HighTech Security Systems Coming On Line


    GRAND RAPIDS — New bells and whistles quietly are pushing their way into the management of access to West Michigan buildings and to special locations within those new buildings.

    And Scott Menser of the local office of D/A Central — headquartered in Oak Park — is one of the people involved in the spread of what is termed biometrics to businesses and institutions throughout western Michigan and reaching down into northwest Indiana.

    Menser is the technical director at D/A Central’s West Michigan office at 2215 29th St. The office has a staff of six. The operations manager is Troy Becker.

    The firm has installed and is upgrading security systems for literally hundreds of buildings along the shoreline and to the south in Kalamazoo, where its major customer is Western Michigan University.

    Through the company, WMU has card access and photo ID badges for students, faculty and staff, plus a new wrinkle — digital video systems — all on a single data base.

    D/A Central, Menser added, also serves main bank offices and bank branch offices by the dozen and other financial institutions from Lansing west and from Muskegon to South Bend. “We had Old Kent, too,” he said, “until Fifth Third took them over and brought in their own system.”

    Menser told the Business Journal that security management technology has reached a very sophisticated point, and that client companies are enthusiastically upgrading to more security systems even though the economy has slowed sharply.

    Perhaps the most sophisticated security systems, biometrics, still aren’t readily visible to the general public.

    “But there’s a lot of interest in them,” Menser said, “especially among the airlines now.”

    One biometric that was a James Bond film exotic two decades ago, he said, is palm scanning. Likewise, he said, iris scanning has begun attracting a great deal of commercial attention because now truly high-speed data processing makes it — like palm scanning —practical.

    He explained that each person’s eyes are unique, and a digital photograph of them can be assembled together with personal biographic data. At a convention he recently attended, he said he and his company’s representatives learned that scanning someone’s eye and inputting the data takes no longer than it takes to type in one’s personal biographic information.

    “There was no information about what such a system would cost,” he said. “They were just putting it out there for us to see it.”

    “Getting an iris scan back in the 80s,” he said, “meant you had to put your forehead against a form and put your eye right in front of a camera. But nowadays, you just stand a couple of feet away.”

    Likewise, identification scanning involves just a long glance at the scanner — a device that looks as innocuous as an old-fashioned electric eye. The scanner “reads” the eye, compares it with its database and grants or denies approval.

    “Some systems involve scanning both eyes,” Menser said. “And I heard of a case where the subject received approval for one eye but not the other, so no admission.”

    Menser said that another innovation, facial scanning, already is in widespread use in airports all over Europe, as is, in some cases, iris scanning. “And the airlines here are looking at systems like that,” he added.

    In fact, he said, some biometrics and even some combinations of them already are here in high-security areas such as bank vaults and other offices that contain sensitive material, data or property to which access is limited.

    But as interesting as biometrics may be, Menser said many firms in this neck of the woods seem fascinated with digital security cameras.

    “It’s digital video taping onto a hard drive rather than time-lapse recording a VHS tape. And the advantages are quality and speed.

    “It’s just a video camera up in the corner of the room like always,” he said. “But now it’s digital photography rather than tape. You can scan through it far more quickly. And retrieval is so much faster than with tape.”

    Moreover, a digital image on a hard drive can be e-mailed to the police or another security office far more quickly than a tape can be mailed.

    Finally, he indicated, when a crime or some other incident is recorded by a camera, the imaging is far superior to that of tape. Enlarge the taped image of a perpetrator’s face, and it looks like an etching on soggy toast; enlarge the same digital image and the image has much greater fidelity.

    While D/A Central focuses for now on combinations of technologies to protect buildings, it’s a safe bet that firms of this sort soon will become involved in applying such techniques to national security.

    War and new technology, after all, have a way of interacting with incredible speed.

    In what she calls a crucial “first step,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., recently introduced legislation to create a smart card visa system designed to prevent terrorists from slipping into the United States among the 30 million annual visitors.

    At a recent hearing before Feinstein’s Senate terrorism subcommittee, witnesses described an understaffed immigration system blinded by a patchwork of antiquated databases that doesn’t know visa applicants’ true identities and cannot locate millions of foreign visitors in the United States, including those whose visas have lapsed.

    Under her proposal, so-called “LaserVisas” carried by Mexican border commuters would be used by all U.S. visitors. Foreigners applying for a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad would have their fingerprints and photograph scanned into a centralized INS database and automatically run against the biometric data of terrorists or other criminals listed in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

    At entry points, visitors would have their finger, face or iris pattern scanned and matched against the data encoded on the visa card — or a central database.

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