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The Facility Technologist: PSIM – The “Other” Intelligent System

Written by The Facility Technologist Columnist. Posted in Facility Management, Magazine, Security, Technology, Technology and FM, Topics

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Published on November 18, 2007 with No Comments

By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the November 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Most facility professionals have heard of intelligent buildings and how building systems are linked together in these types of facilities to make management easier. While most of the intelligent building systems to date have focused on HVAC and lighting control, security vendors have not been idle in this realm, with many creating intelligent building systems that focus on security management.

Things To Consider When Choosing A PSIM System

Be careful about vendor claims: In the early days of any new technology, some vendors may be overly enthusiastic and promise a little more than is realistic.

  • Move slowly and give yourself enough time: Be aware that any PSIM implementation is going to be complex due to the number of systems to be interconnected. Start with a single system, and test, test, test to make sure the PSIM is performing the way you want.
  • Preserve the integrity of systems: Some systems have special requirements; be careful how the PSIM is connected to them. Fire alarm installation and connections are governed by laws, and most codes require that any device interconnected with, or controlling, a fire alarm must be UL listed. It is acceptable, however, to read alarm signals from the fire alarm serial output to use as inputs into a PSIM, as long as the PSIM does not control the alarm. This one-way data traffic ensures the PSIM cannot interfere with operation of the fire alarm.
  • Find out how to get data from existing systems: Many systems can output text data from serial connections, send XML streams, or export data through an API (Application Programming interface). But some systems are not capable of any of these and may require you to read from the underlying database where the data is stored. This may require the services of a database programmer. It could also have implications for the vendor warranty. Before you start, ask vendors how they will get data from your existing systems into the PSIM, and ask if they have worked with that system in the past. Be especially careful to make sure the system can work with your video system; some older or proprietary systems can be very difficult to work with. If the vendor says its PSIM system can communicate with your existing systems, make the vendor guarantee that in writing.
  • Choose a company with a solid foundation and history: The PSIM market is still young, and, as with any emerging technology, there will be a shakeout where some companies leave the market. Choose a vendor that has staying power.
  • Look for a system with an open architecture that can integrate data from any detection, monitoring, or control system you currently have: This may not be as easy as it sounds; every system is different and has its own protocol for communicating. There are many in use today, including ModBus, OPC, RS232, BACnet, and LonTalk.
  • Look for flexibility in programming, so you can make the system respond to events the way you decide, not in a canned, preset way: You should be able to configure what the systems do for every type of alarm under every type of circumstance. For example, you may want to program the system to send you an e-mail if a fire alarm is triggered, but not when an access control alarm is triggered.
  • Make sure there is a mapping component: A quality PSIM will display facility floor plans showing the location of alarms. Ideally, it should be able to read CAD and GIS files.

In previous columns in TFM, I have described facilities where key security systems are linked together to perform automated responses to events in the facility. In the past, creating this type of system was a complex, custom project that required an experienced systems integrator. Therefore, these systems were used only in the largest and most complex facilities. However, these systems have proven so valuable that they are now made by an increasing number of vendors, and they are changing the way facilities manage security.

This new category of facility technology is called Physical Security Information Management, or PSIM. A PSIM system connects multiple existing safety and security systems into a single interface that automates notifications and interactions between systems and allows a user to manage many systems from one intelligent interface. Video surveillance, access control, fire and security alarms, video analytics, and other security functions are all interconnected to the PSIM hub, which reads signals from these systems and performs pre-programmed actions.

To illustrate, here is an example of a recent project where I implemented PSIM for a large, more than four million square foot facility. Before the PSIM implementation, the facility had video cameras, access control, and fire, security, and environmental alarms, but these items were not integrated.

When the access control system sent an alarm indicating someone had opened a locked door, the security officers had to go through an acrobatic routine of sorts. First, they had to move to the access control computer to read the alarm. Then they would go to a camera logbook to look up the camera nearest to that location. Finally, they would punch the number into the camera control to view the camera. Usually, by the time all this occurred, the intruder had already left the area.

With PSIM technology the same situation is handled like this: when the alarm from the access control system occurs, it is read by the PSIM system, which performs a pre-programmed series of actions. The PSIM system displays a floor plan of the facility with a flashing color-coded icon showing the location of the incident. It also sends a signal to the video camera system to call up the camera with the best view of the area. If it is a PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera, the PSIM system will give the camera the correct coordinates, so it can swivel and zoom for the best view of the door.

While the event is occurring, the system will also send e-mail alerts to select personnel, if it is programmed to do so. And, a PSIM system can do all of this in less than one second!

The ability of PSIM technology to provide a complete view of a security incident enables responders to have total situational awareness, which allows them to understand the event quickly and respond more effectively.

PSIM is now possible, because facility technologies are migrating to digital, computer based systems that can more easily communicate with each other than the analog systems of the 20th century. Because key facility systems can now operate on computer platforms, they can be linked into a single system. Even traditionally analog systems, such as video, are now moving to digital platforms, allowing communication between systems.

Much of the basic concept of PSIM is born out of the information technology world where managing complex computers and networks required integrated systems that detected and responded to problems. These systems, known as Security Event Management (SEM) or Security Information Management (SIM) systems, have been in use for more than a decade among computer and telephone network systems.

PSIM has become necessary, because there are simply too many systems to manage manually. Years ago, there were relatively few systems to deal with: fire and security alarms, access control, and video—and many facilities did not have access control or video systems. But today’s facility contains a whole host of systems. Video, access control, security alarms, environmental alarms, traffic management systems, video analytics, license plate recognition, and other technologies continue to flood facility managers with information.

PSIM also addresses another problem that has plagued facility and security managers—getting security staff to follow standard operating procedures (SOP). While staff members are supposed to do certain things when an event occurs, they don’t always do them, which can result in risk to facility occupants or can create legal liabilities. PSIM systems automate actions, so the proper people are notified, and security staff are prompted with on-screen instructions.

As facilities become more complex and security becomes more important, the facility manager is faced with an upward spiral of challenges, technology, and risk. A PSIM system can automate some aspects of security to help facility managers deal with this scenario and stabilize their facility’s place within it. 

About The Facility Technologist Columnist

The Facility Technologist Columnist

Condon, a Facility Technologist and former facility manager, is a contributing author for BOMI Institute’s revised Technologies in Facility Management textbook. He works for System Development Integration, a Chicago, IL-based firm committed to improving the performance, quality, and reliability of client business through technology. His past columns can be found here.

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