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Access for success.

THE ACCESS CONTROL INDUSTRY has a big future. Its growth is fueled by organizations looking for ways to enhance security. Those organizations have invested time and money in a variety of electronic technologies designed to protect people and property from unauthorized access to buildings and restricted areas.

But as the access control industry evolves to meet future security needs, what will be the fate of such investment decisions? For several reasons, an organization's changing need for security can outlive the access control system installed to meet that need.

A number of factors influence the effectiveness of one access control system over another. For example, the number of users is a big factor at fast-growing companies and colleges and universities where employee or student populations fluctuate from year to year. Site expansion at military locations and electronics firms changes the number of access points their systems must monitor.

An increase in the number of remote sites at large medical centers or retail businesses with many sales offices often changes the way access is reported. And the number of auxiliary control needs such as lighting, heating, and even time and attendance changes as the need for those services arises.

Due to such changing needs, many faced with improving their organization's security hesitate to follow this path of uncertainty.

While an access control system can save time and money by eliminating the need for security officers and re-keying locks, the costs of having to replace an entire access control system because of poor design and integration can make any savings seem minimal.

Every organization-a residential complex, professional office, factory, or retail business - has its own special needs for controlling and monitoring access. But success or failure cannot be predicted unless access control needs are well thought out first.

Success in access control means not having to start over once a system has been installed. it means knowing the level of security needed and how the system will be used. Proper preparation brings the results an organization looks for in an access control system today and tomorrow.

When it comes to improving security, an organization must rank the features it's looking for. Reliability, degree of security, user acceptance, reporting level, and cost are features that often top this list. Departments often rank these features differently, and a company must be aware of the needs of various departments and keep track of them as they change.

The least an organization should expect from an installed system is that it keep out unauthorized personnel but let in authorized users. The system should give users a fast response with little bother. It should operate reliably at all access points while supplying the needed information for effective system management.

Its cards, tokens, or electronic keys should be nearly impossible to counterfeit to provide the highest level of security. In addition, the system should fit within the organization's budget and be flexible enough to prove a sound investment for many years to come.

An organization should paint an accurate picture of itself and its security needs before it begins to configure an access control system. It should also establish an idea of what it expects its security needs will be in the future. At the forefront of the minds of decision makers should be a series of questions that help them determine the organization's real access control needs and choose wisely from the available technologies without sacrificing the quality of its security.

How does business traffic flow? An organization should consider how many users and access points it has now and will have in the future. It should know when employees come to work in the morning and leave in the evening and how many work overtime. Special entrances used by different staffs and sensitive, limited-access areas should be identified.

What types of services have access? An organization should identify the working hours of outside services that have access to the building. It should decide what entrances they'll use and what areas of the building they'll be restricted to.

How should the facility be secured? An organization should identify several issues when it looks at the environment in which it operates. It should determine if it has or plans to have other sites that also call for employee access. Most importantly, it should identify the systems that already monitor burglar and fire alarms at these sites and decide how to integrate them with the access control system. An after-hours parking plan should be established and the organization should be aware of how the plan relates to employee flow. Lastly, entrance locations should be evaluated to determine whether system components are vulnerable to damage from weather and vandalism.

Are user needs accounted for? An essential consideration is how an access control system will affect employees. If users don't adapt to the system, failure is a given. An access control system should respond quickly and be easy to use.

The organization should consider how users gain entry and how they can best keep track of their access identification. The new method of gaining entry should be no more difficult than the existing one The more complicated entry becomes, the more users will reject the system.

What is the planned response should things go wrong? Cards get lost, alarms are accidently triggered, and people get in where they're not allowed. An organization should anticipate these events and identify technologies that safeguard against them.

Another major consideration is the purpose of the access control system. To be most effective, a system should focus first on access control.

Only after an organization thoroughly understands its people and property can it identify its access control needs. Those needs establish the criteria for choosing the right mix of technology, but a lot of evaluation must be done before any type of decision can be made.

An organization that has identified its need for an access control system must next educate itself on available technology. It must identify manufacturers and what services are available to maintain a system once it's installed.

Decision makers can close the information gap in many ways. Attending industry trade shows, subscribing to journals, and talking to security directors at other organizations will help them gather enough information to know the difference between quick fixes and true solutions.

Considering all the available cards, tokens, electronic keys, keypads, readers, and system architectures on the market today, choosing a system is a big decision. The system must meet the requirements of different groups of users - those who use the system to gain access and those who monitor security.

An organization must also realize that it will have changing needs for the access control system it installs. That system should be flexible enough to handle added functions and more users.

Some more popular access control technologies include magnetic, Wiegand, and proximity card systems. Each has features advantageous to particular applications.

Magnetic stripe card technology has many advantages, including low cost and multiuse capabilities. The cards have three magnetic tracks available for encoding information, allowing them to perform different functions.

Magnetic card technology can also be used in conjunction with other technologies such as bar code scanning. Adding a bar code stripe to the surface of the magnetic stripe card allows an organization to add features such as asset tracking to the system.

If an employee transfers a piece of equipment between sites, the bar code on the equipment is scanned along with the bar code on the employee's access card. The information is logged into a computer. Once the employee reaches the other site, both bar codes are scanned again and the system records the equipment's new location. Colleges and universities might use a similar system in libraries where students check out books on the same card they use to enter their dormitories and charge meals in the cafeteria.

Organizations that need a more durable card technology often select Wiegand systems. This is the most widely used access control technology because the card offers a higher level of security than magnetic stripe cards.

Since the encoded information is sealed within the card, this technology also stands up to harsh environmental conditions. As a result, it is often used in industrial and government settings. As with magnetic stripe cards, a bar code stripe or magnetic stripe can be added to the surface of the Wiegand card, allowing it to handle additional functions.

Since both magnetic stripe and Wiegand cards require the user to insert or swipe a card through a reader, organizations like apartment complexes and retirement homes may opt for more user-friendly proximity systems. In such settings, security, reliability, and ease of use are important.

Proximity technology, while it carries the highest price tag, allows users to present a card or electronic key to the reader with little activity or dexterity required. The system will even read a card through a wallet or purse. Additionally, a proximity system guarantees a high level of security because its readers can be concealed behind a wall to prevent vandalism and its cards are very hard to duplicate.

Each of these reader technologies can be configured in several ways, depending on the system architecture adopted by the manufacturer. Two of the most popular architectures are distributed data base systems and central computer systems.

Distributed data base systems use intelligent remote panels-typically for two or four access points-to control access decisions independently and report activity to a computer. Central computer systems use an on-line host computer to control and report system decisions and activity for all access points.

If an organization were to list all the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies, the scale would balance in and out of favor depending on priorities. An organization looking for a low-cost solution may choose the economy of a magnetic or optical card system, while one that considers system reliability, user acceptance, and security more important than cost may select a proximity system.

But such a comparison still does not provide enough information to make a smart decision. Other issues also determine whether a system meets present and future access control needs.

A system consultant with an extensive access control background can be of help at this point. But picking the right counsel deserves as much care as choosing the system itself.

Several consultants should be interviewed to determine their experience level with integrated security systems. Some consultants have systems they prefer using and contractors they prefer working with no matter what the application. The job should be awarded to the system consultant who can work with the established needs of the organization and match those needs with workable solutions.

A system consultant will help write the system specifications and evaluate whether bids received from various contractors meet system requirements. Once a system is chosen, the consultant also oversees the installation and acceptance testing of the system to verify that it works as specified.

The process doesn't end at installation. Maintaining an access control system that will last to meet future needs calls for constant evaluation. The system should be reviewed annually and checked against the requirements set for it in the early stages of decision making.

The organization should regularly ask employees how they're adapting to the system. The system's effectiveness and maintenance costs also should be measured. When problems arise that challenge the system's effectiveness, the organization should identify the cause of the problem and methods of correcting it without disturbing the harmony of the entire system.

The real test of a successfully integrated system, however, is whether it grows with the organization. The system should be able to adapt to site expansion and increases in the employee or resident population. Most importantly, it should have been configured to allow additions to the system without overtaxing the computer and communications network.

With the proper preparation, success in access control is guaranteed. By striving to understand the need for access control, an organization has a better chance of predicting the outcome of its decision to buy a system. That is an enviable position to be in, considering the rate of failure ill-informed buying decisions create. Installing an access control system should not be a trip down the path of uncertainty but should enhance security and bring peace of mind.

About the Author . . . Stephen M. Rogers is sales market manager for access control at Radionics, a manufacturer of electronic security-communications systems used to monitor and report access, fires, intrusions, and other critical events detected in residential and commercial facilities. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Cards: The Key to the Future; special access control supplement; choosing the right access control system
Author:Rogers, Stephen M.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Previous Article:The pros and cons of proximity.
Next Article:Orchestrating your system.

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