The intruder looked like he belonged.

He walked into the business, nicely dressed, and smiled at the staff. They smiled back. He strolled away, popped into an office and walked out with a laptop tucked under his arm. Nobody noticed.

At a customer service center, a thief waited until dark, broke in, opened the computers and left with the hard drives. Gone was the customer information database.

At a college, a homeless person snuck into the gym, swam in the pool, took a shower then broke his leg trying out a treadmill. He sued.

At a retail store, a spurned boyfriend walked in, pulled a gun and shot his ex, her boss and a customer.

Security is no longer a luxury to many businesses. With theft costing U.S. employers billions of dollars a year, and assaults and threats of violence against Americans at work numbering about 2 million cases a year, workplace security has emerged as a key concern of companies seeking to protect their employees, assets and data.

“Our lives have changed,” said Daved Levine, owner of the security system company SCI Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M. “My parents never locked the house. So many people grew up in that environment. But it’s not like that today.”

Workplace security systems that once consisted of a weary guard, a lone camera or a dubious motion sensor, have evolved into multi-layered “smart” systems that can thwart intrusions on many fronts.

Integrated security systems, as they’re called, are a $1 billion sector of the $60 billion security industry, according to the Professional Security Alliance, a national co-op of security integrators.

A state-of-the-art integrated system starts with a new employee being entered into a company’s human resources and payroll database. A picture is snapped and an ID card issued.

Employees can open doors, log on to computers, dispense fuel, make long-distance calls and buy supplies. The list goes on, depending on the business and what level of access the employee has. The cards issued to a cleaning crew, for example, will open doors only during specific hours and in specific areas, while other workers may have access to the building at any time of day, but not to secure areas.

“Those databases are all linked – the HR (human resources) and payroll databases, the financial systems database, the security system database – the software that manages it talks to all of them,” Levine said. “There’s logic that correlates you, the card, the building and the systems.”

If an impostor uses a valid card to enter a building, a camera system linked to the HR database can compare an image of the person entering with the real employee’s face – and set off an alarm if they don’t match.

“It’s a marriage between video and access control,” Levine said. “The video systems nowadays aren’t just looking, they’re smart.”

The same is true for computer access, both on-site and wireless.

“The network security system that controls passwords talks to the physical security system to know if you’re in the building,” Levine said. “If you didn’t come into the building, but someone stole your password, the system recognizes the card wasn’t used and won’t let the impostor log onto the network.”

The systems can identify people in a variety of ways: by PIN (personal identification number), card keys, even biometric readings of the face, hands, retina and voice.

Cameras create a physical record of all activity, and alarms can be sent in a variety of ways, including video images attached to e-mail.

“Everything is linked to the security side, where systems have the ability to send an alarm across multiple platforms,” Levine said. “All this happens across the network, and networks are worldwide. If an e-mail is sent, a video clip can be attached that shows a person coming into the building or leaving with contraband, or coming in and leaving making a legitimate delivery.”

The systems are the result of technology that has been evolving the past 15 to 20 years.

“In the beginning, it was leading edge, emerging technology,” said Bob Lucero, co-owner of SCI. “It’s become a more mature market. It used to be a facility would have several stand-alone systems _ a camera here, a guard there. Now it’s all a combined unit.”

Lucero said the systems are designed so they can be built upon and upgraded as needed.

Samantha Lapin, president and CEO of Pod Inc. in Albuquerque, said her information technology company installed layered security last year, in large part to protect public health information that falls under the federal privacy act known as HIPAA.

“We needed to make sure that information was secure,” she said. “We now have a computerized record of who comes in and out of the building, and we can control access to secure areas. Images are stored digitally and it’s all tied to alarm and security systems.”

Lapin said she feels safer with an upgraded system and the ever-watchful eye of a camera.

“I’m very trusting,” she said. “But now that it’s in place, everybody feels better.”

(Contact Nancy Salem of The Tribune in Albuquerque, N.M., at