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Improving Patrols With Guard Tour Systems

The physical presence of security guards or campus law enforcement officers creates a high level of trust and security among students, patients, faculty and staff. Security patrols also tell visitors and the general public that this institution is well protected.

However, human nature being what it is, there will always be security officers who attempt to take short cuts in their work. When this happens, it often leaves a gaping hole in a campus’ security net. Thus, the need to document security patrols was born.

The guard tour system is the most effective way to accomplish this task. Supervision of mobile patrols is essentially maintained by logging a security guard’s physical presence at strategic locations throughout the facility.

The most common data logged by mechanical watchclocks is the day, time and location. More sophisticated electronic systems will also store event codes so the campus administration has a picture of what transpired at the time of the guard’s visit.This article provides an overview of the guard tour process. We will specifically discuss the various types of guard tour systems, including the shortcomings associated with older, mechanical-type systems.

Older Watchclocks Pose a Risk, Can Be Manipulated
Vintage guard tour systems commonly use a mechanical, wind-up watchclock into which hard keys are inserted and turned. When the key is turned, a time stamp is impressed on a large roll of time-calibrated paper.

The hard keys in this type of guard tour system are typically positioned at strategic locations throughout a campus complex. At the end of each day, this paper roll is removed, dated and stored for future review.

The problem with these aged mechanical, wind-up systems is that security guards have been known to circumvent the process, conducting an entire night’s worth of time stamps in a single round.

“If the guard is really smart, he could go out and buy keys that match the ones on site,” says Sim Gleich, president of Time Equipment Corp. of Richmond Hill, N.Y. This is done by opening the watchclock with a master clock key. With the unit open, the security guard can wind the paper, all the while administering the hard keys at each location along the way.

“He could also sit at home with his [watchclock] and at the proper times, insert his duplicate set of keys,” says Gleich. Another way this is done is to remove all the hard keys from their stationary positions, entering each one as the clock is wound. Either way, a single security guard can perform an entire night’s worth of time stamps in a single sitting.

Electronic Systems Less Likely to Be Compromised
Today, thanks to computer technology in conjunction with a variety of data collection methods, the days of guard tour fakery are just about over.

“The new guard tour systems are electronic, thus security personnel cannot play with the system. Instead of a clock, the guard carries an electronic scanner,” says Gleich. “Instead of a key, there’s an electronic button with a unique serial number that cannot be replaced by any other.”

Because these systems operate using a computerized clock, security personnel must physically visit each data device location in an established order for the system to properly log them into memory.

This has all but eliminated any possibility of manipulation. Of course, no matter what you do there will always be a relatively small percentage of individuals who have the knowledge and tools necessary to compromise any electronic system.

Today’s guard tour systems consist of a hand-held reader that, through a variety of technologies, can read and store the location of data devices. These data devices, which are located throughout a building, are used to document the time of each visit.

The data devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes and technologies. Some of the most common include touch buttons that contain memory chips, barcoded stripes and RFID (radio frequency identification) chips.

Another purpose data devices can be used for is inventory control. Examples include fire extinguishers and automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

Guard Tour Readers Come in 2 Varieties
There are two basic types of guard tour readers on the market today: contact and contactless.

Contact-type readers are hand-held devices, often referred to as wands, that collect and store location data when they come into contact with either a touch button or some other device. These readers rely on the flow of digital data using a metallic connection.

Contactless guard tour readers come in several technologies. When using a barcoded strip, the reader wand will usually contain an infrared laser that can scan and read a barcode. RFID-type reader wands are able to read a data device at a distance. This is done through exciting a memory chip inside a RFID card, which will then transmit a location code to the reader.

In most systems the security officer also carries a booklet of additional data devices that equate to incident codes.

“If a guard is going through his tour and there’s something wrong that management needs to know about, such as a broken door or glass window, he can press the new button to the unit and it will record the problem for later review,” says Gleich.

When the officer encounters a problem while executing his or her duties, he or she will scan the appropriate data device. The incident data is then impressed in memory for later review.

Data Access, Report Generation Improves Resource Management
The objective with most guard tour systems is to transfer the data stored inside a reader to a computer system or network. This is often accomplished using a docking device into which the hand-held reader is placed.

Docking allows the data contained within the wand to be accessed and stored by a personal computer (PC) or computer network. Once this data has been downloaded and stored, it can be used for analysis purposes, as well as generate specific types of reports for campus administers.

In some cases, an electronic guard tour system is accompanied by a special software package that allows management to view and analyze stored data. Where data devices are applied to equipment, an inventory of on-hand assets can by printed for future use by those responsible for a facility’s maintenance.


Al Colombo has spent more than 30 years in various capacities of the electronic security industry. He can be reached at (330) 867-4401 or [email protected].

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the September/October 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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