Many office users see the dozing watchman as the public profile of building security in Hong Kong. But now advances in building technology are waking people up to the strides being made in security systems. Technological developments in office security are something building owners are understandably reluctant to discuss, preferring to allow banks of surveillance monitors to give tenants all the assurance they need. That was until terrorism and increasingly sophisticated criminal networks posed a serious threat. With offices at risk from anything ranging from identity theft and computer fraud to plain old sneak thefts and robbery, office security is now as vital as lift machinery and ventilation. The Builtech Conference 2009, held in Hong Kong this month, heard that the hush-hush world of building security intelligence has been developing as a distinct entity from other functions that ensure efficient, comfortable and secure offices. This has its benefits but could also lead to inefficiency and uncontrollable costs. Mark Hargraves, head of physical protective security for HSBC, told the gathering of engineers, designers and other building technology professionals that security systems had fallen behind in energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. For instance, brightly lit corridors and walls of CCTV monitors had an immense impact on costs and subsequently rents, he said. But ways could be found to implement security technology that was more cost effective, energy efficient and even better at detecting intruders or gathering information. Hargraves said figures showed the market for physical security in the United States was worth US$28 billion in 2003 and was expected to rise to US$170 billion by 2015 - and those amounts did not include homeland security and defence sector. With CCTV surveillance having 'really come of age' and the use of internet-based cameras set to grow by 35 to 40 per cent in the next 10 years, those charged with office building security were now looking into more advanced areas such as video analytics, he said. Here, systems are being developed to respond to objects, facial recognition and suspicious behaviour or movement, while advances in the use of biometrics are already being applied to retina and fingerprint scans. No longer will office protection be limited to flashing your pass or nodding at the security guard. Building owners have tended to keep security operations separate from engineering and information technology (IT). But Hargraves argued that the best IT systems were not only likely to be the most secure part of a company's operations but also offered the path to greener security methods when integrated with surveillance cameras, card readers and other devices. In the US, corporations are eager to meet standards being set by the Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles for sustainable buildings and product use. Now, after the government agency extended its requirements to include building security, security device manufacturers and service providers, firms are seeking equipment and methods that are sustainable In addition to developers and the security industry in Asia embracing the green efforts that are making headway in the US, Hargraves said fears about integrating security and IT should also be overcome. 'There is now more appreciation of the impact of security on the environment,' said Hargraves, a former Hong Kong police officer who has an MBA and a degree in computer science. 'Now, the intention by the industry is to move towards sustainability, and this is what camera producers have started to do. LEED now uses green security technology as a starting point for new buildings. 'Less security equipment, but a more efficient use of technology, can also be put into effect at the project management stage, for instance, with safer car parks, use of reflective surfaces and motion detectors for lighting.' Hargraves believes there should be more integration of security into IT systems instead of cameras being powered from a source within a branch office. They could be powered via the Ethernet or a network of computers. Data from cameras can also be used for marketing purposes. Information on where customers gather and move can help with the positioning of point-of-sale or promotional literature. Hargraves pointed out that those images were usually transferred into algorithms without privacy being compromised. To give some idea of the need to be conscious of the rising economic and environmental cost of security, Hargraves said a bank, such as HSBC, would have 4,600 cameras recording onto 580 DVDs, mostly at branches and at the ATM network to spot low-level crime. This would generate 3.3 million hours of video each month. 'This is proprietary to the security team. We maintain and run it more as a deterrent, for investigative support, operational reasons and regulatory compliance. But building it around IT would provide a safer environment.' Perhaps one of the most cost-effective and green-friendly security methods is what Hargraves called 'human intuition', which can spot suspicious behaviour or crime taking place. Last year, staff at an HSBC branch in Central and the police helped bust a pickpocketing gang operating near the bank. Trained and conscientious staff proved as invaluable as technology. To raise awareness of green security, and assist the industry in advancing the integration of security and building systems, Hargraves is planning a two-day conference next year at City University. The event, from May 31 to June 1, will be a forerunner to the Securitex conference at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.