As an important method of securing a site by controlling, monitoring and restricting the movement of people, assets and vehicles, access control systems have long been respected as a vital component of the security suite. Their ability to be integrated with other systems is increasingly enabling end users to benefit from additional functionality. James Kelly, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association, takes a look at the benefits of systems integration.
Access control systems have traditionally been used to maintain the security of an entire site, or designated areas of a site, by restricting the movement of people or vehicles. However, advances in technology are opening up new possibilities for greater benefits beyond the traditional security function.
Typically, an access control system will consist of three key components; a physical barrier such as a door or gate; the identification device such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), smart card and reader, swipe card and reader or PIN entry pad; and the door controller software which makes the decision on who can gain access, through which entry points and at which times of the day.
Users can have varying levels of authorisation which will allow them to move freely around the areas of a site that they are authorised to do so, whilst those without the required level of access rights will not be able to gain access. These access rights can be changed quickly and easily to accommodate a change in a user’s authorisation.
In a pure security sense, access control systems provide a cost-effective and efficient method of securing an access point, especially on sites with large transient populations.
There are far greater benefits that can be achieved beyond the security function when access control systems are combined with supplementary systems. Their ability to be integrated with a wide range of different systems enables them to provide additional functionality which brings about further benefits for the end-user.
Paul Adams, Product Marketing Manager at BSIA member company, Dormakaba Ltd and a former Chairman of the BSIA’s Access and Asset Protection section, believes that the benefits of integrating systems is very clear. “There are a number of benefits that integration of systems can bring, across a wide variety of applications. At Dormakaba, we have been integrating our systems with external databases for over 20 years, however, as strong commercial cases for the integration of different systems emerge, new solutions are appearing.
“Some of the systems which are particularly well suited to integration with access control include HR and People Management systems, CCTV, Alarm Management and Building Management.”
The benefits of integrating access control systems with HR systems are very clear. Integration greatly reduces the risk of having multiple data entry errors and makes managing changes in the workforce significantly easier. Access rights can be automatically removed the moment an individual leaves the organisation, reducing the risk of ex-employees returning and gaining unauthorised access, whilst reducing the administration associated with multiple systems.
Integration with CCTV systems enables operators to search for a particular event more efficiently through the pre and post recordings that are initiated by the access control system. For example, the video will roll when someone accesses or attempts to access an area using the barrier controller. This footage can then be linked with event information which makes it much easier for an operator to find footage of a security breach.
A multitude of further functionality also becomes available when access control systems are integrated with Building Management Systems, from controlling heating and lighting based on the known occupancy of different areas of a building, to showing access control events on the graphics of a Building Management System.
Adams explains: “This ability to integrate Building Management Systems with access control contributes to the ever popular concept of ‘smart buildings’. If data is shared amongst systems, buildings can be made to react to certain events or to reduce their energy consumption. For example, in the event of a fire, the Building Management System can control the access to the doors to better guide occupants out of a building, whilst also controlling the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to extract smoke from the building. Of course, in this example, current building regulations for fire evacuation and safety will need to be taken into account.”
Building Management Systems and access control measures are also being utilised in dynamic lockdown procedures. While such procedures are increasingly being used within a school environment, as the threat level remains SEVERE in the United Kingdom, other organisations may start to incorporate them into their security strategies. A dynamic lockdown would generally occur in response to a fast moving incident, such as a firearms or weapons attack, occurring either directly at the site or close by. Dynamic lockdown procedures have the ability to restrict access and egress to a site or building – or parts of it depending on its configuration – through physical measures, such as access controlled doors. As well as verbally alerting staff to physically lockdown the school, panic hardware can be fitted to doors and windows, particularly ‘final exit doors’ such as external exits, which will automatically lock when the alarm is activated. The panic hardware must be capable of self-locking, with Pullman type latches integrated with a door close being a good way to achieve this. In these cases, a building’s access control system can be integrated with a panic alarm system, signalling to the latch to close into a locked position. Once lockdown has been activated, the access control system can signal to the Building Management System that the area is occupied, allowing for the air conditioning or heating to be controlled in order to maintain a comfortable temperature.
Whilst the benefits of integration can be achieved across many sites of varying size and nature, Paul Adams explains that some sites, such as universities or colleges, are prime examples of how integration of systems provides such benefits: ““Universities will typically expect thousands of students to join or leave every year as courses start or finish. By linking the student database with the access control system, the process of changing a student’s access rights can be hugely simplified. When a student’s course comes to an end, the end date which is shared between the student database and the access control system, automatically removes the student’s access to campus buildings.”
Technological advances have helped to enable a whole host of innovative new solutions in the access control market and Paul expects there to be no slowing in the advancement of new applications: “Everything is possible. It’s whether there is a commercial driver to make things happen. Some particularly interesting solutions are now being deployed within hotel environments. Nearly all hotel chains have a link with a Property Management System, where the instruction to program a key (card) comes directly from the system. But we are also seeing a demand for mobile access in this sector, where a user can book a room online, download access rights to their smartphone and then use their smartphone as the room ‘key’ when they arrive at the hotel.”
Integrating multiple systems with access control not only opens up an array of additional functionality, but also provides further cost efficiency savings and a greater return on investment. By integrating multiple systems and automating processes, savings can be made against costly manual processes. Where access control systems are integrated with Building Management Systems, the performance of the building in terms of its energy consumption can be significantly improved. This improvement in energy efficiency can reduce the cost of energy bills and contribute to the building owner’s environmental obligations.
To source an access control supplier near you, please visit: www.bsia.co.uk