Mark Green, physical security specialist at LMG looks at physical security in smart buildings

Thousands of people enter commercial buildings each day. But with new regulations around social distancing, building owners and facilities managers alike are facing a whole host of new responsibilities – particularly as employees start to trickle back into the office, be it full-time or in a hybrid capacity. It’s vital that these building owners and facilities managers re-examine their workspace strategies as they plan for this next phase of building occupancy.

They’re asking questions they’ve never considered before, such as: “How will we manage occupancy levels to reduce the risk of transmission?” and “How can we provide superior, frictionless experiences to entice our employees back into the office in the first place?”

Physical security technologies – CCTV analytics, location sensors and access control – have emerged as critical sources of data in helping these building owners and facilities managers answer these questions and more.

Getting these decisions right will prove crucial: they can effectively improve visitor management, uphold health and safety guidelines, and enhance the overall tenant/employee experience and well-being.

Managing health and safety

Perhaps the most pressing responsibility they face is upholding limits on space occupancy, reducing physical contact, and remaining accountable for building occupants, their whereabouts, and their respective health status.

While the pandemic will eventually run its course, the expectations of visitors and occupants will remain irrevocably changed as we return to work. And as this new shift towards hybrid working will involve employees spending less time in commercial buildings such as offices, priorities will inevitably shift when it comes to occupancy levels. A lower occupancy level in a building, compared with pre-pandemic levels, means greater priority given to high quality experiences in lower occupancy areas. Let’s face it, workers will expect a little more breathing room when they return to the office.

Physical security technologies will help to make this process as smooth as possible. For example, access control allows firms to track and record the number of people entering, occupying, and exiting the building. CCTV analytics can be used to detect if people are wearing face coverings or not.

As many businesses adopt longer-term hybrid working models, smart CCTV applications and comprehensive access control reporting can assist owners and facilities managers in understanding how their buildings are being used – allowing them to make informed decisions on how to optimise the use of their real estate.

Providing superior tenant and employee experiences

The use of facial recognition and mobile phone credential applications for access control will also be critical to creating a superior, frictionless experience for visitors and employees alike. Using these technologies in combination with barrierless turnstiles will provide companies with a good level of security and occupancy data, which they can use to make effective decisions.

Facial recognition can be somewhat a controversial topic regarding privacy, mainly because there is a misunderstanding of how and where images are stored. It’s important to clarify that these systems do not store people’s pictures, rather they take key measurements of someone’s face and use that as an algorithm to detect exactly who they are.

The benefits afforded by this technology are huge, so it’s definitely worth considering. Aside from the obvious boost in safety and security, the overall experience of the building is vastly improved as a seamless flow of foot traffic becomes the norm. Employees in a building could access the areas they need to, entirely unhindered by traditional access control. And most importantly, they don’t need to touch anything along the way.

Embedding security into IT infrastructure

Traditionally, physical security has been somewhat siloed from the other facets of ICT or smart building infrastructure. So occasionally it’s assumed that it is a little behind the technological curve. However, as explained above, it’s quite the opposite. Data amalgamated from these systems is powering the development of modern smart buildings and is key to unlocking smart building success as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.

To take maximum advantage of this though, it’s vital that physical security systems are integrated properly within the rest of the smart building infrastructure. This ensures that all data is centralised. The security systems you install can be as advanced as you like, but without a way to aggregate the data produced with other sources, there won’t be anything ‘smart’ about it.

That’s why it’s so important to maintain a robust IP-based network, creating a backbone of connectivity that ties all of a building’s technology together, including physical security systems. This surpasses what is conventionally possible with traditional building management systems (BMS) and allows building owners and facilities managers to cross reference the incredibly valuable security data with other data sources — to generate maximum insight and make more informed decisions.

This is the true meaning of creating smart buildings – using the information offered up by the spaces and occupants themselves to develop tangible solutions that will reduce operating costs, drive sustainability, and optimise the workspace for everyone.