The Role of Audio
Security systems require a robust solution to reduce crimes
- By Kelly Lake
- June 01, 2021
Buildings – they are the places where
we live, work and play.
According to the Energy Information
Administration, as of 2018 there
were 5.9 million U.S. commercial
buildings and facilities with a total of 97 billion
square feet. That’s an increase of 6% in number
of buildings and 11% in square footage in just
six years, compared to the department’s Commercial
Buildings Energy Consumption Survey
(CBECS), last conducted in 2012.
Every building has a life of its own. As it
ages, the building and its surroundings
change with the tenants, owners and building
requirements. Security and safety issues
change, as well.
Every business and facility must confront
three major workplace security issues –
employee and visitor safety, securing assets,
and the protection of data and other valuable
Those security issues require a robust
physical security system to reduce the opportunity
for physical damage, robbery, theft,
and other crimes.
The History of Building Security
It is important to understand the history of
building security and the key role of intercoms
throughout each stage, in order to effectively
mitigate risks and keep facilities safe.
Early office buildings often contained a
bank, making them an attractive target for
crime. One of the earliest building security
strategies included a security guard who
roamed the building, checking doors and
performing other tasks. That security guard
sent the message “I am here, and you are all
The desire for banks to have standalone
locations, and the demand for retail stores,
pushed bank locations out of office buildings.
Yet, security still existed, via elevator
operators, who were the eyes, ears, mouths,
hands and arms of the building. They provided
security by their presence and knowledge
of the building.
Weeks after World War II, the elevator (or
lift) operators went on strike in New York
City, and that paved the way for automatic
elevators, which in turn, eliminated the need
for elevator operators.
Emergency communications (via the
intercom) was added to each automatic elevator,
along with an emergency stop button.
Users began to trust the automated elevator,
knowing that help could be requested
through an intercom call or alarm, and that
they could be heard.
The Reception Desk
The next important evolution of building
security was the introduction of reception
and security desks, which still required a
person to be present and to interact with
visitors. The person(s) who sat at the desk
became the building gatekeeper and the new
“bank guard,” and they verified a person’s
identity and their level of access.
Door control increasingly became important,
and preliminary policies involved door
locks and large keychains with dozens of
keys. This addressed facility management, but a main challenge existed in verifying a
person’s access level. An ID card worked
well, but access enforcement relied too much
on human judgement. It was easy to circumvent
with a friendly excuse, “I lost my ID
card; please let me in.”
Here, the intercom allowed security teams
to communicate with and assist a visitor or
employee who had trouble with their ID
card. That person could contact security via
the intercom and communicate with them,
asking for and receiving assistance.
Today, building security is a sophisticated
risk management system that has extended
to outside of the immediate building, primarily
driven by multiple occupancy, the
expansion of corporate campuses, and the
inclusion of parking and other amenities.
And once again, intercom solutions are part
of that ecosystem.
Surveillance and asset protection have
grown to include not only the exterior of the
building, but in many cases, just beyond the
immediate fence-line at the perimeter of a
property. This is because the physical perimeter
is constantly being pushed out farther.
The sooner security teams can interact with
visitors, the better.
The same technological and automation
drivers that allowed for security and people
management inside the building have been
applied to the exterior and perimeter security
roles – gate controls are increasingly
automated, and surveillance has gone from
people on patrol to video and audio surveillance.
Yet, no matter what security technology is
in place, the need for human intervention
and interaction through voice always
The Importance of Voice
Effective risk management for a facility
- Keeping employees and visitors safe.
- Verifying who enters the premises.
- Protecting assets against vandalism and
- Offering visitors assistance, so they feel
welcome and find their way.
- Enabling reduced cost of ownership and
efficient management of human resources.
All those tasks can only be accomplished
by incorporating a three-component enterprise
security system, which comprises IP
video, access control and high-definition
voice working together.
Video alone is a reactive system. A security
guard sees something happen and sends
someone to respond. By the time that person
does respond, the event may be over. Security
is simply left with a record of the event.
Identity management can be thought of as
the brains of a security system because it
holds data and permissions. It can either
keep someone out or invite them in depending
upon the data that’s available at the time.
Audio brings video and identity management
together, and the result is a well-rounded
and responsive system that offers actionable
insight into potential physical breaches.
Communication is Critical to Secure Buildings
Think about how people hear, are heard, and
are understood. From a young age, people
have been trained to respond to a voice or a
sound. How many times have you turned
your head, or paused, when you heard a fire
alarm go off? How often have you seen
someone gesturing at you, to get your attention,
but you cannot hear them? It is difficult
to discern what that individual is trying to
tell you if you cannot understand them.
Audio and voice add information to a situation
so that you can determine what someone
is trying to communicate. In a safety
situation, audio can also detect noises, such
as breaking glass or other sounds that are not
within direct view of a video camera.
Audio can also prevent harmful situations
from happening. Someone waving at you to
stop walking into a room may be misconstrued
as them simply saying hello. Only their
voice can help you to understand that what
they really mean is “Stop! Don’t go in there.”
A secondary verification is another thing
that audio can provide. For example, when a
security guard sees something via video surveillance,
no matter how remote, all they
have to do is push a button on an intercom
solution and talk. If that person is lost or
simply needs assistance, security can talk to
them and provide directions and reassurance.
On the other hand, if that person has ill
intent, the security officer can interact and
even warn them they are being watched and
heard. Often, once someone hears a voice
and they know they’re being watched; they
are more likely to stop and leave the scene.
Facility security has come a long way from
elevator operators and reception desks.
Security technology has changed, along with
the areas that need protection, but it has
always included communication and voice.
The past days of a bank guard announcing
with their presence, “I am here, and you are
all safe,” is present today, but in the form of
intercom solutions and audio, working
together with video surveillance and access
control, to deliver an interactive and effective
solution that mitigates security and safety
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.