Security, Meet Automation


Integrating access control with control and automation saves energy and boosts space and worker efficiencies.

When Dan Fulmer remodeled his FulTech Solutions custom integration facilities in Jacksonville, Fla. a few years ago he was a bit ahead of his time — and not just because he built it out with green materials and energy-efficient technology. He tied the HAI security access control system into the Crestron automation system, so when the last worker checked out at night and armed the system, lights would turn off, the cooling system would set back, and anything else that was left on would shut off.

Along with converting to LED lights, Fulmer estimates his company has saved 50 percent or more in utility bills by integrating the security access control with the automation system. “Being passive is the key to it working,” he says. “I don’t have to worry about people shutting stuff off. Arm the security and it does the rest of it.”

That’s something now being addressed by larger commercial buildings, office buildings, facilities and institutions. No longer is having lighting, security, HVAC and other systems in separate silos, never to interact with other systems, the thing to do. Proper systems integration, including access control, is a good business practice.

Why? In a word, money. Integrating technologies like a security or access control systems with lighting, HVAC and other systems through a control or automation network makes sound business sense for the money it can save in improved building efficiency. And yes, that starts with energy. But it can also make more efficient use of space and help people working in the buildings be more efficient. And that means being more productive.

“The top three expenses of a business are people, space and energy,” says Mike Carter, director of Integrated Building Solutions with control company AMX. “Bringing all the technology together within the building can help companies make all three of those — people, space and energy — more efficient. Once you tie all of them together you get the old adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”

“The biggest driving factor is efficiency in the workplace,” says Dave Silberstein, director of Channel Development for Crestron. “Anything I can do to make the entire process more efficient for people should be done.”

Features and Benefits Abound

With security access control and control and automation tied together, many new high-tech features that improve building, space and worker efficiency are possible. When the control system knows the building or a part of it is empty at night, it can shut off lights and dial down a heating or cooling system, saving the building owner or tenants energy and money. When people arrive in the morning, lights and HVAC systems can come on to full power. Burglar alarms can trigger lights inside and outside of the building to turn on or off or flash. And those are just some obvious features and benefits.

In the event of a fire alarm, all the audio can shut off in a conference room or throughout the building. Lights can turn on so people can find their way out, every touch screen control surface in the control and automation system can be used as a way-finder so people know where to go. Maps can automatically appear on conference room and classroom projection systems to lead people out.

In the day-to-day operations, badge readers in a lobby can direct visitors to meetings. Conference rooms can be booked via Outlook or other calendar programs, and then the presentation equipment can automatically turn on when it’s time to start. Badge readers or occupancy sensors in conference rooms can detect when people enter and leave and turn on or off equipment automatically.

“There’s definitely a move and push to bring security systems in line with audio/video and digital signage,” such as flat-panel screens used in lobbies, says AMX’s Carter.

It Starts with Sensors

Much of this, of course, starts with sensors, from badge and card readers for access, to occupancy and motion sensors, many of which are already in place and used by a building’s security system.

“Occupancy and motion sensors are fundamental tools and are already owned by the security system,” says Crestron’s Silberstein. “And once the automation and security systems are communicating, we can bring a whole other set of benefits to the buildings.”

Even if you have to add sensors like motion and occupancy sensors to parts of a building, with the security and automation systems integrated you’ll have dual benefits of the sensor, says Kirk Phillips, product manager for security systems company Elk Products. Just be sure you get a higher caliber sensor that can be used reliably on a security system, and not an average run-of-the-mill occupancy sensor like those used to turn lights on and off in bathrooms.

The Big Connections

So how are security and control/automation systems connected so they can communicate? Methods and protocols vary, but a popular way in the commercial building space is through BACnet IP. BACnet is a communications protocol used primarily by HVAC, security systems and building management systems. Once it’s on IP, or BACnet IP, it’s on an open network that an IP-based control and automation system can communicate with.

Then there are systems such as the secure computer network in a business, which run the email platforms and calendars used to schedule meeting rooms, for example. “Automation systems end up being the bridge between those systems,” says Silberstein. “The value you can gain from doing this is tremendous,” says AMX’s Carter.


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