Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Organisations Must Look at Whole Life Cost for Sustainable Security Systems

The initial cost of a security system is still the deciding factor for many organisations and businesses. Yet as recent cases have shown, particularly across the healthcare industry, this approach can be extremely costly longer-term and even life threatening. Brian Ferguson, security specialist at Ingersoll Rand explains why businesses must start to think in terms of whole life cost if people and assets are to be fully protected.

The security and protection of people, business assets and premises is one of the most important yet arguably one of the most overlooked issues in modern times. Businesses and organisations across the globe continue to opt for the cheapest option possible, without fully considering the risks and long-term implications for their people or their business assets.

Organisations are faced with a vast array of security options from mechanical lock and key through to highly sophisticated, electronic solutions, operated with specialist software. The lock and key option commands the cheapest up-front cost however this must be measured against the longer-term costs and risks involved. With the protection of people and business assets more important and challenging than ever, electronic access control systems are fast becoming the only viable option. 

While there is currently no legislation governing which systems should be used in the UK, it’s clear that the Government is watching, as are organised criminals and lone opportunists. The consequences of not having enough security are only too evident when you look at cases such as the horrific attacks which took place at Stepping Hill hospital in June and July last year.

During the two-month ordeal a lone attacker poisoned 22 patients by contaminating their saline drips with insulin. Unfortunately the security measures in place at the time did not prevent the perpetrator from moving freely throughout the hospital buildings, tampering with medical records and accessing medical supplies to commit the crimes undetected.

Following the attacks there has been a visible shift towards electronic security systems across the health sector. Not least because of a Government instruction that all sensitive areas, information and medical supplies within the health sector must be accompanied by a robust process of auditing. Although there has been no requirement placed on public sector organisations to install electronic access control systems this is not something which organisations can or should rule out.

Indeed, many organisations are already making the move to electronic security independently. A hospital in Aintree recently switched to an electronic access control system to help strengthen their audit trail and protect patients and staff. Keen to install a tailored, scalable platform capable of protecting and monitoring of specific parts of the hospital they selected Ingersoll Rand’s PegaSys system. Its ‘wire free’ design means it is quicker to install than traditional electronic systems and is ideal for retrofitting with minimal disturbance. Comprised of a network of electronic cylinders, validation readers, electronic wall readers and an e-trim or electronic door handle, the system at Aintree currently protects 60 areas across the hospital. These include wards, medical supply stores and areas containing sensitive patient and hospital information. It also allows them to monitor staff movements and if a key-card is lost, it can be disabled immediately. 

The investment made absolute sense to the hospital team from a security point of view but also in terms of protecting the hospital financially in the longer-term. Previously, the upkeep of a manual lock and key system alone cost the hospital in the region of £30,000 each year in replacement keys, new cylinders and administration costs. Compare that with the cost of just £1 to £2 per replacement key card combined with the increased, sustained protection of assets, and the decision to move to an electronic access control system was an easy one to make.

There’s no doubt that electronic access control systems provide a much more secure and scalable platform than the mechanical alternative. Easier to install than a key-based system, electronic systems allow managers to preset access levels for individuals and protect designated areas, and when employees leave the business access can be cancelled relatively quickly. Crucially an electronic system provides a fully auditable series of checks and helps prevent the entry of unauthorised persons.

The fact is that sub-standard security systems are as bad as having no security in place. With mechanical lock and key systems keys can be lost, copied without permission, handed to unauthorised third parties, or people may simply fail to hand them in when they leave a place of employment. Keeping a reliable and meaningful manual record of user access patterns is almost an impossible task and unfortunately crucial information often goes unrecorded.  In the case of the Stepping Hill hospital incidents, the reality is that the presence of a robust electronic access control system could have enabled much earlier identification of the perpetrator and reduced their ability to cover their tracks.

The Stepping Hill tragedy is a classic example of where basic security measures were simply not enough to fully protect patients, staff and business assets. In today’s world organisations cannot afford to ignore the risks. The only reliable protection comes from a truly integrated electronic access system, one which stops intruders in their tracks. Regardless of the issue of legislation, businesses must look at the whole life cost of their security systems in order to make the right decision. Organisations have a stark choice: to protect their people and businesses, or risk exposing them through inadequate protection.

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