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High-tech touring.

FOR MORE THAN 100 YEARS, THE mechanical watchclock has been the mainstay of security patrols and watchtours. It is widely accepted as a proven equipment technology that ensures officers are making their rounds and provides documented, irrefutable proof that watches are being performed as expected.

Now watchtour supervision has entered the era of computers and information management. New electronic systems collect, store, and retrieve tour data for future analysis and verify security rounds on tape or from microprocessor storage.

State-of-the-art computerized watchtour systems were first introduced in Europe in the early 80s, and in North America in 1986. Today security managers can select from a wide range of hardware and software, from simple bar code readers and recorders to sophisticated hand-held computers. One system records elapsed time between stations and informs officers of the location of the next checkpoint. Almost like a computer game, this unit is designed to keep guards on the go and on their toes.

Another high-tech system uses telephones at each checkpoint. Officers record their stops by entering a digital code on the phone. In this telecommunications-age system, tour information is instantaneously transferred to a data base for future reporting.

Many of today's electronic watchtours have similar hardware and software configurations. They produce no paper tapes to file or read. The watchclock key station has been replaced by an electronic checkpoint or data strip.

Control point technology and reading methods vary widely and include fixed magnets, bar codes, and magnetic bar codes. Bar codes cost just pennies per checkpoint, but unlike fixed magnets and magnetic bar codes, they can be easily duplicated or altered.

A magnetically encoded checkpoint is said to be superior due to its moderate cost and high resistance to alteration or duplication. Additionally, a magnetically encoded data strip ensures that tour data can be corrupted only by physical destruction of the strip itself. Its code is not affected by dirt, soot, graffiti, extreme temperatures, or magnetic fields. Data transfer can be completed even through thin layers of paint or other harsh conditions that would cause an optical system to fail.

In a high-tech watchtour system, the tour recorder or data acquisition unit (DAU) replaces the traditional watchclock. State-of-the-art electronics provide accuracy, efficiency, and durability. Operation is simple and requires no computer training. An officer simply touches or scans a tour station with a DAU. Most recorders on the market today provide audible as well as visible confirmation that checkpoint information has been stored.

In one recently introduced system, the DAU is in fact a miniature computer. It stores different watchtours and automatically generates reports by comparing the present tour to the ideal tour in its memory.

The DAU downloads directly to a printer via a system accessory, a data transfer unit. The system is compatible with almost any printer and comes with a command book that includes special data strips used to program the DAU to produce reports and printouts. The system requires no special training for the security manager and provides the user with indisputable documentation of tour performance.

For a security organization with more demanding needs, another system with a wide variety of software is also available. The software ranges from basic, easy-to-use packages that require no computer experience to sophisticated systems for security organizations with dedicated computer personnel. All software is menu driven and runs on IBM or compatible PCs with a hard disk drive and serial port.

One popular software package features an interactive menu and provides well-documented reports in a matter of minutes with self-training. This system is also flexible enough to develop special reports for organizations that require them.

Users and manufacturers alike generally agree that an electronic watchtour is not for everybody. Mechanical watchclocks are still highly regarded, especially for tours with less than 20 stations. Most seem to agree that the high-tech tour recorder has found its niche in larger facilities with several officers and lots of areas to tour.

So how do you know if you're ready for electronic tour equipment? Let's weigh the advantages. The first is weight itself. Most electronic tour recorders weigh between seven and 15 ounces, a benefit that's sure to please watch personnel. Also there are no paper tapes to file. And a tour recorder, unlike mechanical clocks, can't be broken or tampered with. Tour stations are also smaller, less conspicuous, difficult to remove, and tamperproof.

Exception reports are also a major advantage of the electronic tour. You discover where officers didn't go, plus visits that weren't on the schedule. And only microprocessor precision can provide the watchtour supervisor with features like tour time windows and deviations in time from programmed values. Those are more than enough reasons to take a look at today's high-tech tour. About the Authors . . . Robert R. MacDonald is director of marketing for Detex Corporation and is a member of ASIS. Bill Clark is an account executive with Zvlke and Associates Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:computerized watchtour systems
Author:MacDonald, Robert R.; Clark, Bill
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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