Designing for Detention Control System Replacement

Detention Control System ReplacementIt’s a tough pill to swallow, and there are many that don’t want to admit it, but you will eventually replace all of the technology in your detention facility, especially your detention control system. That lock will wear out. The network switches will degrade and need replacement. The computers will need to be upgraded. The camera technology will change and orphan the existing system.

It is a common theme of our posts to say that things change, and we must all keep up. But in this article, I want to focus on the design side of the equation. Are there ways that a facility designer or project manager can design for upgrade and replacement? The answer is a surprising “Yes”.

The Least Common Denominator of a Detention Control System

The detention control system is a combination of various systems, integrated together into a single user interface. These systems include locking control, video surveillance, intercom, duress, perimeter detection, lighting control, and much more. Because most, if not all, of these systems are manufactured by separate companies with their own proprietary technologies, a simple change or upgrade in one could greatly affect the performance of this integrated solution.

To minimize this at the design phase, consider the least common denominator that is needed to integrate each system. A good example of this can be found with the intercom system. It might surprise you to know that there is no national or international standard which all intercom manufacturers implement for communications or integration. Some manufacturers are very easy to integrate with, while others will not allow for any integration. Some systems utilize a proprietary communications protocol over a two-wire medium, while others use standard four-wire cable with an analog staff station. A designer can help with future upgrades and replacements by designing for the broadest integration framework. With intercoms, this means designing around systems that allow for dry contact integration, or better yet, systems that implement session management standards like SIP or H.323. Additionally, while that manufacturer that makes an “intelligent” staff station that communicates over a 2-wire cable may want you to specify this cabling for his system, using 4-wire cable will allow for more system options and will only add a negligible cost to the project.

Like the example of the intercom system, physical design considerations can play a major role in ensuring that pieces of the detention control system can be upgraded and even replaced in the future. As a general rule, utilize communications cabling that is accepted by the largest number of manufacturers for a particular system. For example, when specifying cabling for video surveillance systems, requiring CAT5e or CAT6 cabling will allow for the broadest acceptance. Even analog cameras can utilize UTP for transmission.

Standards Are Best

When specifying systems, consider those which implement communications standards that are widely accepted. Also consider those systems that provide a wide array of options for integration.

Communications and control standards like ONVIF Profile S, RTSP, BACnet, and others are useful for integration and allow for easier upgrade and replacement in the future.

Beyond standards, products that support several integration options make for tighter integration and better support. Some products provide dry contact, serial, and Ethernet based integration. Some may also provide a Software Development Kit for interfacing. When designing a system, the flexibility provided by a product’s interface options should carry a good deal of weight.


Over the past 30 years, MTI has had a great deal of experience in retrofitting just about every brand of detention control system that is out there. In fact, a large percentage of our business involves retrofits of existing systems that are 5 years or older and which can no longer be supported. Because we deal with this problem on a regular basis, we get to see a wide range of systems and experience the nuances involved with retrofitting each. Even though we may still have to replace a large part of the system, one that has been designed around standards, with widely accepted cabling, and an array of interfacing options is much easier to replace than one that was designed around limited communication and integration options.

If a designer gives ample consideration to the eventual upgrade or replacement of the system that he or she is designing, the facility will be spared a good deal of cost in the long run.