Electronic Access Control Systems - The Key to Crime
By Roy Stephenson
In my role as a Security Consultant, I have been on countless appointments at companies that do not
have a comprehensive key management plan in place. It's not really that uncommon of a problem and it
can quickly get out of control.
Almost every home and office is secured with a lock and a key. Most people have a key chain to help
them keep track of these important symbols of modern society. House keys, office keys, garage keys and
several car keys usually rattle around in most people's pockets or purses.
Even though lock and key mechanisms incorporate many modern security features they are still
susceptible to being lost, stolen or copied. Another inherent weakness in lock and keys is that anyone
with a key can enter your building any time they want.
Each year, companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars re-keying buildings because someone lost
a set of keys or an employee was fired who did not return a set of building keys?
Do you know how many grand master keys have been issued in your building? Can you reasonably say
with confidence that none of your keys have been copied by less than ethical employees? Do you have
employee's entering your office at odd hours? Has your building ever been left unlocked?
If you have experienced any of the preceding issues, perhaps and Electronic Access Control System is the
"key". An Electronic Access Control System can provide you with an effective solution to your key
management nightmare while providing a very potent tool in your overall security management plan.
Take back those keys! A properly deployed electronic access control system will allow you to secure your
facility and deter crimes by limiting access to authorized personnel and separating public from private
The capabilities of electronic access control systems vary greatly. They range from single door stand
alone systems that you program through a keypad, to medium sized computer based systems, to the top
of the line "enterprise" systems that have the ability to communicate control thousands of card readers
on multiple continents.
Electronic Access Control Systems have some very basic things in common. Each of them will allow you
to control who goes where and when in your facility by requiring the presentation of a unique credential
at a Card Reader or a PIN pad and they can be set up to provide you with a report of who has entered
There are several manufacturers that provide 1 to 4 door solutions that are programmed through a
keypad or a remote software package. Some of the higher end burglar alarm systems can also control
access on up to 4 doors.
These smaller systems provide fully controlled access to individuals based on the door, the date and the
time. Some of them allow you to hook up a form feed dot matrix printer directly to the controller in
order to get reports. Most of these systems are limited to less than 4 doors and a couple of hundred
Many people who use the 1-4 door systems will usually program cards to work 24 hours a day because it
can be difficult and time consuming to manage multiple time groups or limit an individual's access.
That's not to say that you cannot provide full date and time limited access control with a 1-4 door
system, but if your application requires periodic updates and multiple users, you may want to consider a
more sophisticated solution. A good application for a 1-4 door system would be a remotely managed
multi-tenant building without an on site manager.
Lower to mid range P.C. based solutions can be provided that control access on 1 to 32 doors of access.
Systems in this range can provide controlled access to several thousand users. They are a good choice if
your intention is to allow keyless entry on a limited number of doors at a single site and run some
Most electronic access systems in the low to mid range are Windows based software applications that
use MSDE or other off the shelf database software; therefore the reporting features are fairly limited.
In addition, the low to mid range systems have limited abilities to monitor alarms, provide video
badging, integrate with 3rd party databases or interface with other systems such as CCTV or Burglar
There are literally dozens of manufacturers flooding the small to mid range market and their offerings
vary greatly. You would be wise to perform some due diligence and ask for local references from any
vendor that you may be considering.
Enterprise Level Access Control Systems occupy the top tier of entry control systems. There are only a
handful of manufacturers that can truly call themselves an "Enterprise Level" solution. These highly
sophisticated systems are true security management systems that can easily and effectively handle
thousands of card readers, hundreds of thousands of cards, and a multitude of workstations spread all
across the globe.
An Enterprise Level Solution has integrated single point of entry video badging, seamless integration to
CCTV systems and Digital Video Recorders, true real time alarm handling with live on line graphics pages
and full blown database solutions like SQL Server or Oracle.
Enterprise Level Access Control systems utilize door processing units or access control panels that can
communicate via RS422/485 and TCP/IP Protocol. Enterprise Level Systems are only sold through factory
trained and authorized systems integrators who have a proven track record and fully staffed service
If you need an Enterprise Level Access Control System, I highly recommend that you perform your due
diligence on both the manufacturer and the security companies that you are considering. Make sure
that you choose a reputable Security Company or a Systems Integrator that has a strong computer
networking background to perform and support the installation. Ask for several references of projects of
a similar size and scope from both the manufacturer and the Systems Integrator. Interview each
reference thoroughly before you make a purchasing decision.
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