Essential Components of Physical Security
You can divide physical security into four distinct operations, with technical solutions available to support each:
- Access control
These operations need to work together as part of an overall program if they are going to thoroughly protect your organization.
Let’s go over some of the major technical solutions an organization should consider. Some are designed to support one specific operation. Others do a little bit of everything.
1. Access Control
Access control solutions manage the flow of traffic through entryways and access points in your facility. They can be used to restrict access for different types of employees and visitors.
Although security guards and other personnel can perform access control when needed, in most cases, it is more cost-effective to use a technical access control solution. Those technical solutions can include:
Electronic Access Control
These systems connect to a central database where employee access privileges are recorded. When an employee authenticates themselves at an access point, the system verifies whether they are allowed through and opens the access point accordingly.
Employees authenticate themselves using a token, such as:
- Swipe cards: Identification data is stored on a magnetic strip, like on a credit card. The card is swiped at a reader to authenticate the holder.
- RFID fobs: Radio frequency identification keychain tokens that communicate over short-range wireless. The fob is waved near a reader to authenticate.
- Prox cards: Flat cards that are pressed against readers to authenticate the holder. Newer prox cards use embedded RFID antennas to transmit credentials.
- Mobile phone apps: A secure app on a user’s phone identifies them when they approach access points. Phones authenticate the holder by transmitting their identity over Bluetooth or NFC, short-range wireless antennas common in mobile devices.
Electronic access controls are very secure, but they can be expensive. Most organizations only deploy electronic access control at their most sensitive access points.
Mechanical Access Control
Given the high cost of electronic access control, most doors and other access points continue to be secured by mechanical lock-and-key systems. Mechanical access control is cost-effective for managing access points with routine levels of security.
The major downside to using mechanical controls is that they lack built-in tracking and accountability. Because electronic systems communicate with a central computer system for every access request, they generate a complete access log in real time. Mechanical keys don’t have this capability by themselves.
Key Management Systems
Combining mechanical access controls with an electronic key management system is one model that many organizations employ as a cost-effective alternative to electronic access control. At their core, key management systems are secure cabinets with electronic access control terminals attached.
Users authenticate themselves at the terminal and specify which key ring they want to sign out. The request is logged, and the key management system unlocks only the keyring selected.
Key management systems can also automate many useful but time-consuming administrative tasks. Managers can set curfews on key sign-outs or limit the number of keys a single employee can have in their possession. If an employee misses a curfew or does not return their keys at the end of their shift, the key management system can send alerts to the employee’s supervisor.
Asset Management Systems
As with keys, many businesses find it beneficial to control access to sensitive or expensive equipment. Like key management systems, asset management systems use a combination of secure cabinets, access control terminals, and smart sensor technology to control who uses assets, as well as when and how assets are used.
Content surveillance sensors inside locker compartments can identify assets when they’re signed out or returned for better accountability and inventory tracking. Curfews and alerts also help prevent unnecessary losses and ensure vital equipment is ready when employees need it.
Surveillance is the process of gathering information relevant to an organization’s physical security. That information commonly includes the locations of potential threats, personnel, and valuable equipment moving through your facility, as well as the activities of security personnel.
Traditionally, video surveillance systems had to be actively monitored by security personnel to identify threats on screen. Either that or they were just used to collect footage for review if a security incident occurred.
More modern security systems use video analytics software that is capable of detecting potential threats on its own. This software can recognize cars entering a secured lot after hours, or even the motion of an attacker swinging a punch. When a potential threat is identified, the analytics system automatically notifies human security personnel so they can respond.
Whereas video surveillance systems record what is happening inside a particular location, alarm systems monitor for attempts in access to unattended sites. Different kinds of sensors are employed for different alarm functions.
Motion sensors detect movement in low light or dark environments. Perimeter sensors detect when a door or other access point is breached. Glass break sensors detect the unique frequency of glass breaking.
These are some of the most common sensor types. All of them notify security personnel to respond when a breach is detected.
The purpose of deterrents is to prevent threats from ever arising in the first place. They include:
Maintaining good visibility indoors and outdoors is an excellent way to deter potential threats. Lighting is particularly important around access points, like doors and windows. It is also vital in parking lots and other areas where people are likely to be alone.
Fences, vehicle gates, walls, even shrubbery can deter criminals looking for an easy target. A barrier that requires extra effort to cross can deter many threats from breaching your perimeter.
Environmental design is most important for organizations with large, open campuses, like universities and medical centers. Open pathways, courtyards, and plazas increase visibility, leaving criminals with no hidden locations in which to operate. Consider reducing tall vegetation inside the perimeter of your campus to maintain sightlines in every possible direction.
Lastly, physical security can use technical solutions to aid response efforts after a threat is identified.
Personnel tracking is most important in high-security environments, like corrections centers. Any facility at high risk of experiencing violence or of becoming the target of an attack must instantly identify the locations of security personnel for rapid response. A guard tour system is one kind of solution that monitors personnel movement in real time to ensure maximum readiness.
Fires, natural disasters, and other emergencies require an immediate response from all parts of your organization to ensure your personnel's safety. Managing evacuations is one of the most important parts of emergency management.
Automated emergency mustering and roll call systems verify whether personnel are safe at muster points or still at risk inside your facility. This information helps emergency managers and first responders act more effectively during chaotic and dangerous circumstances.