How to Specify Electronic Access Control

Aug. 1, 2006
For professional installations, planning and documenting is essential.

I consider access control a science as well as an art, just like my locksmith friends regard locks and keys. In both, you need to intuitively use your insights and creativity along with technology to reach your destination.

Some people get by on intuition or just “playing it by ear.” But when it comes to locksmithing, door control and life safety systems, “playing it by ear” cheats your customers and your employer.

I’ve known many locksmiths who master keyed in their heads. I’m glad they weren’t mastering my building. I’ve also known many technicians who think the only way to install is to “play it by ear.”

For professional installations, planning and documenting is essential. You can be sure you have the right materials and the correctly rated components. You can have the site “prepped” so you can operate as efficiently as possible.

If your system requires inspection by the LAHJ (local authority having jurisdiction) or others, you can provide a road map. If the system requires service at a later date (and they all will eventually), product documents and a wiring diagram will save you (or the unfortunate individual elected to go out and work on your installation) an incalculable amount of wasted time trying to figure out what you did.

So even experts in the field (such as myself) begin our planning during the first moments of phone contact with a client. We still take notes and document everything for the benefit of our purchasing agents our installers, the LAHJ who must approve it, those who will subsequently live with the system and maintain it, and for our own recollection.

With specifying electronic access control, like playing an instrument, “practice makes perfect,” but planning and documenting are mandatory for the professional.

Many versions of access control planning worksheets are available, and you can either use one of these or modify one to suit your own tastes. Following the script will mean you will probably obtain the required information to quote and design your project. Save your intuition and creativity to sell it to the client.

Here is a typical set of questions (and explanations for why they need answers) you can use as a basis for your own planning worksheet.

Total Number of Doors Controlled by Proposed System: (Initially and Ultimately)

Proposed System Type & Feature Set: Automated Door Control; Access Control, Video Surveillance; Time & Attendance; Intrusion alarm, Delayed Egress; environmental monitoring. Is central station remote monitoring required? Is activity report required? Is real-time alarm annunciation required?

Credential type: Number of employees; employee turnover and ultimate capacity; muster report.

Does premises require rekeying or remastering? Level of key security required.

Is there a fire alarm or sprinkler system?

Code Issues: What is the occupancy type? Does the premises have a valid certificate of occupancy? Is a building permit pending or required for the installation/modifications?

Door Names and Locations

Door Operations: (Examples: employee entrance; emergency exit, stairwell door, etc.)

Door Types: (Single; Double; in swing; sliding; etc.)

Are there any Elevators to be included on the System:

Door Construction: (Wood, metal, storefront, etc.)

Frame/ Wall Construction: (Metal or wood frame; poured concrete, sheet rock, glass side lights; etc.)

Existing Hardware: (mortise lock; cylindrical passage lever; 3 pcs. 4.5” hinges, etc.)

Door & Hardware Condition & Modifications required: (Door closer is leaking; door is sagging; threshold has popped; owner is unsure about who has keys to the door, etc.)

Existing Electronics: Are there any existing service monitoring contracts or lease agreements? Is existing equipment scalable and functioning? Is it proprietary or obsolete? Are you expected to honor any warranties (for example manufacturers’ warranties on existing equipment)?

Proposed New Locking System: (Maglock, electric strike with storeroom function lever; rim type exit device; etc.)

Proposed Card Reader Type & Mounting: Standalone; networked, cardreader; keypad; biometric; proximity, magstripe, surface mounted, mullion mounted, flush-mounted, etc.)

Proposed Auxiliary Devices: (REX Button, motion detector; door position sensor, door closer, etc.)

Power Source & Wiring: (Location of existing receptacles, how wiring will be run, where control boxes will be situated, who will make line voltage connections, location and ID# of circuit breaker providing power, type, gauge and amount of wire; name and phone number for the IT manager, etc.)

Existing Computer Resources: If new system is software managed: computer that is available, details on operating system; network and Internet connectivity; available memory, type CPU and MB. Who will be administering the system? What is their competency level and who will require training?

Other Setup & Installation Details: Is the door already existing, and site otherwise ready for the installation? Is there a database of the cardholders? Have time schedules and access privileges been defined? Are there any constraints on the installation schedule such as work must be performed during certain hours, dust and or noise must be mitigated so as to not disrupt normal operations? Is there a deadline for system turnover? Must the LAHJ be contacted for prior plan approval or finished job sign off? Must project be coordinated with fire alarm contractor, electrician, painters, etc.?

Many experienced consultants have a collection of templates into which they will try to fit each door and section of the system into to simplify specifying it and determining the best solution for the project.

Competing for Institutional Jobs

Current events in the industry also have had a major impact on how we design electronic access control. One is the combined impact of direct marketing, the migration of hospitality style standalones and the entry of door and hardware contractors into the scene.

The hospitality market refers to hotels and motels, and this market segment has long been handled as factory accounts, without the involvement of distributor or dealers. For new installations, the doors were prepped by the door manufacturer, and the locks were simply another item on the hardware schedule.

These days, many standalone access controls are marketed and sold directly by the manufacturer to institutional level accounts. These players are shipping cartons to a site, and the installation is for the end-user to accomplish.

The other shift is manufacturers selling product direct off their websites. A customer will want you to install it.

One locksmith related his experiences when a local university sent a FFQ for 60 standalones. The initial reaction was for the locksmith to calculate the list price and per door labor for the project, and wait for the jackpot. But this locksmith had been through all this before. It started when a lock and key manufacturer began taking house accounts, essentially bypassing distributors and dealers. Then it was the home centers selling hardware; then known companies putting their logos on mediocre offshore product.

In this case, the locksmith knew he was going to be bidding against a local door and hardware distributor, as well as the factory. None of the area locksmiths had enough staff or credit to first buy then install to be able to bolt in 60 locks in a reasonable length of time. Even this locksmith did not do enough volume to match the door and hardware guy, and neither he nor the door and hardware guy could beat the factory’s price. So the locksmith didn’t waste his time.

He bid it three ways: locks only; locks and labor, and labor only. He won the labor only bid, which actually was the best of the three. He does not have to tie up the cash for 60 locks, or handle all the hardware for a paper thin mark up. He is not responsible for wrong items, missing parts, or ‘bugs’ in the firmware. He does not have to honor warranties.

In practice, projects such as this one are a good way for the locksmith to gain some experience with a product, and more importantly develop a relationship with the end-user. This client will need to have vandalized units repaired or replaced. The doors will need adjusting, door closers will need to be replaced; keys will be lost or the factory will screw up the master keying, or forget to send cylinders, so the locksmith will be there with the service.