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From the unit to the network: how public housing authorities are addressing the latest security developments

Due to technological advancements and modern challenges, security in public housing is expanding beyond traditional, physical security systems. Mary Fox, director of public housing, North America at Johnson Controls, and Jason Rosselot, director of global product security at Johnson Controls, answer questions about implementing new safety measures and how public housing authorities can address new cybersecurity challenges.


Q: What are some of the biggest security challenges public housing authorities face today?

Mary Fox: The biggest challenge continues to be providing security for the most vulnerable: the elderly and disabled. How are we keeping these residents safe at all times? Are we using technology like key fobs for building entry tracking and emergency communication? Do we have the right systems in place to monitor elevators, entryways and common areas? Other challenges revolve around making sure residents are safe once they’re inside their homes.


Q: How are public housing authorities looking at building automation and smart buildings, and what concerns do they have around cybersecurity?

Jason Rosselot: Building automation is mostly being implemented for monitoring and data gathering. In cities like Philadelphia, where they have over 700 public housing buildings running through a central monitoring system, cybersecurity and information hacking is a very important consideration. We tend to refer to this as “resilience,” or whether a system has backup systems and protocols to prevent hacking attempts or other risks.


Q: How does funding affect the way public housing authorities approach building system integration?

MF: Many public housing authorities are moving from public housing to the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD). RAD is different funding but still 100 percent funded from the federal government. The big difference is how RAD approaches amenities and security. RAD is focused on promoting and advancing those elements, which makes offerings that integrate security and efficiency more appealing and more possible.


Q: As cybersecurity and building automation become part of the conversation, what shifts have you seen regarding key stakeholders?

JR: IT is coming into play much more. Building automation systems (BAS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is getting involved earlier and making more decisions on how public housing operates and is monitored. Energy managers are also becoming more prevalent and addressing issues within public housing, as energy efficiency and usage are key factors now and certainly in the future.


Q: Are there any case studies that show how housing authorities are addressing these issues?

MF: Yes. We recently worked with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) to install remote intercom devices that improve communication between residents and first responders. We also provided a closed-circuit television (CCTV) security system and multilayered door entry access controls. These technologies, as well as an expansion of the local police force, helped reduce overall crime by over 41 percent in 2016, with a 68 percent reduction in theft and sexual assaults being cut by 78 percent. By making the PHA community safer, residents now enjoy better quality of life and peace of mind, something everyone deserves regardless of age, ability or income.

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