Alarm and Control Systems

The courthouse should be equipped with intrusion and duress alarms, and access and environmental controls. Duress alarms are designed to signal for immediate help. Intrusion alarms are designed to alert security staff to unauthorized entry after hours. Access controls restrict entry. Environmental controls protect heating, air conditioning and ventilation. All controls should be monitored from the Building Security Control Room. From this location, the courthouse may be monitored through the use of closed circuit television systems, duress alarms, intrusion sensors and other security systems. Also located with the central security control office is the protective equipment such as security and duress alarms, fire alarm, emergency elevator control, public address system, fire alarm enunciator panel, etc.

The security control room may best be located near the main public entrance or may be located with the central holding area control room. All power and lighting for this room should be backed up by the building’s emergency electrical service. All equipment should be on an uninterruptible power supply and all electricity should be conditioned. Access to the life safety equipment panel should be limited to building management.

Duress Alarms

A supervised alarm system (duress alarm) should be installed in the courthouse. In non-supervised systems, if the wires between the switch in the courtroom or chambers are severed, the circuit is rendered inoperative with no indication at the monitoring location. The circuit remains inoperative until it is tested and repaired. In a supervised system, whenever the circuit is broken the alarm sounds. This occurs if the alarm button is pressed or if the wires are severed for some reason.
The alarms should sound at the security command and control center. If a fixed system is installed, buttons should be located at the following locations:

  • All public counters
  • All cashier stations
  • All courtrooms at the judges’ bench and clerks’ station
  • All judicial chambers
  • All holding areas
  • Sally port
  • Entry screening stations
  • Probation Offices
  • Prosecutor’s Office

The most common type of duress alarm is a hard-wired system with fixed positions. Newer systems are wireless and may be triggered by a device that is carried by judges and court employees on their person.

Intrusion Alarms

Intrusion systems monitor the status of doors, windows, and other exterior openings. They can be coordinated with an access control system to alert of unauthorized or forced access of doors, glass breakage, or roof intrusion.

  • All movable, accessible openings into the courthouse within 18 feet of firm ground should be alarmed.
  • Glass or composition panels should be protected with glass break sensors. Alarms should annunciate at the building’s central security command and control console.
  • Install Closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras at all entrances and exits. Opening or attempting to open an exit door with authorization should activate the camera and a recording (see video surveillance).
  • Motion detectors also may be considered for monitoring against after-hours unauthorized intrusion in sensitive areas of the building. Any motion detectors should alert the security staff in the Sheriff’s command and control center or nearest local law enforcement station.

Access Control

Access control systems control entry to restricted areas of the building. Typically activated by numeric keypad or card / proximity readers, access control systems allow door release to the private circulation systems and other “secure” areas of the building. Biometric access control systems such as retina and fingerprint scanners are becoming more prevalent, but are not commonly utilized in courthouses. All doors in the courthouse should be equipped with an electronic access control system.

Environmental Controls

All environmental controls in the courthouse should be secured, with access restricted to authorized personnel. In order to avoid tampering and sabotage, access to controls for heating, air conditioning, ventilation should be limited to authorized staff. Outside air intake mechanisms should also be secured so they cannot be used as access to the building or as a conduit for biochemical attack. Outside air intake also should not be located near any loading dock or other area where trucks or other vehicles may idle to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the building.