Keys on way out at San Antonio’s Witte Museum

AMAG is part of ‘layered protection scheme’ used to protect extensive renovations at museum
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Friday, May 23, 2014

SAN ANTONIO—The Witte Museum’s three-phase renovation plan involves adding 65,000 square feet to its campus here, along with a new, fully integrated, open-ended security system.

The layered security system will grow along with the museum, said Mario Lozano, manager of security and public safety.

Integrator TESS installed AMAG Technology’s Symmetry Enterprise v7.0.1 Security Management System with Symmetry Video Management.

The system covers all renovation and construction areas, perimeters, storage areas and vendor access points.

Working on the project from the ground up has been exciting but also challenging for Lozano.

Museums want to be open and welcoming, yet at the same time have to protect valuable assets—in the Witte’s case that includes Davy Crockett’s fiddle, Sam Houston’s sash and a Colt Walker revolver. It’s all about multiple layers of protection, Lozano said.

Several historic homes have been reconstructed on the museum campus. “You don’t want to see a huge PTZ camera on a building if it’s an historical landmark,” he said.

Seventy cameras—up from just seven a couple of years ago—now keep track of what’s going on in the museum’s multiple buildings.

Keys are on their way out.

“We want to be able to eliminate the use of keys. We have hundreds and hundreds of doors. We want to know if a door is held open too long,” Lozano said.

RFID technology protects artifacts that are out in the open. Perfecting that sensor system is still an ongoing concern.

“RFID is a great concept, I love it, but we had to work on adjusting the sensitivity. Some of our buildings have wooden floors, and when 1,000 kids run through, it sets off the RFIDs, so we get multiple alarms,” he said.

A monitoring guard can pull up the camera in the alarm area to verify its authenticity.

In addition, the museum staff had to get creative about installing the sensors. “We can’t just screw them on to an artifact,” Lozano said, so he worked with the curatorial staff about those concerns.

Guards are posted throughout the museum as a visual deterrent to visitors, adding to the multi-layered security, Lozano said.

A new security operations center, in its own building with a wall of monitors, is part of the museum’s renovation plan.

“People appreciate the steps we’ve taken,” Lozano said. When a trespasser is caught, for example, he makes sure that top museum officials hear about it, so that they are aware that their funding for security is being well spent. “Without the new technology, we wouldn’t be able to do that,” he said.

Having the right people in his department is equally important, he said. Technology upgrades led to a whole new security culture at the museum and successful cooperation with diverse departments.

He also gives a lot of credit to TESS for its collaboration. “They’ve become like family to us,” he said.