Hennepin County’s state-of-the-art security operations center (SOC) which serves the Minneapolis area, constitutes the heart of the county’s security systems.

In the past, a security integrator could succeed in working independently to devise and implement a large system. But with the complexity of current systems, going it alone may not be an option.

In addition to working with a larger variety of people from the client, many integrators also will find it necessary to work closely with construction consultants and other parties. Minnesota-based VTI Security Integrators found itself in precisely this position when it worked on a complete security system overhaul for Hennepin County in Minnesota.

Founded in 1980, VTI has built a 20-year relationship working with Hennepin County. The partnership began with basic, standalone systems located at government facilities throughout the county.

In the late 1990s, Hennepin was pursuing multiple independent security upgrades, including access control and video projects, along with a complete remodeling of its security operations center (SOC), located in the County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.

As the planning process continued, the decision was made to merge the three projects and take a big-picture approach to security throughout the county’s 122 facilities.

“When the projects at Hennepin were merged, the number of people involved in the process multiplied,” says Ralph Michels, senior accounts manager at VTI. “We found ourselves consistently working with a wide variety of people from the county, along with members of Paulson & Clark Engineering Inc., an engineering consulting firm that had originally been working on the logistics of an access control project.”

The project at Hennepin required an extensive planning phase, with significant levels of involvement from all parties. A new and radically redesigned SOC would form the heart of the new system.

It was imperative that the new SOC include built-in potential for growth, so an unshielded twisted pair (UTP) backbone was installed in the County Government Center.

Additionally, facilities throughout the county would be linked to the SOC via the county’s existing wide area network (WAN). VTI was responsible for selecting and integrating the hardware that would provide the functions required by the county.

As employees enter the County Government Center’s weapons screening area, their picture is displayed for visual confirmation of their identity.


“First and foremost, we needed hardware that would integrate access control, video surveillance, duress alarms and other systems,” Michels relates. “We also needed a user-friendly interface to allow the dispatchers at the SOC to quickly and easily monitor a large number of satellite locations.”

VTI worked closely with those at Hennepin to evaluate potential options and identify which of them would provide functionalities most valuable to the county. After careful consideration, two products from manufacturer Integral Technologies Inc., Indianapolis, the Continuum SE access control and DS XPress digital video recorders, were chosen as the foundation of the system.

“VTI did a lot of work to find which products provided the features we needed for the system to meet our demands,” reports Chris Marra, security manager for Hennepin County’s security division. “The user interface allowed for relatively simple control of a very complex system.”

Once the hardware was selected and the construction of the SOC and UTP backbone was complete, the new system went online. The changeover required significant planning and extensive coordination between VTI, Hennepin and Paulson & Clark. Before this was completed, an unfortunate turn of events placed even greater demands on the system and those working on it.

The County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis houses Hennepin County’s SOC.


In September 2003, a shooting occurred in a courtroom located within the County Government Center. In response, Hennepin County determined that the new security system also must encompass weapons screening for the building. This additional challenge was added late in the game, and it would take a team effort to address it.

Initially, the county felt it would be most effective to locate weapons screening points within the main atrium of the County Government Center. Located between two identical towers housing courtrooms and administrative offices, the atrium always had given the building a sense of open space.

The county valued this aesthetic but was willing to sacrifice it to improve safety. VTI, Hennepin and Paulson & Clark returned to the drawing board to explore avenues that would allow effective weapons screening without compromising the feel of the building.

“We looked into establishing two separate screening points directly under the towers,” Marra remembers. “Both of them would have to be located in relatively small areas, and the challenge at that point was finding a way to make the process as efficient as possible, so as not to create a significant backlog in foot traffic.

“Before the SOC had even opened, we were faced with the first test of the flexibility both of the hardware we had selected and the UTP backbone installed throughout the building,” he relates.

To streamline the weapons screening process as much as possible, the county decided to use one method for the general public and another for employees.

Both pass through a manned security station, but visitors must pass through a metal detector and their bags or packages must be X-rayed. The method of entrance for employees makes full use of the capabilities of Hennepin’s new system.

As employees approach a weapons screening site, they are required to scan their access control cards. Entering the area without a scan will generate an immediate alarm.

Once the card has been scanned, the access control system displays the head shot used on the employee’s card on a monitored screen, along with video of the person entering, allowing for visual confirmation that the person coming in matches the card that has been used.

By providing employees with a time-saving verification checkpoint, the flow of foot traffic was kept steady enough to justify installation of the screening points under the building’s towers, preserving the original aesthetic of the atrium.

The team of VTI, Hennepin and Paulson & Clark also made use of the system in achieving a highly effective response to alarm events generated by the weapons screening points.

In the event of a potentially dangerous situation, the security system is tied into the towers’ elevators and controls them to limit the movement of a possible threat. For the same purpose, stairwells also are connected to the overall system and contain features that respond to contain a threat.

“Working together, we were able to devise a complex system that would have otherwise proven impossible,” Marra notes. “VTI and Paulsen & Clark are examples of what can happen when integrators and consultants work closely with their customers and evolve beyond their traditional roles.”


With the challenge of weapons screening addressed, Hennepin County’s new SOC was brought online in February 2004. The transition required substantial planning and preparation, to which the parties involved applied the same spirit of partnership and cooperation.

Once the SOC was live, VTI, Hennepin and Paulsen & Clark immediately began the next phase of the project. With the necessary framework in place, satellite county facilities began receiving hardware upgrades and then were connected to the SOC via the county’s WAN.

Once integrated into the main system, the SOC can effectively provide backup and monitoring to security officers throughout the county.

At press time, systems at 25 of the county’s 122 facilities had been fully integrated with the SOC, and additional facilities are coming online on a weekly basis. By all measures, the installation is a success.

“The requirements for being a successful integrator are changing,” Michels emphasizes. “The ability to partner and work closely with other companies is becoming more and more of an imperative.

Sidebar: projects in the news

  • Entry Technologies, Valley View, Texas, has booked a full complement of MESH entry systems and card access from Viscount Systems Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, for the Metropole and Boardwalk with Cambridge Developments and Emerald by the Sea with Sunhill International as well other high-profile projects in Texas. The projects include installations beginning in 2006 through 2007. The latest operating system that allows long-range RFID access for vehicles will be deployed.

  • UPS Security Systems, Orange, Calif., will be able to manage security systems remotely via the NetBox from S2 Security Corp. (S2), Wellesley, Mass., through UPS Security Systems' SiteControl service. UPS has integrated the NetBox physical access security solution with the SiteControl remote monitoring and card access database management service. The service makes SiteControl's 24-hour support available to companies around the country, regardless of geographic location. Additionally, UPS Security Systems’ clients who choose to will now have the ability to monitor their own security systems from any location via a Web browser. Users of the integrated service should have reduced equipment costs and operating expenses.

Sidebar: On the Job

  • From Integral Technologies, Indianapolis (www.integraltech.com)
    1. Continuum SE multi-user access control software with badging and various software modules
    2. Net controllers and associated power supplies
    3. AC-1 modules
    4. Input/output modules; UI-8, DO-4, DM-20
    5. Data management server
    6. DS Xpress VAUs
    7. RAID level storage units
    8. Web Client Professional

  • From Pelco, Clovis, Calif. (www.pelco.com)
    1. Matrix switcher CM9760
    2. Spectra SE series PTZ dome cameras

  • Network Video Technologies Inc. (NVT), Menlo Park, Calif. (www.nvt.com)
    1. UTP Transmitters
    2. UTP multi-channel receivers

  • Sony Electronics, Park Ridge, N.J. (www.sony.com)
    1. Mini dome high-resolution color cameras
    2. Day/night cameras

  • Zenitel USA, Kansas City, Mo. (www.zenitelusa.com)
    1. Alphacom intercom exchange
    2. Alphacom substations

  • Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J. (www.panasonic.com)
    1. 42-in. plasma monitor
    2. 20-in. LCD monitors
    3. 15-in. LCD monitor
    4. Day/night mini dome high-resolution camera

  • Indala, San Jose, Calif. (www.indala.com)
    1. Proximity card readers (proprietary format)
    2. Proximity cards (proprietary format)

  • Fargo Electronics Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn. (www.fargo.com)
    1. Badging printer and supplies

  • International Fiber Systems/GE Security, Newtown, Conn. (www.ifs.com)
    1. fiber optic transmitter and receivers

  • Altronix, Brooklyn, N.Y. (www.altronix.com)
    1. CCTV power supplies
    2. b. Lock power supplies