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Managing a successful expansion.

Dell learned to balance cost, quality, and security in its expansion project.

Dell Computer Corporation, a manufacturer and direct marketer of high-performance PC systems in Austin, Texas, is one of the fastest growing Fortune 500 companies in America, with projected sales of more than $4 billion. This explosive growth presents incredible challenges to the security department.

In just four years, Dell's security program grew from a small force of a dozen officers and a leased alarm system to a seventy-member department with its own control center and a $2-million budget. Buildings are acquired so rapidly that security sometimes has only thirty days to conduct a survey, install all equipment, and deploy personnel. In this fluid environment, security must be responsive to customer needs, innovative at solving difficult problems, and flexible enough to handle any situation.

To tackle these challenges, Dell uses the latest electronic technology and staffs the security force with a strategic mix of proprietary and contract officers. In addition to asset protection and internal investigations, the security department is responsible for a number of other security-related matters, such as proprietary information, executive protection, and employee awareness programs. The security program's focal point is a sophisticated central control center located in a facility at the heart of the industrial park. The center monitors camera, card access, and alarm functions in an integrated package.

The control center receives data from the various security systems located throughout the company's twenty-one buildings. Most functions are automated to allow a single officer to do the work of many.

Cameras--responding to card swipes, infrared alarms, or computer programmed patrols--automatically pan, tilt, and zoom to capture these events and transmit their images back to the center over fiber-optic or microwave links. The pictures are evaluated by operators, while being recorded on time-lapse tapes.

Critical frames can be digitized as computer picture files and sent by electronic mail or fax to managers, who can view the pictures at their desk, and discuss them through conference calls, thereby maintaining the confidentiality of control center operations. Multiple frames can be linked together to create a digital movie to be viewed on any computer if motion is required to analyze the circumstances. Indoor cameras are all color, while each exterior environmental housing contains both a color and a black-and-white camera, with a second housing mounted in tandem containing a 500-watt infrared spotlight.

During the day, vivid color images are received, while at night, photocells activate illuminators, and cameras are switched to black and white for optimal performance. Outside cameras contain electronic shutters allowing operators to read the license plate off a speeding car or the name off a badge of a person walking toward a building.

The alarm system, audible for fire and silent for burglary, sends signals to the control center over redundant dedicated lines. While operators radio dispatch patrol officers, the computer evaluates the type of alarm and if appropriate, automatically calls the fire or police department and pages security or safety managers with a plain text readout on alpha pagers. Cameras are prompted to move to the location, and maps are automatically displayed to the operator. When handling trouble alarms, the computer can generate schematics and diagnostic reports, and fax them to technicians for evaluation.

The card access system rounds out this integrated package. Access to hundreds of doors is controlled based on an employee's security level. Each swipe of an access card is recorded on an audit trail in a relational database that can be sorted in a variety of report formats. These reports can be output to a printer or imported into a computer application, such as a word processor or the electronic mail system.

Each swipe also triggers one or more cameras that tape the event, and the action momentarily shunts the burglar alarm point for that door. Although audit trails come back to the control center, each building's card access system is independent and can function on its own indefinitely. All of these systems can be accessed by managers from anywhere in the world through the Internet network or directly by modem.

Twenty of Dell's twenty-one buildings are located in an industrial park, with the corporate headquarters three miles away in a commercial area. Security could not commit to one technology because the company acquires buildings as different tenants in the park vacate, and each new building is unique. The design philosophy was to remove the communication center from the rest of the security force to provide backup for the officers in the field, to monitor numerous parking lots and doors with just one officer, and to save on equipment costs. The video central processing unit (CPU) can handle over a thousand cameras and has more options than the smaller and collectively more expensive CPUs that would have otherwise been required for each building if set up individually.

Dell learned from the mistakes of other companies in the area. Those businesses had experienced several robberies in which the security officer was caught by surprise and overpowered. Before leaving, the robbers stole the videotape system. At Dell, the monitors and recorders are located in an administrative building that was central to the other buildings in the industrial park. Should an officer be attacked, the control center operator would see this on the monitor and could call police and dispatch backup security officers.

Keeping personnel costs down is always a priority. Having a single officer monitor the entire complex with a couple of patrol officers available to respond when needed is one way to accomplish this goal. Most of Dell's lobbies have security officers working during the day. After hours, the lobbies are controlled by card readers and monitored by cameras.

In selecting a camera system, the security department wanted one that would meet present as well as future needs. An expandable system--that could handle anything from a handful of cameras to dozens or even hundreds of them--was desirable. Equally important was the desire to expand horizontally--to start out transmitting over fiber-optic cable but have the freedom to simultaneously use coax, microwave, slow-scan, or radio technologies. The system also had to be able to interface to multiple alarm and card access systems and to grow from a single user to a multiuser capability. The company was not necessarily going to use all these technologies, but it needed the flexibility to use any of them, in any combination.

Security chose the Vicon 1300 CPU for video applications. It had all the features and expansion capabilities at the right price, and the first configuration had four interior color cameras and four exterior camera packages, all with pan/tilt, autofocus, autoiris, and zoom lenses.

Security then thought about how it would monitor these pictures in the control center. For viewing, many companies stack numerous cameras onto one monitor with a sequencer that switches from one camera to the next. These images are also output to time-lapse videotape in the same fashion. The department tested video switchers or sequencers but rejected them because they are difficult to watch and the tapes they produce are even more difficult to scan through at high speed. Digital encoders sequence through cameras and place them on a single tape, but with them the user can select to play back a single camera at a time. The computer examines each frame of tape and only plays those frames that carry the digital stamp of the desired camera. This works but reduces the apparent resolution by reducing the number of recorded images per second for each camera.

Instead, security chose Vicon V-2110QS quad-splitters, which take four cameras and place them in quadrants on one monitor. Two 13-inch color monitors were installed side by side, with quad images in each one and Vicon VCR401 time-lapse recorders connected to each monitor. The results are eight, highly stable images that can be reviewed on tape at fast speeds.

The tradeoff here is that once these quad images go to tape, they cannot be enlarged to full screen. Some computer systems can digitally expand images to full screen, but the image quality is reduced. The digital sequencers discussed earlier can sequence through the cameras on tape while putting live images in quadrants. This provides a stable image to the operator, but the user is back to the fewer number of frames per second on tape for any particular camera.

Dell solved the problem by mounting two larger 19-inch monitors--designated as "hot" monitors--above the smaller monitors. These record full-screen images from a single camera. Security tied in a Vicon Matrix 44 video switcher with the camera CPU, card readers, and alarm systems. Operators can switch up cameras to full screen, conducting a manual video patrol or sit back and monitor events as triggered by alarm points.

For example, if an employee swipes his or her badge to exit the rear door of a building, the inside camera is switched up to one hot monitor, and an outside camera moves to the area outside that door and sends the picture to the other hot monitor. Over a hundred cameras and eight hot monitors are now in place. Costs are contained with only one officer on duty at a time because of the automation built into the system. The hot monitors are switching like a sequencer, but the images are "hot," meaning something is occurring in that location, rather than showing just routine sequences of empty lobbies and random events. The security officers take these pictures more seriously. The quad images below them are still stable and can be scanned at full speed if needed.

One remote facility proved to be beyond the existing fiber-optic range, with no practical way to use repeaters. The first attempt to solve this problem was to install slow-scan video--a CPU at the remote site that tied four cameras into a quad-splitter and sent the images back over standard phone lines. Security tested several different brands that had varying speeds and resolutions.

To get the image quality the company demanded in the application, security had to increase the scan time beyond practical limits. In multiple tests, security officers were able to get into the building or escape to their car and drive off without being captured on video. These systems operate in sequence--instantly snapping a picture then sending the data across in two to thirty seconds--and then on to the next camera. By the time it gets back to the first camera, someone can easily get by.

Recorders could have been placed at the remote site, which would have recorded the camera image before being reduced and sent over the phone lines. But the image the control center officer would be seeing in real time still suffered and someone could easily sneak past. Also, the security system would have been getting away from the central tape library, and the patrol officers would have to add tape changing duties to their rounds. Furthermore, none of these systems allowed for remote control to follow a suspect or adapt to changing conditions. That left the option of placing additional security officers at the site or using more expensive transmission methods.

The long-term economical solution was to use microwave radio. The Microwave Radio Corporation MA23VX system is capable of sending video images to the control center and sending camera control commands back to the remote site. A small microwave dish was placed on the roof of the control center and on the remote facility, which fortunately had a direct line of sight, with no obstructions.

Security solved the problem by placing a quad-splitter at the remote site and sending a quad picture back on the signal. The cameras can still be individually addressed for control, and if an operator wishes to enlarge the image to full screen, he or she only has to press the auxiliary function switch on the Vicon keypad. The camera recognizes this auxiliary switch and forwards the command to the quad-splitter, which switches to full screen. This idea of stacking cameras on one video source worked so well that it was used with other remote locations.

Dell decided that quad pictures are an acceptable imaging solution in buildings when compared to the demographics of the location and the cost savings. Take, for example, one building a mile away from the central control station that has eight video cameras. To zoom in or out, both lenses operate together, although only one camera is being viewed at one time. It does not matter which camera is selected to zoom as either one affects both lenses. A common photocell with a simple relay switch turns on the infrared illuminators and selects the video source to be placed on the fiber. The result is a smooth transition.

This built-in partial redundancy is an added benefit when a color camera or lens suddenly fails in the field. The operator can manually select the other camera and monitor from it until repairs can be made. All of this equipment fits in a standard Vicon environmental housing, which also has a heating strip for winter and a cooling fan for summer. Since this approach is a little more complicated than single cameras, several camera packages are kept assembled and pretuned, waiting to be bolted in place in modular fashion. The defective package can be repaired in the shop.

For digital computer imaging, the company used an inexpensive Video Blaster board from Creative Labs. This card plugs into any MS DOS-based computer and costs only a few hundred dollars. A separate 19-inch monitor and time-lapse VCR is used for reviewing tapes, so that live recordings are never interrupted. The video-out jack was taken from the monitor and that image was input into the Video Blaster board. It only takes seconds to pause the VCR at the desired frame and click a few commands with the mouse to store a digitized image to disk. This image can be either printed out or imported into the company's electronic mail system.

A manager investigating his or her employees' time and attendance could receive a picture of an employee leaving early, with the door description, date, and time stamped on the image. A quad image might have confidential information in the other three quadrants, and these can be blacked out by software or the desired quad can be cut out and digitally expanded to full screen. Software can loop several frames into a "movie," and this file along with a "player" program can be sent to the manager.

Providing this kind of service to managers greatly enhances the value of the security department. Many other digitizing boards are on the market that produce higher quality images at considerably greater expense. Most security departments, however, do not have the budget for such luxuries, and the Video Blaster board was the perfect solution.

All of Dell's buildings use the Radionics 8112G2 panels for burglary and fire protection. A Radionics 6500 central station alarm receiver is used, and the signals are fed from there into a Dell 486 computer running SIS's alarm receiver software. The SIS system takes the account zone and extended zone information and converts it into plain English. This improves response time and reduces the chances of misinterpreting alarm information. Corresponding maps are displayed on another screen, with the device involved flashing on the screen.

Emergency phone numbers are programmed into the software, and the computer can dial these numbers for the operators. The security and safety managers can also be automatically paged by the computer and notified of the problem on alpha pagers.

Should a medical emergency occur, a few keystrokes on another keyboard will automatically page all members of the emergency response team at once, and their pagers will display either the pre-programmed computer text or the manually entered message from the keyboard. Alpha pagers save precious seconds by not relying on some cryptic number coding scheme used by some numeric pagers.

If an operator fails to respond to an alarm within a determined time, the system automatically pages management and the shift supervisor. Reports can be generated on each operator to show how quickly he or she responds to alarms, and history reports can be produced for all buildings to help identify trends and problem areas.

The Radionics system and alarm panels were purchased rather than leased. The alarm receiving and reporting service was, however, initially contracted out. Once the operation became large enough to justify the expense, Dell bought its own central station receiver. The panels were already in place, and security simply re-programmed the panels to call the company instead. The system operated off the receiver that provided a liquid crystal display showing account number, type of alarm, and zone. Several months later, security had the money to buy the SIS alarm receiver software, and this rounded out the capabilities of the alarm system.

This logical progression allowed the operation to grow to self-sufficiency with no retrofitting and total compatibility. At first two phones lines from the company's private branch exchange (PBX) phone system were used. When the system went down one evening during a thunderstorm, the design was changed. The primary phone line into the panel is the Dell phone line, which speeds response due to only having to dial an internal, four-digit, extension number. The secondary backup line is a local Bell telephone line from the outside that does not go through the company's switch. This gave security the idea to establish emergency command centers in each building in the event of a disaster. Each alarm room is now equipped with direct lines, and a command post can be located quickly at any one of these locations. Instant alarm reporting on a data bus would be the best method, but many of the buildings are too far apart for that approach at the Dell complex.

The final piece in Dell's integrated package is the access control system. The company picked the ICI Barlock system from Intelligent Controls because it was economical and easy to use. It ran on existing computers, which made it that much more attractive since it greatly reduced the expense. Most companies prefer a distributed network of card readers where intelligent panels operate in each building independent of the host machine. If communications to the host are cut, the panels continue to allow access and record the audit trail.

Dell agreed with this method but took it a step further. In the alarm panel rooms of each building, the company installed small 386 Dell computers, and each one is a completely self-contained card access system. The master card reader system located in the control center receives nightly uploads of audit trail data from each remote card reader computer. Connections between all the machines are accomplished with two high-speed error-correcting modems. Each remote computer is programmed to call the main computer in the middle of the night and at staggered times to report the audit trail. Employee entries need only be made at the host computer, and it will update the employee file.

In other systems, panels in the field that are cut off from the host will eventually run out of memory and begin overwriting the audit trail. During the time they are cut off, no programming can be done on them unless provisions have been made in advance. With Dell's design, the panel can be programmed from the host machine or security can call the remote machine up on a Novell network and program it or go to the keyboard directly. The audit trail at the remote machine goes right to the computer's hard disk and will never run out of space before the broken link is fixed.

The computers are tied in with the alarm panels and camera systems in their respective buildings. If one building goes down, or even if the control center goes down, alarms are still received locally and cameras are still panning to record events. Security officers in those buildings can log on to the alarm system computer from their desks and monitor what is going on in their own areas. Since most of the panels are remote and have to dial in the alarm, there is a delay of a few seconds. But the cameras on the hot monitors start panning immediately, which tells the control officer that something is about to happen.

Quality is an ongoing theme throughout the system. For the videotape library, security buys the best tapes of those the manufacturer recommends. The video heads will last much longer, and the image of the suspect on the tape will not disappear after it has been reviewed dozens of times. Nothing is worse than going to court with evidence in hand and finding that the tape has given out.

Similarly, Dell will not compromise on color cameras if lighting permits, because the human eye can see so much more apparent resolution in a color versus black-and-white image. The systems are designed to be as redundant as practical for disaster recovery, and computer hard disks are backed up nightly.

The overall system has performed well. The one change that would be made if it were possible, would be in the fiber-optic system. The transmitters and receivers do not have the capability to work with data as well as video.

Now that the fully integrated system is in place, Dell has a sophisticated security control center that watches 1.5 million square feet of facilities and 5,000 employees. With careful planning it started out small and expanded in all directions with absolutely no retrofitting or reconfiguring. The company has learned that the cheapest solution is not always the best solution; it is better to pay a few extra dollars to have the quality needed with expandability built in.

Robert L. Ansley is corporate security manager of Dell Computer Corporation in Austin, Texas. He is a member of ASIS. This article is a Technology-at-Work Award winner.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Technology at Work; Dell Computer Corporation
Author:Ansley, Robert L.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Rising high with security.
Next Article:Is your company haunted by risk?

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