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6 Essential Elements for Effective Electronic Security

The performance of electronic security systems is critical to loss prevention. First, they do a lot of the department’s heavy lifting—performing vital operations like surveillance, fire and intrusion detection, and RFID access control. And a new system or an upgrade doesn’t come cheap, which is a second reason why you want to be sure to get a system right. One critical piece of advice?

Loss prevention directors need to call on many skills—not just their security smarts—to make a new or upgraded system optimally effective.

Purchasing an electronic security system requires plenty of strategic security planning: examining both internal and external threats, planning layers of protection, defining access authorization, choosing an appropriate monitoring strategy, and the like. But purchasing an electronic security system requires more than security expertise. It also requires LP directors to be futurists, critical consumers, recordkeepers, and good communicators, suggest guidelines from the Electronic Security Association derived from a consensus among subject matter experts.

It’s not only good security planning that is necessary for success, say ESA guidelines. There are myriad non-security aspects to implementing effective electronic security systems. The suggestion is that a system can fail to meet protection goals for many reasons that have little to do with security management. Following is some of the experts’ advice for avoiding those mistakes.

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1. In addition to what electronic security devices do, consider how they do it. ESA guidelines warn against picking equipment that may perform well and meet specifications but is only available from and serviced by a sole vendor. “Non-proprietary equipment is generally more cost effective in the long run, more likely to ensure compatibility with other equipment (existing and future), and allows more flexibility in choosing contractors for support or upgrades.”

The recommendation is for LP directors to choose loss prevention software products that use open architecture and IP-based communications to allow compatibility across product lines and ease the addition of new applications in the future. So, when might the purchase of proprietary equipment make sense? The answer, according to ESA guidelines: when it is needed to extend an existing proprietary system instead of replacing it, or for special advanced applications.

2. Think about your company’s future. Beyond functionality, a new system should be evaluated for whether it can be efficiently scaled in the future to accommodate growth. A long-range view may also help to stretch out implementation and make an out-of-reach system affordable. “Some systems can be implemented with phased-in additions for multi-year budgeting,” according to ESA guidelines. “For example, extra cabling can be run during the installation but only some of the card readers or cameras installed in the first year.”

3. See what projects other departments have in the pipeline. The report notes that some systems are used for multiple purposes, so costs for updates and growth can often be shared across projects. For example, if a location is already planning to update its telephone system or computer network, the security system can take advantage of the upgrade without adding redundant infrastructure costs.

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4. Effectively communicate with project partners. Purchasing a new system to enhance security requires the input of others. LP will need to work with many professionals during security surveys, proposal evaluations, and again during system integration and installation. Stakeholders with whom an LP director may need to effectively communicate include:

  • a consultant who provides advice in system design and implementation;
  • an integrator who installs and programs the system and coordinates the project;
  • a safety manager who must ensure that a new electronic security system and related procedures and applications do not create an unsafe situation or condition;
  • operations personnel who maintain the building drawing package and might assist in periodic inspection and preventative maintenance of the system; and
  • an IT manager who works with the integrator to ensure that the security system design is compatible with other data and telecommunications networks.

5. Be a discriminating consumer. Even the best technology can perform poorly if the system is not set up properly. It is important to effectively screen potential contractors.

  • Seek referrals from other retailers with projects of similar scope and size.
  • Contact the state chapter of the ESA for a list of local integrators, and ask potential contractors if they are members of ESA.
  • Determine whether integrators meet state and local requirements for licensing and insurance.
  • Review whether installers and technicians: have nationally recognized training, such as ESA’s National Training School, including continuing education; have vendor-authorized training on the products used; and have special training if video cabling is used.
  • Check for any special certifications that might be required in some states and for certain specialized systems, such as for fire systems or as required for grant eligibility.

6. Maintain accurate and detailed records. For the purchase or upgrade of an electronic security system to go smoothly, and for it to perform as intended, the existing security system and supporting infrastructure must be accurately documented, including floor plans, fire escape plans, and layout drawings for existing electronic systems, noting the brands of those systems. Ongoing changes will also need to be noted, suggest ESA guidelines. “The Security Program documentation package should be kept current, revising the drawings as appropriate whenever alterations are made to the security system or to inter-connected systems.” The guidelines also direct directors to “maintain an ongoing relationship with the integrator after installation, periodically reviewing service logs and operating patterns for potential desired changes to the system operation or programming.”

This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated May 21, 2018. 

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