Ask the Expert: Accurate Assessment
(12/04/2009)

Rogers

T.J. Rogers is president of Accurate Controls Inc., a family-owned company that for the last 25 years has developed security automation systems for the correctional industry and other related markets.

Rogers has extensive experience with technical system design, software development, custom system assembly and installation, as well as project management and system maintenance.

As president of Accurate Controls for nearly 20 years, Rogers has helped grow the company into a leader in the security automation business. The company provides technologically advanced security systems utilizing only nonproprietary components.

Rogers recently answered questions from Correctional News readers and staff.

Q: Is it time to implement IP closed-circuit television systems?

A: Not quite yet, but IP closed-circuit television systems should be reviewed again in about 12 to 18 months for further consideration.

The pros:

  • It is the newest technology.
  • The major camera system manufacturers have created a full product line, from IP cameras in integrated housing to network switches and servers. With this development, there is a single source of responsibility, which should provide better service and a more reliable system.

The cons:

  • Of all the camera systems that are sold, only about 10 percent of them are IP. There are even fewer IP systems in the correctional industry. The technology and what is considered standard will continue to change dramatically in the next few years.
  • The cost is still substantially more than an analog camera system.
  • Who will maintain the IP camera system and its network? Considering that most IT departments at facilities are already over-taxed, will they add resources to manage this aspect of operations, or will the maintenance department be responsible for this work? If so, does the maintenance department have the expertise to handle the responsibility? This is a debate that should be considered prior to deciding on a system.
  • Since very few IP systems have been sold in the detention market, these systems don't have a long track record in the industry, thus you could be a pioneer.

Q: What is proprietary as it relates to electronic security systems and software?

A: This has been a debate for years by manufacturers, designers and integrators. The general consensus is that the product, software and technical training/assistance must be available through multiple wholesale distributors, dealers and developers within a given area or state to be considered non-proprietary.

There is one additional pitfall to avoid. Once you have selected the equipment and software, you should ask the integrator how the software is developed. Find out if the integrator uses the programming methods developed by the producer of the non-proprietary software, or if the integrator develops its own logic and embeds it into the non-proprietary software.

When integrators develop and embed their own logic, and that logic points to functions within the system, that makes the entire security system a proprietary system. It is critical that the facility becomes the owner of all the software, and at the end of the project, receives all source codes, software licenses and schedules used for programming.

Without this approach and information, the owners have only one source for system maintenance, upgrades and additions — the original integrator who can charge whatever they would like for their services. In most cases this is extremely costly. It is the smoke-and-mirrors approach and it appears that there are many integrators in the corrections industry that have taken this approach when developing software.

Q: My facility installed touch-screen operator stations six years ago. How and when should they be replaced?

A: Depending on the touch-screen application and the Windows operating system, the facility may be able to simply purchase a new CPU with a Windows XP professional operating system. This could involve rolling the Windows operating system back to Windows 2000 (service pack 4), and re-loading the touch-screen application. This approach gets you a new CPU and an additional six to eight years of use.

If the facility's touch-screen application runs on a Windows operating system older than Windows 2000 and it will not support service pack 4, then the other option is to upgrade the application and the Windows operating system.

Depending on the touch-screen application installed, the owner may need to send the old touch-screen application runtime into the manufacturer, who may give you an upgrade credit toward the purchase of the new touch-screen application. There typically are small settings that would need to be implemented, and the old application can run on the new CPU and Windows operating system.

This is where the non-proprietary question comes into play. In the case of Wonderware Software, a non-proprietary application, any of the hundreds of system integrators in a variety of markets could perform the upgrade.

If you have proprietary software or a proprietary code, you might be in the difficult position of being at the mercy of the original system integrator or software manufacturer. This can result in a very costly upgrade or total replacement of the software. In this case, I would plan well ahead of any foreseen CPU failures.

Q: What steps should be taken during the transition from the construction process to occupancy to ensure that detention hardware and security systems are properly installed?

A: The process of construction and the implementation of detention hardware and electronic security systems is delicate. Basically, when the general construction is substantially completed, electronic security and detention hardware should be tested and the certification process can begin. The testing and certification process is very important. It is my experience that in most projects there is not enough time allotted by general contractors or construction managers to perform this process.

It is imperative that the system integrators and detention hardware suppliers have an opportunity to operate the facility as if it were a jail before inmates are housed at the facility. This process cannot be done with the other trades working in the building.

In virtually every project, this process is not fully executed, which is why the transition between the end of construction and occupancy is often troublesome.

Q: Has technology reached a level where courts can begin to have confidence in video courts, in regard to sound judicial practices at all levels? Does this make site location and proximity to court facilities not as critical a role in the new jail construction?

A: Yes, the technology that performs these operations has become very reliable and easy to attach as a network device or an Internet application.

Q: My county has an outdated, fractured data system. Our court systems do not interface with each other, let alone the jail, and all paperwork is by e-mail or fax. Given this, have developers made progress with creating an instrument for interconnectivity, or is it best to scrap the systems and start over with an entirely new system?

A: Without knowing what systems, software and data systems you currently have, this is a difficult question to answer, but in general, it is always easier and in many cases more cost-effective to start over. Gather everyone's wish list and implement a new approach and system. When starting from scratch, you have the ability to shop around and find or develop the system that works best for your facility's particular needs.

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