Access Control: A Complete System

09/01/2009 | By Frank Santamorena

Having a complete access-control system that combines several tactics ensures the security of your building

Access control is perhaps the most critical aspect of a building’s physical security. But, traditional access-control systems – whether they’re as basic as a turnstile or as sophisticated as a biometric reader – have faults. That’s why the best access-control system combines the reader/access point with an advanced digital surveillance system. New technology that offers ultra-high-quality video – accessible anywhere (at any time) through a WiFi connection, secured by audit trails, and archived digitally – adds another dimension of protection, and ensures the most secure facility possible.

It’s a common misconception that access control comprises little more than some sort of entry mechanism, such as a keycard and card reader. Unfortunately, this misconception is perpetuated by the fact that few security firms have the ability to implement and maintain a complete system. You’ll often find, for example, that such companies offer only surveillance technology, or only uniformed personnel. But, a few high-end security firms have come around in the past few years to offer a full range of services, including everything necessary for a complete access-control system. Firms that present a combination of sophisticated technology with highly trained and experienced personnel are key. Such companies can develop a complete and customized access-control system that includes a convergence of several elements. In fact, the ideal system comes into play before the visitor even arrives at the building.

A Checklist for Your Access-Control System

Access control is the integral component of any security management system, and it involves proper integration of these systems:

  • Revolving doors.
  • Turnstiles.
  • Visitor management system with kiosk.
  • Security desk.
  • Card access control.
  • Video surveillance system (CCTV).
  • Intercoms.
  • Building automation.
  • Lighting.
  • Elevator destination dispatch.
Ideally, access control begins approximately 24 hours prior to a visitor’s arrival at your building, when your security provider transmits a PIN to your visitor via e-mail. The visitor arrives at your building and enters through a revolving door. Once in the lobby, the visitor proceeds to an electronic kiosk, separate from the security desk and personnel.

At the kiosk, the visitor enters the predefined PIN, which has the ability to grant the visitor access to a designated floor of your building during a specific window of time. The visitor scans a photo ID; a high-res camera, integrated into the kiosk, takes a photo of the visitor. This information is entered into an electronic database, which keeps a secure record of who’s coming in and at what time. The two-ID system allows your security provider to verify the visitor’s identity at any time. At this point, the kiosk creates an access card with a barcode or smart-card technology, which contains appropriate access information and the visitor’s photo and identifying information.

Having received the access card, the visitor proceeds to a turnstile, where he or she presents the access card to a reader. This reader is able to grant access to the elevator area and determine which elevator the visitor should enter. An elevator destination dispatch system can also program the designated elevator to transport the visitor to the predetermined floor.

Finally, upon the elevator’s arrival at the designated floor, additional high-res cameras can monitor exiting passengers to ensure that the visitor arrived at the appropriate location. These and all cameras in the surveillance system are connected to a hybrid video recorder (HVR), which allows you to access archived footage at any time, from any location, with a WiFi connection.

Of course, every company has dif­­ferent security needs. But, while specific needs may vary, one thing is constant: access control requires a convergence of tactics. If the ideal access-control system exceeds your needs, remember that, if nothing else, a secure entry mechanism – combined with a high-quality surveillance system – is a safe bet.

Frank Santamorena is principal at New York City-based Security Experts, Consulting & Design LLC.

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