The First Line of Defense

Nov. 4, 2004
Access information on turnstiles and security guard options
No matter where you look, it seems as if every organization is improving security procedures today – whether it’s by upgrading CCTV, installing outdoor lighting, investing in biometrics, or screening packages that come through the mail room.Are you thinking about revising your facilities’ security features? Starting with perimeter security (which is essentially the first line of defense; the ideal time to prevent a crisis) can be a smart choice. Here are two of the most popular methods for modernizing perimeter security today – access control and outsourced security personnel. While we provide just the basics, this should be enough to help you determine whether these two options are suitable for your buildings.ACCESS CONTROLThe term “access control” can incorporate and signify many different things: Simplified, an access control system is a system that confines, documents, and reports access to facilities and other protected assets. Access control systems can also detect and refuse unauthorized access attempts. One of the most common access control components is a turnstile system. Originally used primarily in amusement parks and transit systems, turnstiles serve many purposes. Obviously, monitoring patrons entering or exiting a facility is one objective – but these systems also offer a method of crowd control, the ability to monitor the number of people entering and exiting a venue (for buildings with capacity or seating limits, as specified by fire safety codes); and the capability to direct flow and course of movement.There are two basic kinds of turnstiles – mechanical and optical.Mechanical turnstiles have been around the longest, and are characteristically used to form and manage lines in stadiums, concert halls, or other locations where guests don’t need to confirm the purpose of their visit. Mechanical turnstiles typically have a physical barrier that allows only one person to pass through at a time – and are sometimes triggered to rotate only after a visitor has presented a special token or some kind of voucher.Mechanical turnstiles are relatively inexpensive when compared to optical turnstiles, but that’s not their only benefit: These turnstiles are also easy to operate, usually function without much maintenance, and eliminate confusion and disorder since most people are familiar with how they work. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important consideration when considering mechanical turnstiles. These systems should have gates or kickplates that are wide enough to allow users with wheelchairs or walkers to pass through easily and comfortably.Optical turnstiles are a bit more complicated. Essentially, optical turnstiles are parallel pedestals that form sets of “lanes.” Each lane is equipped with a sensor or a photoelectric beam, and typically operates in conjunction with some type of card reader/identification system. Users who pass through these lanes with the appropriate access card temporarily disrupt the turnstile’s sensors, allowing access without any problems. However, if a user tries to pass through an optical turnstile lane without the appropriate identification, an alarm will sound when the path of the beam is broken. Because of the way they function, an optical turnstile system can quickly separate and clear employees carrying access cards from visitors needing to show identification and verify the purpose of their visit.There are other variations of optical turnstiles as well: Some include a barrier that is released along with the alarm, physically preventing unauthorized visitors from passing. In other cases, barriers are present in the turnstile lanes at all times, and the user must present a valid access card before the barrier is removed. Many manufacturers recommend that turnstile systems, whether optical or mechanical, be complemented by on-site security personnel – especially if the turnstiles are located in a public space where a large number of people are trying to clear the system at one time.Optical turnstiles are typically well-regarded for their ability to blend in with surroundings. They’re available in a wide variety of aesthetic options and are often seen in corporate lobbies, government facilities, and other locations where the turnstile system needs to integrate flawlessly into the design and look of the building.When searching for high-quality optical turnstiles, there are certain features that are crucial in maintaining building security. Side-by-side detection, crawl-under sensors, and tailgate detection are available elements on many optical turnstiles. A side-by-side detection feature can sense when two individuals may be trying to pass through a turnstile as one by walking next to each other. Crawl-under sensors can detect when an individual may try to thwart the system by crawling underneath the sensor or photoelectric beam. Tailgate detection prevents an unauthorized user from following behind someone with a valid access card and slipping in after them when the sensor is temporarily deactivated for access. Effective tailgate detection also means that the turnstile shouldn’t perceive wheelchairs, strollers, canes, walkers, suitcases, or other carry-along items as another person and needlessly set off an alarm.Another option to keep in mind when choosing an optical turnstile: the length of the turnstile pedestals. Recommendations for pedestal length fall between 4 feet and 6 feet – at this length, an appropriate distance can be maintained between the card reader and the sensor. In some cases where pedestals are too short, valid users may set off an unnecessary alarm because the machine didn’t have enough time to read the access card and deactivate the sensor before the user passed through.When you’re considering how many turnstiles your facility may need to control pedestrian traffic, consider these questions:How many people will be using the turnstile lanes?Will users be entering and exiting within a short timeframe (will there be many people trying to get in and/or out at one time)?Are card readers placed ergonomically?Are the security professionals responsible for monitoring these turnstile systems well-trained?What is the card access system’s response time?SECURITY PERSONNELIt used to be that only banks and other organizations handling large amounts of money and financial transactions were the chief employers of security personnel; but not anymore. Increasingly, facilities management departments are working with outsourced security organizations to provide another layer to the security plan. Selecting the right firm to work with can be tough – here are some steps to follow when sorting through possible options:Identify/classify your buildings’ security problems. Do some research to see if there are security firms that specialize in the areas  that your organization needs assistance. Think about sending a letter or making a phone call to perspective companies – ask for the background of the management team, the history of the company, how long they’ve been in the business, etc.Question the prospective security company’s screening procedures and hiring methods. At the very least, a good pre-employment background check by the security firm should include interviews with the applicants’ previous employers, personal references, and an evaluation of school and financial records. Some security companies may also conduct applicant video reviews, written honesty evaluations, state registration and fingerprinting, polygraph tests, and drug screenings.Inquire about the security company’s training procedures; ask to see a syllabus for its program. Today’s security professionals don’t just patrol areas on foot; they need to possess knowledge regarding a wide variety of security-related systems, which means they need a higher level of education and training than conventional security personnel of the past. A well-designed training curriculum turns out motivated employees and a higher standard of performance. At a minimum, trainees should be coached on the basics of fire prevention, first aid, physical security, and bomb threats. Also, ask the company about continuing education once its trainees have landed a job. Are security professionals encouraged to attend seminars, take courses, or work toward a criminal- or legal-based degree? Does the company offer ongoing training and resources for its employees to reference when needed?Ask the company for a list of its other clients. Does the company have clients similar to your organization? How many other customers does the company deal with on an annual basis? Don’t be afraid to call some of the clients on that list and ask for opinions – positive and negative – regarding the work provided by the security company.Check into the firm’s insurance and bonding guidelines. If an incident involving an outsourced security professional does occur, the owner can be held legally responsible. Information for this article was compiled from a variety of industry resources.Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is associate editor at Buildings magazine.

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