Expanding Your Role in Access Control

Feb. 1, 2008
There are four basic components to any access control system: access device or reader, locking device, egress device and power supply. While some manufacturers offer kits containing the three components, most security professionals use individual pieces to complete the working system.

Access control is best defined as letting an authorized person go where they need to, when they need to, if they need to. In other words, let the right people into the right area at the right times.

Some locksmiths have gotten hung up on the unknown aspect of access control. These security professionals will install basic electric strikes to control access, but will not proceed to the next level of standalone and integrated access control systems.

If you're not doing anything more than electric strikes, you should seriously consider what you are missing out on — providing your customers with controllable access control.


Standalone access control units are simpler to install than the basic electric strike. These battery-operated, self-contained locksets allow your customer to control access to a specific area.

Most standalone access control units install into standard door prep. Some require a couple of additional cross bore openings to accommodate mounting bolts or running the wiring from the exterior to the interior assemblies. Standalone locks are available in a variety of styles to replace existing lock configurations as well as finishes. There are even standalone units designed to replace unit locks.

Credentials used to activate these locks include standard 12-button keypad configurations, swipe card reader, proximity card reader, I-button and biometric technology. In addition to working on a specific credential, different manufacturers offer different combinations of credentials on a given lock. You may choose keypad/ prox , keypad/swipe, etc. Dual credentials provide the ability to require one person to have both credentials to gain access or can require two individuals each to have a specific credential in order to gain access. The customer can choose the level of security required.

Keypads in some units are used for programming the lock on-site. Usually a lock with limited number of users and no audit trail is programmed at the keypad of each individual lock.

As features increase, so does cost. The least expensive locks usually feature less than 20 individual lock user codes, no time scheduled functions and no audit trail. More advanced units offer addition user codes into the thousands, time scheduled functions and audit trail. Various versions are now available for narrow stile doors.

Programming some of the more advanced features can require additional software and is usually accomplished at a computer. Each user can be assigned a myriad of access possibilities including multiple time zones and management authorization levels. All user information is uploaded to the lock via a laptop or programming module. When an audit is required, the information is downloaded from the lock to the computer in the same manner.

While most standalone locks are designed to operate from one side of the door, there are those designed with a keypad on both sides to require a code or credential from either direction.

For a customer with multiple doors in the system, as many additional locks can be installed as required and serviced with the same software and hardware components.


An access control system integrates a variety of components to make up the system. Considering the way a simple electric strike system works, this is just an expansion upon that basic concept.

There are four basic components to any access control system: access device or reader, locking device, egress device and power supply. While some manufacturers offer kits containing the three components, most security professionals use individual pieces to complete the working system. By choosing from a wide variety, you can better meet the needs of your customer.

Reader: The first component of the system is the access control reader. These come in a wide variety. All readers accomplish one simple function, they act as a switch to supply or deny power to an electrically locked device.

This switch can be found in the form of a key switch, keypad, card reader, electronic key or biometric device.

Card readers break down into insertion, swipe and proximity styles. Additional proximity credentials include a key fob and disc sticker.

Locking device: Locking devices can be mechanical, electric or a combination of both. With an electric strike the mechanical lock is released with the activation of the electric strike. The strike can be combined with a knob or lever lock, a mortise lock or an exit device.

Electro-magnetic locks are popular because of their simplicity, silent operation and ease of installation.

An option to an electric strike is the electrified lock. Kits are available to convert common exit devices from fully mechanical to electrified devices. Other electrified locks are available in almost any style make and finish.

If you have a unique or special lock application, there are companies that specialize in converting your mechanical hardware to an electrified version.

Egress Device: The third component of the system is the egress device. Although not a part of every access control system, the egress device may consist of an exit button, motion sensor or other device that will cause the door to unlock. Note: Always check with your AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to be sure you are meeting all fire and life safety codes and requirements. Some require redundant switches or must tie into the fire alarm panel. If in doubt, start with the local fire department for information.

Power Supply: The fourth component of the system is the power supply. Depending on the hardware being installed, this can range from a simple plug-in transformer to a separate cabinet with control boards and a battery backup power supply.

Some special power supply components are only available from the manufacturer, but most electrified locking hardware – especially electric strikes – is moving toward providing field selectable 12v or 24v, AC or DC, fail-safe or fail-secure status.

Additional system features such as latch monitoring, door position, forced door and motion detection can be covered with different options and components from a variety of manufacturers.


The big difference between standalone and component access control systems was always the wiring argument. The standalone requires no wiring between units while the system requires continuous wiring between each component.

The additional cost of the wiring itself and the labor to run it usually adds up to a significant portion of the total job. The benefit is centrally controlling all doors with user data and audit trails.

Standalone locks in a multi-door application require data and audit information to be exchanged on-site at each door instead of being managed from a central station.

Wireless systems offer the best of both worlds by providing a system that can be centrally managed and controlled without the need to run separate wiring to each door.

Check out companies such as BlueWave Security (www.bluewavesecurity.com), Schlage Wireless (www.ir-swa.com) and OSI WAMS (www.omnilock.com). Wireless systems allow you to install separate hardware at each door and control access and audit functions from a central station.

Variations exist in the different systems; power to each lock may need to be supplied locally or can be fed through the Ethernet cable with POE (Power over Ethernet).


Like any other product or service you offer to your customers, you'll need to promote access control as one of your specialties. Your advertising, truck lettering, business card and showroom are all ways to get the message across.

Your showroom should feature several mounted, fully operational working samples to display the features and benefits to customers at the counter or to pick up and take with you to a job survey.

Always make sure these samples are clean, in good condition, have strong batteries and work as intended. A non-working, dirty sample will leave a bad impression of the product.

When you get the chance to present a security solution to a customer, having a choice of good, better and best solutions is optimal. By having mounted working samples of each lock choice, the customer can make an informed decision.

Surveying any job requires time, attention to detail and detailed notes. It's easy today with camera phones and digital media to record each door in a survey and make notes as to measurements, lock type, local power sources, etc.

As mentioned earlier, always be sure you are always operating within the rules, regulations, laws and codes of the job location. Be aware that some cities in a larger municipal area may have codes that are stronger or weaker than an adjoining city. The AHJ is the answer man.