System Design and Planning Tips

Sept. 5, 2016
Planning is key to providing a comprehensive security upgrade for you commercial customer

System design and planning should begin as early in your dialog with the client. Once I know what the client thinks they want, I start to begin putting together an outline for the design and broad parameters of the project’s plan. Even if the client initially expresses a requirement for, let’s say, only a new lock, I try not to let that stifle my ambition to provide a comprehensive security solution.

Electronic Systems

Let’s discuss electronic systems. It’s best to know the objective in order to best design and deploy it. Electric locking systems offer features which traditional mechanical locking cannot.

The purposes of an electronic locking system are:

Security: The basic objective of a lock or locking system is to provide security.

Life safety: While security is important, life safety is the most important feature of any lock or system you provide. Building codes do not address security, only life safety. The building owner might be extremely concerned about securing his premises or protecting its occupants, but you have to be positive your system does not endanger the occupants by preventing or impeding safe free egress. Some of the most interesting and challenging areas of door control systems, special locking arrangements, involves ways to create code complaint solutions which optimize both life safety and security.

Traffic Control: Another important element of your system will be controlling movement through the door in an efficient manner. Besides allowing free egress in a manner which complies with the appropriate building codes, you need to determine who is supposed to gain access, and then make it as smooth a process as possible for them to gain access. One sure way to get into trouble with your client is to create bottlenecks getting in or moving through the site.

Reliability: Traditional locksmiths often say that mechanical locks are the most reliable means of securing an opening. Realize that in the majority of Electronic Access Control systems, critical portions are indeed mechanical, and installing an electronic door control should not necessarily negatively affect reliability.

Remote Control / Monitor: Very often in security management, remote control and monitoring of an opening are two functions which are not only hard to achieve, but are really not possible without electronic systems.

All of the above features are required to provide a total solution for your customer. But REMEMBER life safety is always the priority.

The Walk Through

We all do things a little differently, but I would suggest that if you are making a sales call to the customer’s premises, it is a great opportunity for you to perform a survey of the premises to assess the exiting structure and begin planning (and pricing) the equipment you will be proposing. This is referred to as the “Walk Through.” Here are a few tips on how to conduct one.

  • Locate all doors or areas to be secured. Determine for yourself which those are. This may be your client’s first security project and they may not fully understand perimeter security and means of egress which are important considerations for what you are providing.
  • Obtain floor plans if they are available so help in this regard. You may be able to spot fire doors and walls within the premises which will have an impact on the hardware you can install and how you run your wiring. Sometimes the client will balk at having to find floor plans, in which case, a typical emergency escape diagram, typically posted near exits, may be adequate for your needs to at least get started.
  • Verify that all the doors are in proper working order. If it is a fire door, the building code mandates the door can pass an 11-point inspection. Whether it is a fire door or not, the doors you are planning to include in your system must be working properly in order for your new equipment to operate. Finding discrepancies at the earliest stages of your system planning permits opportunities to include repairs in your quote or give you a good reason for recommending upgrades.  An example would be adding closers to any door you intend to add access control.

Besides making note of possible door problems (weak or sagging door), check the surrounding areas for things like:

  • Concrete-filled door frames which will make running wires more labor intensive
  • Concealed door closers (door closer in frame) which are usually not maintained properly because most mechanics are afraid of them, and which might pose an obstacle to some types of lock installation (like electromagnetic locks or shear locks).
  • Note type of door: fire or non fire rated, in or outswing, right or left handed. The swing and handing may be required to specify a lock, and having it in your notes will save you a trip back to the site. I do not like to call the client and ask them to check the hand or swing of a door. It’s not professional.
  • Take necessary measurements at each door -- width, thickness and height;
  • Note mounting surfaces on doors and walls aluminum, glass, steel, concrete, brick.
  • Measure distance of wire run(s) between door lock, card reader, door position sensor, REX; and proposed door controller location.
  • Locate electrical room(s) and security/fire system(s). Determine how to power your equipment. Although wall-mounted transformers are easy to install, they are unsightly when plugged into typically located receptacles and will be subject to being dislodged from the receptacle and your system will stop working. If you spot a receptacle above a dropped ceiling, remember electrical code does not allow permanent installation of power supplies to receptacles above a dropped ceiling. Don’t overlook the power source issue during your walkthrough, as this oversight will cost you money and time to correct.
  • If remote control/ monitor are needed, note location(s) and function(s).

Working With Existing Systems

Your customer may want to interconnect one or more of these systems, in some cases you may be required to interconnect per code. The client may not be aware of what they already have, and may be expecting your system to integrate with what they already have. Although this is an unrealistic expectation, it is part of the walk through to identify what’s on the premises and discuss and document what the client has in mind for how the systems will work together.

Access/ Egress: You may be upgrading or replacing an existing system. If there are already credentials in use and the client is planning to continue to use them, you need to find out what the technology is and be sure your equipment is compatible. Also if there is software controlling the existing system, the client may be assuming the database and configurations can be passed on to the new system. This is not always possible and will usually require technical service time to resolve. Perhaps there are existing electric locking devices. Be sure you have the power to operate them, and confirm they are appropriate (legal) and working correctly. For example you cannot connect your access control system to an existing electromagnetic lock which is not permitted by code or improperly installed. It is a matter of ethics, professionalism, and those don’t matter to you, it is a matter of liability.

CCTV: Access control and video can dovetail nicely, and there is a potential for a very meaningful and long term relationship between your access control and the client’s video surveillance system. If you do the proper research and ask the right questions, this could be the start of something great for the project.

Fire: Really important. You have to be certain that your system in no way impedes egress form the premises, especially in an emergency. I’ve encountered clients who would argue about this for hours, but there is nothing to discuss. Get a hold of the fire marshal and do exactly what he wants you to do. If you have an alternate plan, document what you are proposing and make a submittal to the fire marshal. 

Door Closer: Access controlled doors require a door closer in order to maintain security and control of the opening. Fire doors require the properly listed door closer to meet the fire code, and to maintain security and control of the opening. Defective door closers inhibit the proper operation of the door, or the door control system, and to general terms create hazardous conditions on the door system. If you are not familiar with door closers, it is strongly recommended to learn to love them.

Power Door Operators: There are two classifications of door operator high energy and low energy. Except for really exotic situations, your work will involve interfacing with low energy door operators. Technical support for door operators is readily available, but it is even better to obtain certification for door operators with the AAADM (American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers) which provides instruction and certifications for door operator installers, servicers, and inspectors. Hands-on knowledge of door operators is super, but having association endorsement and certification is even better.

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.