What's Behind My Door?

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What's Behind My Door?

The Complexities & Considerations Required for Designing a Security System

October 18, 2021 by John Karman

Picture yourself working in a physical office building. As you enter the building, you touch your access card to a square on the wall and…voila, the door magically opens and you enter your workspace!  Pretty simple, no? Actually, not really.

Designing a security system is a fairly complex process and requires a number of considerations and extensive collaboration between a team of professionals.

For starters, we need to be cognizant of the various building codes that govern the securing of buildings.  We can prevent people from entering a building, but we must always maintain some form of free exiting in case of an emergency. This can be delayed for up to 30 seconds, and that is where you see the door with the signs telling you to keep pushing and the door will open in a number of seconds. What about where we want to detain people - such as prisoners, dementia, or psychiatric patients in care facilities - or similar applications?  Well, there are of course exceptions to every rule, those exceptions then in turn come with their own rules.

It is therefore very important to communicate with the stakeholders of the facility to find out how they intend to operate the building, and if there are areas where the public is welcome, where they should be escorted, and which areas are strictly off limits just to name a few concerns. Does the client want all doors equipped with card readers, or only select locations? Does the system need to be able to serve multiple buildings in multiple locations or is it a standalone system? Are the building occupants able to operate a card reader or pushbutton?  We recently worked on a facility where several of the end-users are confined to a wheelchair and severely limited in their mobility. This required some head scratching on how to come up with a solution on securing the building, while at the same time not impairing the end-user’s ability to travel freely.

An approach that is tried, true and tested is to create a “Door Theory of Operation” (DTO) that describes all the client and code requirements in detail.  The DTO is initially developed with the design team and the client in a collaborative meeting and is then used by the team as the basis to identify the door details, hardware requirements and security and surveillance system.

The design team referred to is a multi-disciplinary team of professionals consisting of architects, security consultants, electrical consultants, hardware consultants and IT consultants – just to name a few.  It is these professionals that will translate the client’s operational needs into a functional building by developing the correct hardware and security system package for the facility. This can take the form of just a simple lockset on the door, or sophisticated electrified door hardware combined with door intercom systems, fire alarm, patient departure alerts, infant abduction systems, etc. On one recent SMP project we interfaced 10 different systems with the door security and access control system!

What is described above is just the design portion of the job; the installation can get even more complicated. There are at least three (and sometimes more) contactors and vendors involved with the installation, with each team member responsible for a different piece of this complex puzzle. For instance, the door hardware supplier supplies the door hardware, the carpenter installs the door and the hardware, the electrical contractor provides power and fire alarm to the door hardware and the door hardware specialties makes all the connections. With this many people involved in such a seemingly simple task of installing a card reader on your office building door, make sure you pick the right team or things may not work quite the way you intended them to.

So now you know what is behind your door – it’s either Gandalf, or a team of dedicated professionals!

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