THE MAGAZINE

Smart Solutions to Security Problems

By Robert Elliott

Protecting a Magic Music Hall
Despite its inclusion within a four-building complex making up the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Walt Disney Concert Hall sets itself apart by radically diverging from the traditional “shoebox” style concert hall that characterizes the Music Center’s other facilities. The $274 million structure rises from an intersection of Los Angeles’s historic Bunker Hill district in a rush of wavy steel that is designed to appear like a ship with its sails at full mast. Given the building’s unique architecture and lushly appointed interior—including expensive paintings and sculptures—it was only natural to want a strong security system on board.

The goal was a system that would both help to deter crime and aid in investigations if anything did occur, says Robert Harris, director of security at the Music Center. “If we have some negative incident, we can go back and research the cameras and ascertain, based on the proximity card times and the camera times, who was where when a particular incident happened.”

The Disney hall has more security equipment than the neighboring facilities not only because of its grandiose structure but also “because it has more internal areas,” says Fred Scripture, who as president of Valencia, California-based Commercial Control has been installing security systems at the Music Center for a dozen years. For example, the Disney hall has more cameras and proximity readers than the other halls.

Installation of the system began during the construction of the building and took about two years. Components included electrical conduits, wiring, cables, card readers, door contacts, cameras, and the control room equipment. Additional equipment has been installed during the two years following the building’s completion in October 2003.

All information gathered via access cards and readers and CCTV cameras (which are placed throughout the facility) feed back to two central control rooms, one in the Disney hall and another at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There is also an extensive alarm system hooked up to the network, including fire alarms, all of which are monitored from the control rooms. “This is a truly integrated access control system,” says Mas Kosaka, president of Torrance, California-based PCSC, which designed the system.

Each control room is staffed by an officer around the clock, seven days a week. Officers work eight-hour shifts. The two control centers are identical and redundant so that if one breaks down, the other can be used to ensure uninterrupted security operations for the entire Music Center, says Kosaka.

Applied Wireless Identifications Inc. (AWID) supplies the proximity cards. They are printed on-site at the Disney hall using an Eltron P310C printer, and programmed via PCSC’s LiNC-NET software. Employees with access privileges to multiple buildings in the complex can use the same card to gain entry to all of them.

The cards carry photos for identification and, for VIPs, a magnetic stripe containing credits that can be used for the purchase of concession items.

The Music Center security staff registers new users into the system and issues the cards. The process includes taking the photos and applying certain design templates with differing color schemes to the badges so that employees from one department can be discerned from those of another. 

The security staff was trained by PCSC and Commercial Control. The initial instruction was fairly straightforward and was completed in about four hours, says Harris. Those who work in the control rooms need about 64 hours of training, including a one-week course at a local college.

The proximity card system is an important component of the security system because of the huge numbers of visitors the hall handles. Harris estimates that up to 30,000 people pass through the Music Center on peak days, of which up to 8,000 go through the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The Disney hall, which does not share the same plaza as the other three venues, draws people not just for performances, but also for its parking garage, gift shop, restaurant, and deli. That makes access control more challenging and more critical. The proximity card system ensures that the public is kept away from the inner recesses of the hall.

“During the day the Disney hall is open to tours, so card readers perform the function of separating the internal workings of the hall from the public,” notes Scripture. The readers “are used for elevator control and to separate public areas from private areas.”

The card system can also be programmed to limit an individual’s window of access to certain hours or periods of time. Harris notes that a team associated with the renowned architect of the building, Frank Gehry, recently needed a week-long pass to hang some pricey artwork. “We gave them cards that we can turn off and on at will,” he says.

Likewise, cards are programmed to accommodate the schedules that apply to different in-house groups: housekeepers, security personnel, production teams, Los Angeles Philharmonic  members, orchestra staff, engineers, music center administrators, and others.

“With a diverse population like we have, it’s essential you have a system like PCSC, where the software controls the egress and ingress,” says Harris. “People are programmed according to which group they pertain to automatically when they come on board. Groups are preset according to which doors they need.”

The proximity reader system furthermore can be programmed quickly to effectively limit the comings and goings in the building.  “I can shut out ten people from the building within minutes,” Harris says. As an added precaution, those who are no longer allowed in the building are asked to turn in their proximity cards and their parking passes.

Tailgaters, or people who enter the building by shadowing those with access, cannot be prevented by the card access system. But in many locations CCTV cameras can capture that type of violation, or the proximity cards can finger who was responsible for allowing strangers to enter the building. “We have had those kinds of violations, but for the most part, it is not a problem,” says Harris.

Inside the Disney hall, mechanical keys control most areas, although proximity cards again play a part. Exit devices on exterior doors are dogged down (the latch is held in retracted position) during operating hours, but authorized personnel can access certain doors at other times, using proximity cards that retract the latch. Electric latch retraction is incorporated in the Von Duprin 3547 narrow-stile exit devices on aluminum doors and 9847 devices on other doors of the Disney hall.

Other security system combinations have been tried, including swipe cards, but the unobtrusive and hands-off nature of the proximity cards has been preferred. “We used to have standard magnetic [stripe] cards at the site, but they were cumbersome,” says Scripture. “This is much, much easier to use. You just hold up the card.”

Harris says that he does not like keypads, because nonsecurity users give the numbers away, and the combinations, therefore, have to be constantly changed. One such system used at a Music Center control room was scrapped.

The proximity card system has already proven useful for investigating incidents at the facility. Recently it was discovered that staffers were illicitly using the Founders room—the private reserve of the hall’s most important benefactors—to watch football games on television and tap the open bar containing about $100,000 worth of liquor.

“We ran the PCSC and narrowed it down to several employees,” says Harris. “From that group of people, we found the person [chiefly] responsible, and so we quelled the thefts.”

(For more information: PCSC; phone: 310/303-3600; e-mail: sales@1pcsc.com.)

User Checklist
Feature  Benefits/Drawbacks
Programmable Eases addition/removal of access privileges
Design templates Facilitates easy recognition of card category
Dual technology ses proximity and mag- stripe for multipurpose
Auditable   Creates access record for investigations

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