Security Manager's Journal: Should physical security belong to us?

Facilities departments often take charge of physical security, but they usually don't understand the systems behind it

I've always wanted to be responsible for physical security. I never understood why the security of computers, networks and data is managed by a different department than the security of doors, windows and cameras. The same principles apply in both worlds. And let's face it: Physical security is actually run on computers. So I think it's perfectly natural for information security to own it.

But not everybody agrees. In fact, I'm having a hard time finding anybody who agrees with me about this. For one thing, throughout my career as a security manager, I've always been a part of IT. Some would argue that security is a broader discipline than IT and should be in a separate organization, but I've never been with a company that used that model. So, from a practical perspective, the question becomes "Should IT own physical security?"

Normally, at least in my experience, the Facilities department owns and manages the door access, alarm systems and surveillance cameras. The problem is, to be perfectly honest, I don't think they understand the underlying technologies to do a good job of it. For example, in the company I worked for two jobs ago, each building had a local security system that controlled all the badge readers. And in each building, there was a computer that had to be configured with all the access rights that allowed people to open various doors. That computer was an old Dell desktop, outdated, dirty, unpatched and unmanaged. And there was no redundancy built into the design. If that computer died, all the access rights would be lost. On top of that, too many people had access to various doors. At one point, I did an audit of a secure room I was concerned about (having to ask for a report from Facilities because I didn't have access to the security system), and the result shocked me. Over 30 people had access to the secure room, and nobody knew who half of them were! Provisioning and deprovisioning of user access were foreign concepts to that company's Facilities department.

When I signed on to my current position, I quickly took advantage of an unclear responsibility and claimed ownership of physical security. I built an IT-quality infrastructure, complete with redundancy, backups and careful management. Our building security systems are now state-of-the-art, and the best proof of their quality is that nobody notices them. They have exactly the access they need, no more and no less, and everything works flawlessly. Unfortunately, as I'm sure you understand, this means nobody knows the complexity and planning that went into the systems. But that's OK; I'm not looking for praise.

The problem is, a new Facilities director recently signed on after the departure of the previous guy, whom I knew well and worked with closely. I haven't had time to establish a relationship with the new guy yet, but already he is insisting on taking over my systems. The reason? Facilities always owns physical security -- that's just how it's done.

As I've said, I couldn't agree less. And I'm actually making some headway in getting my point across. It helps that I started out by formalizing my responsibilities in a charter signed by the CIO. I don't think he fully understood the part about physical security, but that's OK. I have something official to point to. And I'm putting together a RACI analysis to clarify and parcel out our roles. But I just can't seem to get the Facilities director to see things my way. Security systems are technology systems, and they should be handled by people who understand the technology. Do you agree?

This week's journal is written by a real security manager, "J.F. Rice," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious reasons. Contact him at

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