Access Control: Doing the Ground Work

Preparing for an electronic access control system is very similar to preparing for a masterkey system. Before the system can be created, a number of parameters must be determined. These include knowing something about the company, the doors that will be equipped with access control and the employees who will require varying levels of access and in some instances egress through the controlled doors. Electronic access can control access during specific hours, incorporate multiple credentials, provide greater control over user access and offer audit trail, options that a mechanical lock masterkey system cannot provide.

Before the components of a system can be determined, installed or priced, you must begin the process of understanding the job ahead by setting up an appointment with the end user in charge. This can be the company owner/president, Human Resources person, supervisor or manager. This initial question to ask is how they envision controlling access in their facility. Determine the number of secured doors, the types of credentials (keypad and/or Magstripe, Proximity, Smartcard or biometric), the number of users, levels of security, time zones and software features that could include audit trail and reports.

When meeting with the company representative, ask leading questions. Does your company have an existing access control system? An existing access control system can include a masterkey system. The masterkey system is access control and the people who have access (keys) are probably the same people who will have credentials in the electromechanical access control system.

If yes, find out which features they like and dislike and which features they want to incorporate into their system. What do they want the access control system to provide? Some companies want only the basics and audit trail, just letting them know who gained access. Some companies not only want dual credentials, but also video of each person who gains access in addition to ensuring no piggybacking. Every company is different and every company has their specific take on security and controlling access.

It is your job #1 to listen to what they want. You can ask additional questions to make sure both of you are using the same language. After they are finished, think about what they said, maybe walk around the facility with them, ask about traffic flow and talk about the features they asked for. You can discuss some of the features not mentioned, which can include date and time scheduling, holidays, daylight savings, multiple credentials, audit trail and what they will provide. You can also ask: Do you have experience with an electronic access control system? The answers given will help to determine the expectations.

This type of conversation will provide information necessary to help determine the type of access control that will best suit their facility. Usually more than one conversation is necessary to understand the wants and needs of the end user. It is always better to take more time and satisfy the customer. The alternative is to install an access control system that does not offer all of the features wanted.

Important: Speak with the decision maker who has a basic understanding of who needs to go where. The meeting may require more than one company person in order to understand who requires access, what doors and make the decisions necessary when determining the scope of the project.

Be open-minded when you listen. Do not go into the meeting with a preconceived notion of the product or a specific manufacturer that will satisfy the customer. Remember, it is better to have a system with more features then the customer asked for, than to have a system that neither provides for the basic needs nor has no ability to expand.

Once you have a general idea of what levels of security are desired, the next step is to determine what doors are to be secured. When setting up access control, the best way to understand and be able to discuss the implementation is to have access to “as built” plans. These are the final drawings that are sometimes available after the construction of a building. Having the latest plans makes it easier for the end user and you to discuss controlling access and the placement of the lock hardware.

Important: Always make sure the plans are for the building you will be working in and they are up to date.

Whether plans are available or not, it is extremely important to take sufficient time to walk the facility and the surrounding area in order to get a feeling for what the job will require. Number the doors to know which doors will be equipped with electronic hardware.

Conduct a security survey. During the walk around, confirm the plans. If printed plans are unavailable, take the opportunity to construct some drawings in order to discuss traffic flow and the openings to control access. Depending upon the facility, controlling access may go beyond exterior doors to gates and interior spaces. Some company officials may prefer to have their offices secured enabling them to have a fob or card/badge or code that can be used to gain near total access.

This hands-on approach does take time, and it will provide important information including is the condition of the existing door hardware in regard to unlocking, door closing and latching. Even though new electromechanical hardware will be installed, if the door does not close and latch with the existing hardware, it will almost always need service in order for the new hardware to properly operate.

Having a good amount of information enables you to begin to make the appropriate decisions for the access control system, including whether the system will be hardwired, wireless or both, the type of locking hardware, the necessary components including latch bolt monitoring, door position switches, etc., depending upon design of the building and the required level of security. Only then will the lock hardware, controller and the operating software manufacturer be determined.

Your local locksmith distributor, the Internet and the manufacturer can be of value when researching electromechanical lock hardware. Your local distributor should be able to offer suggestions once you have determined the number of doors and the lock hardware required. Once they offer some manufacturers’ products they feel will meet or exceed what the customer requires, go on Internet and research these manufacturers and their product lines.

You can always contact the electromechanical lock manufacturers and ask questions. An important question to always ask are these products the latest in hardware and software? How soon will there be an upgrade? You should contact their technical support department and find out if support is offered fee or free and for how long.

There is a fine line with technical support. It is not their job to answer questions whose answers are in their installation manuals or to teach basic electricity, wiring or installation. However, for questions specific to their products, is the representative knowledgeable and willing to answer your questions?

There is never a need for anyone to know where the lock products are going to be installed. They will only need to know the number of doors, the lock hardware required as well as if the system will be wireless or hardwired or both.

Before providing a bid, make sure that the system you decide upon is the best system for the application.