Physical Security Trends and Ballistic Security Trends for 2023

In October 2022 Mark Herrington, CEO of OnSolve (a leading critical event management provider) made a grim observation while being interviewed on Security magazine’s Security Podcast

“Physical threats—crime and shootings—in the United States have increased over 245% [since 2020]. … I read a lot of different analyses around prognosticators of the global landscape… Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do believe that unfortunately, the world is not going to become less chaotic in 2023 and 2024.“

Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards is not inclined to disagree. He has decades of experience working in ballistic security, and believes there are four key physical security trends that will play a major role in the coming year:

  1. Risk Analysis and the Demand for Higher Security Level Barriers
  2. Integrated Access Control Systems
  3. AI and the "Cyber-Physical Security Convergence"
  4. Supply Chain Instability

Importantly, none of these trends stands in isolation. Each interacts with others: Supply chain issues affect your ability to immediately use many integrated access control systems, which may rely on newer technology (like AI or cyber-physical integrations) that complicate your risk analysis… and so on.

Demand for Higher Ballistic Security Levels and the Need for Better Risk Analysis

For years, Jim Richards has noted that organizations increasingly begin their security planning with the assumption that they need to be prepared to stop a killer with an AK-47. When Jim and his team point out how rarely this is the case, most organizations then revise their plans and opt for a lower security level.  

But over the last year, TSS has been seeing more and more cases where the organization sticks with the much higher security level despite the cost.  

“Things continue to trend into higher level security," Jim explains. "Levels 3, 4, and 5 are commonplace now. … This is especially the case with institutional end users, like schools. … What would have been a Level 3 system a year or two ago is a Level 4 or 5 now.”

For example, in recent months, TSS has supplied a single community college with dozens of Level 8 aluminum doors. These are four-inch thick doors weighing hundreds of pounds—a style previously seen almost exclusively in federal facilities or military checkpoints.

"Obviously, an organization makes this kind of investment because they feel there is a real threat they need to address. But we hope that organizations are investing in good, ongoing Risk Analysis to guide those decisions. It's one thing to put in Level 8 doors because you've determined this is what you need to reply to a specific, ongoing threat. It's another to do it because your local newspaper knows stories about mass shootings get more clicks." 

Integrated Access Control

"We also see more people integrating access control," Jim notes. "Keyless lock systems, card readers, automatic openers, systems that link human resource or customer relation management or billing systems directly to the doors, 'mobile-first access control' phone apps, and so on. The hardware is getting more and more sophisticated, and people need someone who can integrate that directly into ballistic products, like your rated doors and framing. At times, that can make for a challenge, because you have armor plate and fiberglass and different things. Also, as we’ve discussed in the past, ballistic doors weigh more than the non-rated products some of these systems were designed for. All of that needs to be taken into account in designing your physical security barrier.”
That said, drawing on decades of experience in physical security barrier engineering, fabrication, and installation, Total Security Solutions can consistently find solutions to these challenges (the company name isn't just hollow bragging).

But some of the increasingly popular solutions—like "mobile-first" access control and security monitoring—create an opportunity for new risks and threats to enter the physical security equation.

AI and the "Cyber-Physical Security Convergence"

"Mobile-first access control" solutions are a perfect example of the "cyber-physical convergence." These are powerful tools for increasing security and will no doubt get more attention in 2023. But their utility needs to be measured against their capacity to create new risks and amplify threats to your organization. Tightly integrating cloud-based and networked access control with physical security and building systems creates opportunities for a remote attacker to both steal valuable data and lock you out of your physical building—or for a disgruntled former employee to sidestep the physical security designed to keep them out. 

AI solutions, while in their infancy, are similarly double-edged at this early stage. On one hand, AI-based video surveillance analytics and active shooter detection systems have the potential to unlock the true safety and security potential of otherwise passive monitoring systems. On the other, AI is notorious for absorbing and amplifying human biases and thus increasing the impact of our human weaknesses. 

Even worse, such technologically advanced solutions may substantially underperform. For example, in a recent study, the MacArthur Justice Center found that Chicago's extensive AI-enhanced ShotSpotter active shooter detection systems performed well below expectations: "Initial police responses to 88.7 percent of ShotSpotter alerts found no incidents involving a gun." 

"This is a really important place for that good Risk Analysis," Jim notes. "These new technologies definitely have their place in a comprehensive security plan and there's huge potential. But are you getting the value you expect from what's being offered today? Especially when you consider that some of this is designed to detect after rounds have gone off or to capture evidence of someone committing a crime. It's not going to stop them, because it's a tool for responding after an attack, not deterring an attack to begin with."

Supply Chain Impact on Physical Security Trends in 2023

In many cases, this risk analysis around new security technologies is strictly academic, because you'll have trouble getting the hardware you need to use it. Despite progress and best preparation, pandemic-era supply chain problems will continue into 2023.  

“Electronics still have long lead times," Jim explains. "That won’t even out anytime soon, given China’s Zero COVID policy, and then their abrupt shift, and the sort of chaotic implementation of new policies. That sort of thing has a ripple effect. Right now, on a lot of [tech] hardware, we're being told that delivery is 26 weeks out."

In the meantime, TSS is always eager to help end-users find temporary solutions—like manual buzz-in for electric strike systems or transplanting the previous access control system into new doors and frames—while their customer awaits their new hardware. As ever, you can contact our ballistic security experts at any time if you have questions or want to get started with a specific project. 

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