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Interviews

Meeting the challenges

The term ‘high security’ used to be reserved for facilities such as banks and government buildings. These were the organisations and institutions you’d expect to see in this category. True to the evolving nature of public protection and modern security threats, they have been joined by museums, arenas, and other often crowded public spaces – reflecting how public safety has become as important as high security. For Synectics plc, work undertaken by its integration business, Quadrant Security Group (QSG), and technical solutions developed by its surveillance and security management business, Synectics, is directed towards helping sectors deal with the new challenges posed by these ever-evolving threats, which are the focal point of their customers’ needs. The company is the trusted partner for some of the country’s most tightly guarded prisons, government buildings, and nuclear facilities as well as major event arenas, Westminster Abbey, and the British Museum. Synectics plc Chief Executive Paul Webb calls on this group-wide experience to highlight some key considerations for meeting the challenges faced by these organisations and institutions.

Any discussion relating to the protection of high-security sites will always start with access control. Implementing advanced systems to tightly manage and monitor access to whole locations or individual ‘clearance level’ zones is one of the most effective ways high-security organisations can protect themselves against risk. Some of the financial institutions we’ve worked with have thousands of doors linked to access control solutions for the accurate monitoring of people operating within this type of complex and regulated environment.

For banks, data centres, utilities plants, or government property, restricting access is the main purpose. But when the location in question is one of the busiest museums in London, a university, or even a football stadium that has to allow fluid movement of thousands of visitors and students, what happens then?

The principles remain consistent. Access control, after all, is about applying access rights based on recognition of specific criteria. That could be an authorised RFID staff badge, facial detail from surveillance-based analytics, or an accurate biometric scan; but it could equally be a barcode scan from a ticket or data from a people counting system to ensure areas do not become overcrowded.

Increasingly, it is also about giving operators the ability to adapt those access rights based on circumstances in real time during active situations. For instance, in the event of a fire, areas usually locked down to unauthorised personnel may need to be opened to permit free-flow foot traffic in one direction to support rapid evacuation, while also restricting access from the other direction to prevent individuals from entering an unsafe zone. Similarly, operators may need the ability to instantly ‘upgrade’ access rights, for example when switching from key card access to limited personnel biometrics, in order to open up/lockdown areas based on real-time threat assessments.

In a way, the mechanism is not what is important. What is critical is to select a partner adept at understanding the unique needs of the project, implementing and integrating a broad range of access-linked devices – from door systems, surveillance cameras, and turnstiles, to car park barriers and smart bollards – to meet specific, tailored objectives, and making sure they are a company with proven experience in delivering on this at scale.

Site-wide awareness

Controlling access to secure an area is only part of the challenge. With the volume and flow of foot traffic involved, and the fact that visitors can regularly be in close proximity to security risks – for example, priceless museum exhibits – achieving site-wide situational awareness is crucial. This overarching requirement is where a centralised command and control solution can make a huge difference.

Take Synergy 3, for example. As the foundation of many of the end-to-end solutions we’ve designed and installed for customers faced with balancing positive public experience with high security needs, Synergy 3 allows any number of third-party products and systems ‒ from a single or multiple sites – to be monitored, managed, and recorded from a single unified interface. Surveillance, access control, emergency (fire, smoke, chemical detection) systems, public address systems and help points, video analytics, car park ANPR systems, social media keyword searches, and even changing government threat level notifications; data from all these systems is unified to give a 360-degree view of activity – and interoperable control of response.

As in the museum exhibit example, an intelligently integrated command and control solution allows operators to quickly tell the difference between a proximity alarm being triggered by a playful child or something more sinister. Virtual perimeters, paired with time thresholds and on-screen video camera footage prioritization can ensure that unnecessary lockdowns and dispatch of personnel are avoided without compromising the safety of visitors or the overall security of the site. On the flip side, a similar system operating at, for example, a football stadium, would be able to make a ‘high alert’ connection between, tailgating through an access door, a left package on the concession concourse, and a person of interest captured on facial recognition.

Safety first

Of course, the benefits don’t stop with rapid threat detection. Many of the high-profile, high-access sites Synectics works with rely on Synergy 3 to help mitigate safety risks by enforcing specific rules and protocols.

Are rooms/stadium zones being overfilled? Are members of the public keeping a safe distance from any platform edges or staging areas to avoid injury? Is the right number of medically trained response staff on site and located in positions that guarantee quickest response times? By pairing and interrogating information from systems such as people counting solutions, video analytics, virtual perimeters, and HR databases and alarming specific scenarios/data values, organisations can systematically address these kinds of questions as a means to limit risk to staff, public safety, and guard against liability claims.

Additionally, we find customers such as shopping centre, arena, and large museum operators, benefit from being able to use dynamic workflows which provide on-screen guidance that changes based on live data input to reflect unfolding scenarios. Tailored in accordance with specific emergency protocols ‒ for example evacuation procedures in the event of a terror alert ‒ and automating and prompting manual responsive action (unlocking restricted area/locking down zones to contain threats, sounding address system notifications, activating fastest route lighting etc.), these workflows ensure consistent action in high-pressure situations to protect all concerned.

Another factor of vital importance to high-security, crowded public spaces is simplifying and streamlining collaborative action with external agencies, including local authorities, police, and emergency responders.

Our 30 years heritage in public space surveillance means we’ve worked with (and continue to protect through our integrated solutions) over 70 per cent of London boroughs. Many of these boroughs are home to high-profile tourist venues and attractions that we also support, giving us the comprehensive understanding of the value derived from inter-agency collaboration.

Using an open architecture command and control platform like Synergy 3, communication channels, task allocation, and other incident management processes can be linked and, once again, managed effectively with the use of integrated workflows. Crucially, built-in evidence management functionality supports the capture and secure sharing of relevant footage between parties, for both live and retrospective investigation, a feature which can significantly reduce unnecessary administrative delays.

When ‘business as usual’ is critical

Through measures like the ones I’ve discussed, balancing security management with efficient (and ultimately profitable) operations is achievable for high-profile locations where there are demanding levels of public access. Inevitably, change needs to happen to make this a reality, and that can be potentially disruptive to the day-to-day operation of a business. From our perspective, however, it shouldn’t be.

We’ve worked on many projects, from migrating control rooms and integrating multi-location access control systems, to designing and deploying end-to-end integrated surveillance and security management solutions for some of the busiest attractions, transport hubs, and event venues round the world. All this has been achieved without downtime to existing systems and by working outside normal hours to avoid our customers and members of the public experiencing disruption.

Choosing a partner with these project management capabilities, supported by qualified engineers is essential. Organisations will benefit from knowing their integrator or system provider is experienced and stays up-to-date with best practice for solution design and implementation. More important, when ‘business as usual’ is so critical, so is finding a supplier that puts the customer first and strives to create long-term partnership. All the measures I’ve talked about here work because they are tailorable to the individual organisation. The right provider will always work with you to understand your needs, maximise opportunities, and minimise operational disruption. It’s what high-security, high-profile sites require and should always demand.


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