Access control systems: 7 key questions and answers

Throughout history, humans have always found ways to secure access to areas—from wooden locks in Assyria to Tutankhamun’s tomb locked with a rope system. Around 200 years ago, Linus Yale patented the modern lock in 1848, and it has been the core of building security ever since. However, we now rely on cloud-based technology in many areas of our lives, and security is no exception. 

There are many different physical access control systems, but before you decide which one is right for you, here are the answers to frequently asked questions. And remember, whichever one you choose, access control is designed to make your building a safer place.

1. How does access control work?

Access control provides physical security that restricts who can enter a specific area at any time. Technologically-advanced access control systems allow entry only to authorised users and verify everyone who enters and exits a monitored area.

These systems use different methods of controlling access, including Radio Frequency Identification lock systems, biometrics, electromagnetic mechanisms, keycards, and smartphones. 

When someone tries to access an area, their credential is authenticated. The user’s information or credential—anything from a fingerprint to a security card—is sent to an Access Control Unit. This then establishes if the user should be granted access to the area.

Next, the Access Control Unit verifies if the valid user has permission to access the specific area. The user’s credentials will have to pass a series of digital tests such as: 

  • Using the correct type of credentials for that particular area
  • Gaining access during a permitted timeframe
  • Using one of the correct trigger types

When the user passes all of these tests, they can gain access as the security device will be unlocked. This works differently depending on the type of security device in operation. For example, the power supply is momentarily stopped for an electromagnetic lock; however, the opposite happens for door strikes as a power supply unlocks the door for a few seconds.

For wireless locks the latch is engaged with the presentation of an approved credential but remains disengaged at all other times - preventing access but allowing free egress from the room or area under control.

2. What are the benefits of access control?

Keeping your business safe with the least amount of hassle is your prime concern. Opening and closing your business at the right time is a serious logistical challenge. Giving keys to every staff member is a risk—and there is the added problem of restricting access to certain areas for certain employees. 

An access control system can provide answers to all of these problems. It takes away the need for one person to be in charge of maintaining lock systems, distributing keys to the right people at the right time, and the need to keep the whole system secure. Instead, it allows you to take control of your building’s security, modify it, and choose the best method for your requirements.

3. Is it easy to manage my access control system?

Administering a system is relatively simple, especially with the newer cloud-based access control systems as they integrate with much of your existing software, such as Google Workspace and Active Directory. In addition, these new systems are more flexible for service enhancements. They can be managed using administrative software that syncs automatically with Internet-connected Access Control Units—this means you can add or remove entries, schedules, alerts, and users.

Moreover, administrators can audit access control systems by generating reports for access logs. This may include user and entry activity and is helpful for security reasons. First, it ensures your system is working correctly without problems. And second, it is useful for adhering to compliance standards that are an essential component of your insurance requirements. 

4. How do access control systems improve security?

This is generally the most widely asked question—and the reason businesses decide to make the switch from traditional lock to intelligent systems. Access control systems are more effective at prohibiting access for unauthorised personnel. The systems are harder to compromise, and they add an extra level of security for buildings of all sizes with different requirements.

Keys can be lost and copied, which can compromise your building’s security. There is no other option other than changing every lock in the building and issuing new keys, which is time-consuming and costly. However, access control systems use safer methods that are easy to disable quickly. For example, employees could be given pin codes, which are easy to block at any time. Or they could be given an access card, which can be cancelled instantaneously or programmed to expire at a given date or period after their initial issue. They could even use their own biometric information, which is not possible to replicate.

Companies use technology to record everyone who enters and exits your building. Records are kept of how long they stayed and which areas they accessed—useful for both employees and visitors. If there is a security breach in your building, getting to the bottom of the issue is more straightforward as everyone is tracked and verified.

5. Which industries could benefit from an access control system?

Security is paramount for everyone, so we can all benefit from an access control system—from large corporations to small businesses owners and everyone in between. The following three industries commonly adopt access control technologies:

Financial institutions 

Banks are constantly under threat, and they need to manage security without employing physical security. An IoT access control system, for example, can lock doors and offices remotely without the need for physical intervention. 

Multi-site businesses

Businesses with multiple sites have particular challenges when it comes to security. Traditional locks are not secure, and legacy access control systems present logistical challenges as each site requires its own individual server. A high level of support is also be required to make sure employees visiting multiple sites have the access they need. 

However, the new cloud-based systems allow businesses the flexibility to scale up and provide security at multiple locations without each site needing an individual server. Remote access allows a single interface located anywhere globally to give and restrict access and permissions for all employees. This removes the administrative responsibility from the company’s own IT department.

Education providers

Providing security for students and teaching staff must be every institution’s top priority. Parents and students want to be sure that only people who have legitimate access to the facilities are onsite. Access control systems allow institutions to set parameters for specific individuals, including delivery drivers. Time restrictions can also be set for contractors who can only be on-site during particular hours.

Healthcare services

The logistics behind hospitals are complex. For example, many restricted access areas constantly change depending on the time of day. Shift patterns also pose challenges; individuals need access to places only when they are officially working. Moreover, healthcare facilities need to ensure that people with the correct permissions can access drugs, equipment, and sensitive records whilst allowing the free movement of people around public access areas.  

6. How do I plan for access control installation?

Every building is different, so you must plan for its unique features before installing an access control system. Below are some key points to consider, but an expert security company will be able to work closely with you to understand your building’s specific requirements and make sure you are compliant with building regulations.

  • Check site drawings of your building to understand what components you need and where you should install them.
  • Ensure you get permission from the authorities to guarantee your access control design complies with regulations - always check with the fire office
  • Confirm in writing your plan for the system with the installation company and ensure you are entirely sure about the scope and cost of the project

7. How will access control make things easier?

Cloud-based access control systems allow virtually unlimited permissions and rules. They give you enormous scope to control your building and customise your security needs—which makes your life easier. You can:

  • Limit specific employees access to particular areas at certain times
  • Establish multiple authentication factors for certain employees
  • Restrict access to certain areas
  • Deactivate an employee’s access code or revoke their access card without changing the whole system
  • Sync your system directly with your HR database 

Conclusion

Installing an access control system involves an initial cost, but this will also be an investment. New cloud-based systems will not only save you time (as well as the associated administrative overheads), they will also save you thousands of pounds preventing security breaches. 

There are many different types of access control, and it is essential to consult with a specialist. But in the meantime, why not ask yourself 6 questions to help choose the right access control system. And remember, whichever one you choose, access control is designed to make your building a safer place.

Access Control7. 

         
Darren Gibbons
Written by Darren Gibbons

Darren is a security systems, life safety and fire protection specialist and Managing Director of Ace Fire & Security.

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