The Evolution Of Access Control

Institutional locksmiths share their views on standalone locks, electronic access control and wireless systems.


Being responsible for multiple function buildings, some active 24/7, the reasons for using mechanical or electronic numeric code locks vary with the application. We started using an electronic numeric code lock shortly after their release. The first electronic locks were not much more...


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Being responsible for multiple function buildings, some active 24/7, the reasons for using mechanical or electronic numeric code locks vary with the application.

We started using an electronic numeric code lock shortly after their release. The first electronic locks were not much more sophisticated than the mechanical predecessors. With the early mechanical push button locks, you might be able to program two codes, but for the most part you were limited to one code. Where the electronic models had greater user capability, however, each code had a limit of five digits (as does many of the mechanicals).

The concept of the electronic lock filled a need: “giving access to rooms for multiple departments.” As those allowed to make use of the space changed, we could provide a new code for those moving in and remove old codes for those moving out without having to collect keys or inconvenience anyone (change anyone else’s code).

This proved much more cost-effective than supplying keys to all staff who would need access, or providing loaner keys to departments. In a hospital setting, we expanded their use to sleeping rooms for on-call staff and residents. It provided privacy, so patients and family members wouldn’t have access to the rooms, yet staff didn’t need keys. Over time an improved version was released that was more durable and increased user capability.

Two of the governing bodies that inspect hospitals for code compliance came out with a new requirement that if a room had a trash or soiled linen chute in it, as well as soiled utility rooms on or near Pediatric units must be locked at all times. This drove a major expansion of the use of electronic stand alone locks. We went from 35 or so electronic locks to over 200 in a short period of time. With more and more of the personnel becoming familiar with electronic locks, our staff started requesting these locks on other locations, such as staff lounges and other locations where staff needed access but the general public did not.

ELECTRONIC LOCKS COME OF AGE

The next generation electronic lock had a capacity of about 2,000 users, and many of the options available with a standard wired access control system (i.e. time zones, audit trails, access levels, etc.). We had labs and office suites who wanted them so they could eliminate issuing keys to students and staff who only needed general access. The audit trail capability helped so managers could get a better idea of who was coming into the space and when.

Unfortunately, some staff decided that passing on their unique code was acceptable, and so the audit trails were ineffective. With the introduction proximity card technology as an option for these locks, along with the keypad, we had the option to go with dual credentials if needed, but primarily use the proximity cards. This coincided with the upgrading of our traditional access control system.

The upgrade consisted of moving to HID proximity badge technology, which allows the use of the same ID badge for both traditional and standalone badge reader access control, even though they were not on the same management software. If you include numeric code locks, with the Proximity locks, our count grew to between 550 and 600 locks.

This surge brought its own headache, as it now required the full time attention of one locksmith to maintain them. We realized this was going to soon outgrow our capacity to keep up with it. So we started talking with manufacturers and reading articles in trade magazines - not just for locksmiths, but also in those for access control - to find out what was available, as well as if they were working on any wireless systems and when they might be available.

We found one was out on the street with their product, and three other companies working seriously on producing a quality alternative to the first.

We have received a major education along the way, learning new terms (to us) and how the development of a new product works its way through R & D and onto production.

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