Backup Generators Will Not Keep Your Security Systems Running if the Breaker is Off


Are your power panels secured?  If not, neither is the power to your security systems.  Imagine a site with 100 cameras attached to PoE switches, attached to a server running the video management system (VMS), attached to 2 direct attached storage appliances (DAS) for video archiving.  Further, imagine there are 40 portals controlled by an engineered access control system that are attached to panels, that are connected to a controller. Throw in an intrusion alarm panel with all of the associated devices distributed throughout the facility and you have for the most part a complete security system. 

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the video and access control equipment mentioned is all housed in one rack.  Of course, the 100 cameras are not housed in that rack but the PoE switches powering them are.  The alarm panel is not but the power supply for the alarm system devices could very well be rack mounted.

The facility has installed an emergency power generator and wants to place the entire security system on a circuit protected by the emergency power generator either as a precaution or as a requirement for compliance with some rules and regulations.  As is best practice, uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) are installed at the bottom of the rack with enough power to keep the entire rack running for 5 minutes to avoid any interruption of power during the transfer to generator in the event of a power outage.  As an extra precaution, the C-suite has decided all of this equipment should be inside a locked cage inside the security office ensuring no one can disable any of the equipment.  They have even added a camera inside the cage.

The rack and alarm panel are plugged into a quad power receptacle and everything is up and running as should be. The UPS devices are completely charged, and the generator is installed.  Now it is time to test the emergency power.  Power is cut to the building, the generator starts, and the facility is on emergency power. The UPS buffered any power surges during the transfer and there is absolutely no indication that anything is out of the ordinary except for the noise of the generator.  Job well done, it all worked as it is supposed to!

Now, let’s go into the electrical room on the other side of the facility, or maybe to a circuit breaker box recess mounted in a hallway, or housed in a closet somewhere.  The location is not really important, but its accessibility is.  Most commercial facilities’ electrical panels are very well labeled, and it may be very obvious which breakers control the security systems’ electrical circuit.  Is the panel locked?  The panels in the picture at the top of this post are most likely housed inside a room that has controlled access.  That is a good start, but are the panels themselves locked? At the very least is the panel that controls the security systems locked? 

I know, I know, you can’t lock the panel covers because it is illegal, and access must be available in the event of an emergency.  Well, I beg to differ.  OSHA has issued an interpretation for this as follows:


In accordance with 29 CFR 1910.399, Readily accessible is defined as "capable of being reached quickly for operation, renewal, or inspections, without requiring those to whom ready access is requisite to climb over or remove obstacles or to resort to portable ladders, chairs, etc." This definition, however, does not preclude the use of a lock on the disconnecting means (circuit breakers panel), provided those, for whom ready access may be necessary, have a key (or lock combination) available. Additionally, the National Electrical Code (NEC) 2005, Article 110.26, partly states, "Enclosures housing electrical apparatus that are controlled by a lock(s) shall be considered accessible to qualified persons."Please note that the use of multiple locks, which requires different keys or combinations, on disconnecting switches may preclude the installation from being accessible or readily accessible to a particular individual who is authorized to access the panel.

- US Department of Labor - OSHA 

Now let’s throw the breaker to the security systems’ circuit.  What happens? The UPS devices power the security system for 5 minutes then the systems die.  Even if the power has been cut to the building and the emergency power generator is running, there will be no power to the security system if power to the circuit has been cut by throwing the breaker.


I know it isn’t pretty but adding a padlock to at the very least the one control panel cover that houses the breakers for the security systems is a good idea.  Anyone can find keys to all electrical panelboard locks easily on the internet. 

Controlling access to the room housing the panels may not be enough.  Far too often, poorly administered electronic access control policies give access to electrical rooms to many who simply do not need it.  Or, at least they don’t need that access to be able to turn off a breaker, especially the breaker to the security systems. What if the facility manager is cousins with the bad guy or married to the bad guy’s sister? But that is a topic for another post…

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