The new lager

November 2006 Access Control & Identity Management

Under the previous government, the story of the Voortrekkers was mercilessly driven into the brains of impressionable youngsters.

Of the things we were taught was the concept of the lager, in which groups of travelling ox wagons would form a circle as a means of protection in the face of danger.

Today's South Africa no longer has ox wagons roaming the plains, but we face different threats and have had to create new defences against them. In the South African high-crime society, residential security is of primary importance to everybody and we have seen thousands of families moving into walled residential estates in an effort to secure themselves and live a relatively open and fear-free lifestyle.

Of course, criminals are not stupid and even with high walls and guards at the gate they still manage to get into what we consider the most secure complexes. The resolution many estates are now adopting is to opt for the same solutions business has used over the years and make more use of technology.

Brian Sharkey, of Security Management Consultants, says more estates are abandoning having a guard at the gate requiring visitors to sign in or issuing access cards to residents, and opting for more secure access. Biometrics is one area under the spotlight since it is much harder to lose your finger or for staff to give their finger to someone under duress. And for those hardcore readers, technology is available that can ensure a fingerprint taken by a reader is still attached to a person - only in South Africa.

Sharkey says there is some hesitance to use biometrics among residents because of perceived hygiene issues, but the added security seems to be winning people over.

Big brother is watching

The second technology being used to protect estates is CCTV or IPTV. Large estates have the inherent weakness of long perimeter walls that can not be patrolled on a 24x7 basis, leaving openings for criminals to gain entry (assuming they are not able to get past the gate guards). Hiring enough guards to cover the entire perimeter would be too expensive and estate managers are therefore turning to video monitoring.

Keeping an eye on the perimeter and being able to focus in on alarms activated by breaches in the electric fence, for example, makes surveillance much easier and enables fewer guards to protect a larger area. For those residents concerned about privacy, it is easy to set up these cameras with the ability to monitor vulnerable public areas and to ignore private gardens etc.

Sharkey adds that video technology can even be extended as far as facial recognition as an added security function of access control, as well as to provide evidence of who did what at what time by viewing archived images.

In the larger (more well-off) estates, these solutions are being integrated into internal emergency response teams. Whether it is a fire, medical or criminal emergency, some estates have response units on standby on a 24x7 basis. These teams react to internal alarms and can be at any emergency in minutes to render assistance until the police or an ambulance arrives. These services do no replace traditional security and medical assistance, but are able to reach people faster and control the situation until help arrives.

Many traditional security companies have realised that estates are becoming profitable markets in themselves and have initiated programmes to train staff to work with and in estates.

Many would argue that security measures such as the ones described above are only for the rich living in multimillion rand houses on huge estates. Sharky disagrees, noting that many of the newer estates being built are designed to accommodate everyone. In some cases there are large (expensive) houses flanked by less costly townhouses - some estates may even have flats for sale. He says housing estates are becoming more like suburbs with a variety of housing types for different people.

A free and relaxed lifestyle within an estate is something most people desire, but one must realise it comes at a price - and that is not only the rand value. Most estate residents want unbreakable security without any inconvenience to themselves, but have to realise this is impossible. Effective security can be non-invasive in the monitoring phase, but it can not be invisible. Housing estates of the future will rely on technology to handle much of their security needs, almost invisibly, with well-trained service personnel close at hand to deal with any emergencies that arise. Big brother is not always the enemy.

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