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Everything you need to know about access control systems

Many businesses use an access control system to control  and regulate who is allowed to enter their commercial building to protect people, reduce theft and help with health and safety compliance regulations.

Systems can range in complexity from simple lock and key entry to more sophisticated electronic  systems that require the use of numerical  keypads, fobs or cards and human biometrics such as fingerprint and retina recognition and now even facial recognition via CCTV systems as the means to grant access through a controlled access point.

Electronic access control systems can be used as standalone units, whereby the access point system only controls the point to which it is installed,  multiple or a series of standalone systems,  that again only control the access point to which it is installed but may allow the use of single type of ‘reader technology’ to be used on all the access points,  or only to specific access points.

How to choose the right access control system?

A successful access control installation begins with a site survey, preferably by a qualified security engineer with experience to understand your needs.

This survey will consider factors such as location, times of access and the level of security required related to the type of building. Your operational activities and the value and sensitivity of the property or goods that need to be protected will also be assessed.

Times of access is a key consideration as some public buildings and companies that have lots of visitors may chose not to limit access to the main entrances but then have reception desks where guests sign in or internal access points where the visitor then has to pass through the access control system before being allowed entry further into the building.

Some businesses choose to only allow certain people to access certain areas. Such as data and IT server rooms or storerooms where valuable stock or dangerous chemicals may be stored.

The different types of access control system.

There are a variety of access control systems to choose from and each has it own features and benefits.

These include:

Lock & key

The very simplest form of access control is to use locks and keys and only issue keys to authorised key holders. The obvious disadvantage is that either the key holder has to be present to lock and unlock, or the doors have to remain locked or unlocked. There can also be significant cost and inconvenience should one set of keys be mislaid as all locks have to be replaced and re-issued.

Intercom/Buzzer (audio  / video )

These require the visitor to press the intercom button and announce who they are to an authorised operator who decides if they are to be allowed to enter. Based on company policy, the person can be allowed in straight away or can be ‘greeted’. These systems are idea for companies who have very few visitors and where there is a suitable waiting area. These types can be audio only, or audio and video. Video intercoms allow better control as operator can view who the person is that is asking for access.

Keypad systems

Keypad systems operate using a keypad which are located at access points. A correct code must be entered to allow access. Enter the right code, and the person is allowed entry. These are not very secure methods as PIN can easily be gained over time or passed on . Keypads can be standalone type systems, or part of a networked system- dependant upon the needs and compatibility of hardware / software used.

Networked computer-based access control

These systems operate using a variety of reader types located at each access point which are operated by entering either by a pin code, presenting an electronic card or fob or use of biometric data. Newer systems also allow for mobile access via  smart phone Bluetooth type connectivity.  The system database of users is programmed with data related to each person who is allowed access and these control instructions. On presentation to a reader type the system will carry out its credential check and if valid send appropriate signal to door controller to unlock a door, or allow trigger to a  powered door,  barrier etc to open  . Flexible programming allows you to grant different permissions at different times of the day, for different people based upon your operational needs.

Networked computer-based systems can also be integrated with a range of building and facility management systems, such as intruder alarms, payroll, time and attendance systems & CCTV. This helps to track employee absence and location and helps with health and safety compliance for example. Integration to building FIRE alarm systems should be  considered for all types of access control.

Networked access control can be set up as standalone for a single site, or dependent upon the manufacturers limitations and specification features could be scaled to multi-site configuration.

Biometric control systems

Biometric access control systems will use the unique characteristics of a person, usually their voice, fingerprint or eye pattern to identify the person trying to gain access. The data is stored within the reader itself, or on a central database.

By installing a biometric access control system, the risk of an unauthorised person entering is reduced. If the compared information matches what is stored within the system, the biometric access control system will allow that person to access the building or areas they can enter.

Why ensure you maintain your access control system

There is little point having an access control system that is poorly maintained because this could compromise your building security. Regular access control maintenance helps to ensure that all component parts are working effectively and that your system is delivering optimum performance.

Inspections should be done by a qualified engineer who will inspect all elements of the system to check and verify their correct operation and look for any potential faults or issues so that they can be addressed before they become a more major problem.

What happens during a security system maintenance inspection?

In order to continue to protect people, property and processes, your access control system needs to remain working to its optimum capability.

Your access control system needs to operate constantly, in order to ensure only valid and authorised areas are accessed, by the correct people with the correct credentials.

There is no point having such a system, that has component parts failing or working inefficiently allowing your system to be breached.

Carrying out routine service and maintenance by an approved and accredited provider, will make sure your system is running and working correctly with optimum performance.

An annual visit will allow all elements of the system to be checked and verified for correct operation and address any potential faults or issues before they become a more major problem.

Items routinely inspected and tested are:

  • Door  Control equipment including standalone or networked systems.
  • Emergency egress devices including any interconnection to FIRE detection systems
  • Readers of all types –  biometric, card,  pin code or combinations of
  • Battery and stand by emergency power supplies

Whichever system you choose, installing an electronic access control system has many benefits and will help to improve the security of your building, prevent or reduce theft, as well as help to keep people or visitors to your building safe.

If you would like to discuss the installation or maintenance of an access control system, please complete the enquiry form below.

Mick Brooke

Mick has over 30 years experience working within the Fire and Security industry. Starting as an installation engineer and quickly progressing into both operational and sales management roles.

Posted on: 12 November 2019
Last updated: 8 December 2021
Posted in: Advice, News
Author: Mick Brooke