High-Tech Check In

Physical Security


High-Tech Check In

After testing a variety of products, the Bank of America Plaza adopted a mobile application that gives security officers an efficient method to track checkpoints.

Towering over the Atlanta skyline, the 57-floor Bank of America Plaza building is the tallest structure in a U.S. state capital and the tallest building outside of Chicago and New York City. Built in 1992, the plaza is home to a Bank of America branch, a large law firm, a conference center, and a spa. It's also adjacent to a MARTA train station, creating heavy foot traffic in and around the building Monday through Friday as people use the public transit system to go to and from work.

To secure this dynamic environment with 55 floors of tenant space, the plaza has contracted with AlliedBarton to provide guard services and has 24 officers on staff who patrol the more than 1 million square feet of floor space constantly.

"There are certain areas in the building that are off-limits for certain personnel, so we have to make sure that those areas are covered, locked, and stay off-access for people who are not supposed to go there because it is a public building," Director of Security Harry Mercer explains. "We can't have people just roaming throughout the building."

Mercer has managed the security account at the plaza for AlliedBarton for five years, and during that time, the security staff has used a variety of guard touring systems to ensure that all areas of the building are being checked on a regular basis. However, some of those systems were not always reliable.

One system the plaza previously used was a guard tour system in which officers touched a wand with a chip on the end against buttons placed around the building to read them. When guards were done with their circuit of the building, they would plug his device into a computer and it would download all the locations they had visited.

This system was durable, but "when it went down, it went down," Mercer explains. The plaza would then have to send pieces of the system to the manufacturer with a turnaround time of a week or two, during which there was no guard tour system working in the facility. "That was an issue," he adds as he had no way to check guards' progress in patrolling the building.

Additionally, some of the buttons placed around the building would fall off or go missing, creating another problem for guards attempting to check in during their shifts and racking up maintenance costs.

Another system the plaza tried was one that came with a cellphone-like device that allowed guards to check in at checkpoints using a cellular network. However, this could be difficult for the officers to use because in some areas of the plaza they couldn't connect to the network.

"In various areas of the building, [the system] did not work, as a cell phone wouldn't work and when it would get to a location where we received cell service, all the information was supposed to be automatically downloaded into a portal," Mercer explains. "Often times, that didn't happen."

The system was also difficult to use because Mercer had to create specific routes for guards to follow while on their shift that they could not deviate from. "It had to be done in a particular order…I've been in security over 12 years now, and in security, the unexpected always happens so you could be taken off a route in a heartbeat when the situation arises," he says.

With mixed results from these systems over a few years, Mercer decided he needed a system that would work better for his staff by being more reliable, allowing flexibility, and uploading information automatically into a portal so officers on duty could monitor which parts of the plaza were being patrolled at any given time.

In 2013, Mercer began looking at mobile applications when he discovered the recently released MoboTour. The system uses QR codes that are printed and placed in various locations throughout the plaza. The security staff can download the MoboTour app for iPhone or Android, enter a PIN from the company, and then have access to the plaza's version of the app, which allows officers to scan the QR codes and automatically load the checkpoint into a cloud portal.

This portal updates constantly and allows Mercer and others to check which areas of the plaza are being patrolled at the moment and the amount of time it took a particular officer to patrol a route on his shift. "As the officer scans that particular QR code, it goes into the portal, and from there, I can pull up what each officer is checking," Mercer says.

The plaza initially tested MoboTour over a 30-day period to ensure that it would work for the officers before committing to it. Mercer put MoboTour head-to-head with the system the plaza was currently using, which ended up going down during the trial. "I sent it off and it was a big confusion on getting the product back, so I'm glad we had MoboTour because we didn't have anything else in place at the time," Mercer adds.

After the successful trial run, the plaza decided to install 125 MoboTour QR checkpoints in May 2013. It also decided to purchase several iPhone 4Ss, which have the MoboTour app downloaded. Officers check out the devices from their supervisor and use them while on duty. "I have officers here around the clock, so the phones stay here on site," Mercer says.

So far, the system has been durable without the maintenance issues of previous systems the plaza has tried. "I haven't had to replace one of those QR codes since I started using MoboTour," Mercer says. "They hold up in the rain and in the weather."

The security officers have also been pleased with the system; they no longer have problems getting information to upload into the portal, like they did with the previous cell phone-like device. This is because even though a cellular connection is necessary to upload to the portal, the app itself can work on- and offline. If, for example, a guard is in the basement of the plaza where cellular reception can be interrupted, he can still scan the QR code and submit it to Mobo­Tour. It will then automatically upload the information to the portal when a connection is reestablished, along with the time stamp of when the guard actually scanned the code.

Guards are no longer limited to one particular route to scan the QR code checkpoints. Instead, each one of the three shifts has dedicated areas that it patrols while on duty because "what we might check during the day might not be as critical at night," Mercer adds.

Another useful tool that MoboTour provides is the ability to upload photos and file incident reports directly inside the app. "If there's a light out or a leaking pipe somewhere, or a hazard of some sort, [guards] can actually take a picture of that and do a quick little incident report and submit that to the portal also," Mercer explains.

These incident reports are then e-mailed to Mercer or, in some cases, to the owner of the building, Cushman & Wakefield. This is extremely helpful for Mercer; he receives reports on a daily basis so he can assess the issue and move to address it quickly.

Since installing MoboTour, the plaza hasn't made any major changes to how it's using it, but Mercer is considering updating the site phones to the iPhone 6, which was released in fall 2014. Overall, however, the system is working well, and Mercer says his staff is pleased with it.

"From an accountability standpoint, [the officers] know that it's going to work and they don't have to be afraid of something not going into the portal and then having to go back and check it again," Mercer says.