Security Electronics and Communications

Jerry Forstater has more than 20 years experience in design management and consulting in security, life safety, communications, and infrastructure systems. Since founding Professional Systems Engineering LLC (PSE) in 1986, the firm has earned national recognition for its expertise in designing and integrating multiple building systems within corrections and justice, nuclear, university, government, and other facilities. He also pioneered the use of three-dimensional computer rendering for perimeter security. Under Forstater’s direction, PSE has completed engineering, design, and consulting services totaling more than half a billion dollars in construction costs for new construction and retrofitting of aged facilities. In this issue of Correctional News, he answers questions about the changing role of security consultants and the evolution of security electronics and communications in the correctional field.

Joe De Patta: Has the role of security consultant changed in recent years?

Jerry Forstater: It’s not only changed in recent years but, ever since September 11th, roles have changed. Every year the term “security” develops a new meaning for people and organizations.

The whole issue of Homeland Security has developed a need for security individuals who have a knowledge of operations and can provide protection from physical situations that are outside the normal threat. It used to be simply the guards and cleaning staff you had to worry about, access control and some video. Today there’s a different equation.

JD: What is the different equation?

JF: I’ve always said-and practiced-that the concept of security is not physical, it’s not electronic. It’s an operations-based principal with procedures and good professional practice, training, and policy. That’s more important today than ever before. To throw hardware and electronics at some problems just doesn’t make sense. You can’t just apply electronics to the correctional industry and expect it to work. You have to do it within the constraints of the people, understand what the classifications are within an institution, and know the progress of inmates and staff and how the two interact.

Transportation also is a huge component. Transportation in and out of a facility is probably the two most serious times when assaults occur, both in juvenile and adult corrections. That’s due to the ability of the inmate to obtain a weapon. Once they’re out of cuffs and out of physical restraints they can get together with other individuals, hide things, create disturbances, and so on. They are much harder to quiet down, because you are in the least protected security envelope at that point.

JD: How do you think the events of September 11th will effect the security industry?

JF: In the corrections industry we have actually come across terrorists who are being held at institutions. At one institution, which I won’t name, a federal agency showed up with a supposed terrorist, at the front gate of the prison, with machine guns and said, “We don’t have any paperwork, could you hold him until we come back?” At which point the corrections staff was completely puzzled as to what they should do. They eventually got the O.K. to hold the individual.

There’s a question about “rights” that needs to be answered right off the bat, as well as questions about policy and procedures, such as “now we have this person who could possibly be a terrorist. How do we hold him?” Many of the institutions have holding cells for large populations of inmates, but they aren’t equipped for this kind of person: a suspected terrorist. Many times you don’t even have a correct name for the detainee.

JD: How does the role of the security electronics contractor differ from that of the detention equipment contractor?

JF: The security electronics contractor is an integrator but he usually doesn’t handle hard-line products, such as glazing, hardware, doors, and windows. The detention equipment contractor often is a specialty contractor in hard-line equipment. He either has a relationship with another firm or has a subordinate firm within their envelope. They have to take on a much larger role and much greater responsibility, which helps to relieve the owner of any finger pointing at issues that may arise. You can say to one firm, “Make it work,” and they can’t say, “It’s not my fault.”

JD: How has communications equipment evolved as a security feature?

JF: Digital intercom has become very big. In other words, users no longer have to depend on the analog audio lines being switched at central control. You still have voice paths, but they are digitized much sooner and you are able to communicate more readily, quickly, and a little clearer. Connections are made on an almost immediate basis. What really is nice is that you can interface intercom, digital radio, and telephone all together and then even interface those with digital video on the site. Wherever that call comes from, it can actually automatically pop up on the touchscreen and a user can gain monitoring and control over an audio communication path that just came in. This is very powerful technology, especially in the correctional field.

Corrections is probably one of the most unusual applications of security in the world because nothing moves without central control. A facility is dead in the water without it-unless they have a whole bunch of keys hanging around.

JD: What have been the biggest changes in security electronics over the past few years?

JF: The two biggest, and certainly these are the foremost, are digital video recording and archiving over networks. Now, not only do you have digital multiplexing and recording, which has been around for a little while, but you also have the ability to archive the scenes in the form of data, which makes the compression huge. This compression means that you have very small amounts of data with large amounts of information that you easily access.

One of the things we do now when we design a correctional facility is specify multiplex video, which is a staged quasi-real-time video. We also have instantaneous recording by the officers and we have archival recording as well. The archival recording is a database that’s separate unto its self and is used for internal affairs, policy formulation and decisions, control training, and so on; it’s outside the hands of the officers on duty. It’s really used in the back room by supervisory personnel who can verify operations or search for an incident that occurred. The power of archiving is absolutely tremendous.

JD: Can you tell us what other technologies our readers should be keeping their eyes on?

JF: The biggest developing technology right now, I think, is RF Duress, which is a man-down technology. It’s a little expensive at present, but it’s becoming more available for medium-sized institutions. It doesn’t rely on ultrasonic or infrared but strictly relies on RF frequency. Using digital technology it measures where a signal actually came from and in many cases can avoid the use of triangulation, which can be a little haphazard in tightly confined spaces. We have a project that has an accuracy of twenty feet.

JD: How does the system work?

JF: The system records the amplitude of the signal that’s being emitted. An officer wears a belt pack transmitter and it emits an RF frequency in a man-down situation or upon activation of the infamous red button. There are video receivers all around, every 100 feet or so, and are calibrated to the receiver farm. That is a farm of receivers, all the way around a facility. They calibrate the transmitter to its distance from the receivers and make sure that the touchscreen or other annunciation system comes up with the same results. These video receivers, like any other licensed RF product, require an FCC license.

We’ve installed this technology in a large project in northern New Jersey, and we have several others going online. It is a newer technology.

We’ve seen a lot of duress systems that go into place and work well, only to fall apart due to too many false alarms. Then they just end up collecting dust. We believe that these systems will be much more efficient.

JD: Are there any technologies you thought would become popular but didn’t turn out that way?

JF: Actually, entwined with the Duress System, I recommended back in the late ’80s a GPS system for locating public enforcement officers and police. It turned out that the privacy and union issues were huge. People did not want it being used for fear that they were being monitored in a non-professional way. So it was a sacrifice of security for what we were told were privacy issues. The technology was great.

JD: Are there any technologies that you thought wouldn’t last but turned out to be successful?

JF: Yes, the integration of security and fire and safety systems. I was always of the opinion that highly-integrated systems were doomed to failure because it means putting all your eggs in one basket. What has happened is the systems have been integrated but in a way that each fails independently. The systems are designed so that if the fire system goes, it’s just the fire system, if a safety system goes, it’s just the safety module, and so on.

We have highly integrated systems through touchscreen control, but if one system goes, the others stay up.

JD: How does that work?

JF: Basically it happened because of the complexity of each individual system. Each system turned out to be microprocessor- or computer-controlled in and of itself. In the old days, a computer was so expensive and so complicated as far as software and licensing, it was ridiculous. In the old days the PDP11, the multitasking license, was $11,000. That was nuts.

Now, computers are so small and inexpensive that you can network them together and distribute them around. If one system goes, it doesn’t affect the other. Now if something gets shot it is just a part of the nervous system, not the whole brain.

JD: We’re hearing more about juvenile facilities built with higher levels of security. How do juvenile security needs differ from those for adult populations?

JF: Well, there’s greater sensitivity, but also a greater sense of harm that can come to the individual and a much greater opportunity for escape because of the speed and agility of young people. During transportation, juveniles often are held in levels of confinement that far exceeds those of adults. They are secured at the ankles, feet, and wrists so that they can’t run. Adults are usually secured together and to the van. Youths are tied together hand and foot because of their speed. That creates a different situation.

Also, you don’t want a juvenile entering an adult sallyport or intake area. You want the environment to be a little more calming. It has to appear less threatening; the glazing has to be a little different. In addition, due to the lack of discipline of many youthful offenders, we have to have greater monitoring. Those challenges create seemingly divergent directions. It requires a lot of analysis that leads to a friendly solution.

JD: Where do you see the industry in the next 20 years or so? Where is it heading?

JF: In 1995, it was said that by the year 2000 security would become a true profession. And if our own firm is a reflection of how professional security and protection has developed, that is certainly true. My staff is now certified by the Department of Energy for protection of nuclear facilities, and by the Department of Defense for counter-terrorism. We have six certified protection professionals on staff. The qualifications used to be that an individual just had to be from the FBI, CIA, or local law enforcement. That was enough but that’s no longer true. There are many more requirements, both educationally and experientially. You also must be able to write really well because you need to maintain a paper trail. If you can’t keep a paper trail, you’re dust.

JD: How big is your company, Professional Systems Engineering, LLC?

JF: We have 35 people on staff and sub-contracting consultants that work for us on special projects. We have a very unusual group of people. We’ve done a fair portion of corrections and juvenile centers in the United States. Our staff has worked on 90 percent of the nuclear sites doing counter-terrorism and physical security consulting for more than ten years. We have one individual who is certified by the Department of Defense as a counter-terrorism protection professional. Another man was the former communications officer for presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter. We have a crew of trained professionals with a lot of experience. We’re finishing up the Holocaust Memorial Museum for incident planning.

JD: What percentage of your work is correctional oriented?

JF: About 50 percent.

JD: What encourages you about the state of the security industry?

JF: The equipment has gotten much stronger from the point of flexibility of use. It used to be that I would have to design things to make them do what they weren’t supposed to do. Now I can develop solutions that have a more diverse application, but we can structure them to do things that we might not have been able to before. For instance, we can apply a map of a site onto one graphic control panel. The officers are able to not only see the perimeter, they can monitor the interior alarms and fire, fire evacuation, areas of refuge, safety cautions, and other icons that appear on the screen. They also are able to keep an audit trail of what happened during an event.

JD: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to add?

JF: I think that the professionalism in the newer, younger members of our industry has been far superior than in the past. They are keeping their eyes and ears open-intent on learning the new technology and really being engrossed by it. They make it work sometimes better than we imagined. They are putting things to work in a positive way.

It is really terrific when we go to a customer and we hear, over and over, how well the system is working. You can hear that excitement and they are pleased the system and equipment just keeps going for ten or so years or without a hitch or glitch.

That strength comes from a combination of the ruggedness of the equipment and also the respect that the officers give the equipment. It used to be frustrating because things broke down because of relays and shoddy wiring. Now, with quality installation and good design based on great operational practice, those people usually can make that system see, feel, or do more than it was even intended to do.