommended that it be combined with integration on the recording side. Remember to follow good design principles when sending video associated with alarm events to monitors — location of monitors, blank screens replaced with video, and annunciators as needed so your alarm events are not ignored.
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