'Standards' for Access and Intrusion in 2012?

By Ethan Ace, Published Dec 13, 2011, 07:00pm EST

In November 2011, the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance released version 1.0 of its Area Control Specifications [link no longer available]. These specifications aim to standardize the way access control and intrusion detection systems communicate with host software and each other. In this update, we will look at what these specifications could offer, the backers, when products may begin to be release and what impact this might have on the market.

The Specification

While the PSIA specification is not yet publicly available, multiple sources have explained key elements to us. According to our sources, the area control specification defines how access and intrusion components "speak" to host systems, as well as other independent subsystems, such as fire alarm or building management systems, as well as PSIM. The spec does not extend to configuration of panels, meaning users still need to configure access or intrusion panels as they normally would.

It should be noted that this specification is not only a hardware-to-software interface, but is meant for panel-to-panel configuration, as well, with no software intervention required. Connections between entities are in the form of client/server, with polling initiated by the client. There are provisions for a single entity to function as both client and server, however, for completely bidirectional communciation, not simply unidirectional monitoring.

The practical applications of this specification potentially include common scenarios such as:

  • VMS integration to access control or intrusion detection systems, linking events to video.
  • Communication between access control and intrusion detection systems, to arm zones when the last person exits, disarm when an authorized cardholder enters, etc.
  • Simpler integration between access control or intrusion detection and building management systems. Thermostats in different zones could be raised or lowered depending on the alarm system status of each zone, indicating whether the zone is in use or not.

The area control spec uses the PSIA's Common Metadata and Events Model [link no longer available] (CMEM), which is their standard for formatting, sending, and processing metadata. The CMEM standard is also used in PSIA's other specifications, for video and analytics.

Manufacturer Backing

The PSIA Area Control specification has the backing of a number of industry heavyweights within access and intrusion, including Honeywell, UTC (Lenel and GE), Tyco (Software House, Kantech, DSX), Mercury, and Assa Abloy. These five organizations undoubtedly make up a very large portion, if not a majority, of the access control industry. A handful of them, including Mercury, Tyco, and Honeywell have intentions of shipping product in 2012.

Industry Effects

Open platform suppliers, such as Mercury, Assa Abloy, and HID have released their protocols to software partners for years. However, this specification does not reduce or eliminate the need for development work to integrate new hardware to a given access management platform. Device configuration is currently outside the scope of the spec, meaning users still need to use a manufacturer's given software to configure panels, cardholders, schedules, etc.

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There are interesting applications presented by this spec, however. The most interesting possibility is perhaps easier integration of VMS and access control platforms. Adoption of this spec by VMS providers would allow them to display events from compliant access control and intrusion detection systems with potentially much less integration work. Considering the access control manufacturers supporting this, this addition could integrate their VMS with a large portion of installed access control platforms in the industry.


However, historically major access control and intrusion providers have been reluctant to open up integrations with third parties. As these companies have large long standing account bases, standards could make it easier for their customers to switch. As such, these companies have at least some motiviation to resist on increased interoperability. It will be very interesting to see which of them actually implements these standards.


As far as standards go, ONVIF has had a clear lead on PSIA, with much more widespread adoption and implementation in both cameras and recorders. However, ONVIF has made little progress in areas outside video surveillance. A 2010 announcement promised the ONVIF specifications would include access control, but little movement has occurred since. In contrast, the manufactuers supporting PSIA's area control spec are, without a doubt, the giants of the access industry. With products reportedly shipping within a year, ONVIF would have a lot of catching up to do, in terms of both development and membership.

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