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Designing and installing security systems in federal buildings: Lessons learned

Richard Tkac

As a product-agnostic provider of HSPD-12 compliant design and installation services for physical security systems in federal buildings, our team has learned significant lessons about key phases of most projects.

First, it is critical to know the answers to certain questions prior to any design and installation activity.

Second, the type of project -- whether it is a remodeling or new construction of federal entities -- can create its own challenges.

Third, testing and validation is the final due diligence necessary for a successful system.

The essential questions

When providing security services at federal buildings, multiple issues and concerns must be considered in order to deliver an acceptable security design and installation for the customer. These critical questions include: 

  • Will the building be government-owned or government-leased?
  • Will the building house a single federal tenant or will it house multiple federal tenants, each with their own special physical security requirements?  
  • Will one access control solution meet all of the customer’s internal requirements for ingress and egress, or will multiple solutions be required? 
  • Will the interior and exterior CCTV systems meet requirements? 
  • Are bollards and gates required to control parking access? 
  • What are the tenant’s requirements for internal intrusion detection?

Once you have these details, the type of project, whether it involves remodeling or new construction, can present hurdles to a successful completion.

The remodel challenge

To achieve cost-effectiveness during construction remodels, the customer often attempts to re-use the existing cable infrastructure. Re-using cable can create real challenges when upgrading the security system, due to factors such as the age of the building and the likelihood that multiple vendors worked on the cabling during past years. Some customers also want to integrate existing end devices (e.g., card readers, key pads, cameras, etc.) with new end devices, which can present compatibility challenges for the integrator. This can become especially complicated if the age of the existing equipment cannot be determined through access to accurate, as-built drawings. Unfortunately, such historical data is often unavailable or out of date.

New construction: Understanding the specifics

In order to support new construction opportunities, it is critical to understand the security standards of the particular federal organization that will occupy the building, which can differ substantially depending on the end client. In addition, if an Architectural & Engineering (A&E) firm has already provided a security design, the contractor must conduct its own constructability review with the firm and end client in order to ensure that the design is understood. The constructability review is especially critical when the contractor is responsible for implementing the A&E firm’s design because, unfortunately, not all A&E firms understand the workings of high-end, fully integrated security systems.

Testing and validation are key

Finally, it is highly recommended that the newly installed security system remain on its own standalone network until the entire system has been installed, tested and validated. Upon validation, the security system can then be cut over to a logical network for final operation.

If cutover happens too soon, many outside factors (e.g., software patches, software integration, network administrator imposed upgrades, etc.) could hinder the functionality and reliability of the new security system, causing it to slow down and even crash. As a result, until due diligence determines that the security integrator is not the root cause of inadequate functionality and reliability, the customer could provide more scrutiny of the security integrator than is warranted.

Our experience creating design and installation systems for federal facilities has given us the opportunity to solve a variety of challenges. By knowing the right questions to ask upfront, being prepared for the hurdles of remodeling vs. new construction, and not short-cutting testing and validation, you can ensure a seamless security system installation. 


Rich Tkac, VP and Executive Director for American Systems. He can be reached at:

[email protected]



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