Which Optical Turnstile is Right for Your Building?

Jan. 19, 2007
Automated entrance security increases the safety of both building occupants and building assets

Access control is an essential part of securing a building, but it is only as good as the entrance control system that enforces it.

Being the building’s first line of defense, optical turnstiles and door-entry controls are options that more and more buildings are turning to for guarding their entrances. Optical turnstiles assure that only one person enters per authorization. Some refer to this “one-card, one-person” control as tailgate or piggyback detection, which is a hallmark of the best optical systems.

Though the premise of turnstiles started with three-pronged, push-through stadium turnstiles, entrance technology has come a long way. Optical infrared beams now detect authorized entrants, people trying to follow authorized entrants (tailgaters), and the direction people are going. Today’s turnstiles come in a myriad of styles and modes of operation, including:

  • Optical Turnstiles - Infrared beams detect people without any barriers. The focus is purely on detecting intruders. Best for low- to medium-security applications (high-profile, well-managed lobbies where aesthetics, speed of throughput, and ease of use are of equal value to security).
  • Optical/Barrier Turnstiles - Infrared beams detect people while physical barriers visually deter or physically impede entry to intruders. Best for medium-security concerns (high-profile and guarded lobbies where there is still an interest in aesthetics, but security takes a slightly higher priority to ease-of-use concerns).

Today’s barrier styles are also available in many styles and modes of operation, including:

  • Rising/Retracting Arms - The vertically rising arm is better able to physically impede an intruder than a swinging barrier style. Because of its quick response, it can operate in a “normally closed” mode that retracts to allow authorized people to enter or a “normally open” mode where the “open lane” normally retracted arms rise only if alarmed to an intrusion. Choosing a mode of operation depends, in part, on whether free egress is desired
  • Sliding/Retracting Barriers - The vertically sliding barrier, mostly made from glass, is usually fast-acting and can better physically impede intruders than the swinging barrier style. The barriers come in one-half- and full-height sizes. Sliding glass barriers dually provide physical security with an open, accessible atmosphere.
  • Swinging Barriers - The swinging “door-like” glass barrier style (pictured) is slower in operation and acts as a visual deterrent. Both the familiarity with the “door-like” motion and open-glass view provide an accommodating environment to users.
  • Anti-Tailgate Door Devices - Basically door-mounted optical turnstiles, infrared beams cross an access-controlled doorway to detect whether people are following authorized users or trying to enter when authorized people exit through the doorway. The focus is on detecting intruders and should be integrated with CCTV cameras for unmanned entries. Best for doors that lead into secured buildings or areas with sensitive data and assets.

Depending on the flow of traffic and entrance, turnstiles also often reduce the number of guards needed. No matter which style of optical entrance security you choose, your assets - both human and material - will be more secure.

Jeff Brown is president at Smarter Security Systems (www.smartersecurity.com), Austin, TX.

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