Make the Most of Electronic Access Control

March 5, 2018
Especially in the commercial/institutional sector, more and more mechanical locks are either being replaced or augmented by electronic access control

Mechanical locks have served society well over the course of several thousand years — from before the days of Julius Caesar to the locksmiths of today. Examples of where locks continue to provide value include single-family homes and small businesses where there are only a few employees.

There are, of course, limitations associated with mechanical locks that most of us in the business of security are aware of. Probably the most notable is that of adding and deleting users where it comes to issuing unique keys. The fact is, and all of us know this, it’s relatively expensive to add and remove users to a building full of mechanical locks compared to electronic access control (EAC). Here’s why:

“The large government facilities that our firm works in requires EAC simply because of all the people who work there,” says John Larkin, senior partner with Electronic Systems Consultants (ESC) of Greater Ohio. “EAC systems are programmable from top to bottom, which means we can automate the process of screening people at multiple doors. Compare this to a mechanical lock that inherently possesses absolutely no way to regulate the time or days when people can enter, where they can enter, or any other security-related parameter.”

Probably the most compelling reason why you need to jump into the EAC market with both feet is the fact that more and more mechanical locks are either being replaced by electromagnetic locks (EML) or augmented with the addition of electric door strikes (EDS). No matter which one it is, there’s almost sure to be an EAC system in control.

“There are many advantages to upgrading to an integrated [EAC] system. Some benefits that are quickly realized by a system user includes the ability to easily assign and remove access to certain doors to different individuals as well as setting schedules as to when they can access the area,” says David Gonzalez, Security Solution Specialist & Product Specifier with Simplex Grinnell Inc.

According to Gonzalez, another benefit associated with EAC is the ability to run reports of various kinds. The most common is a log of who has accessed each area of a facility and when they did it. These reports can be automated and sent to the owner or manager(s) of the facility on a weekly or monthly basis, many times for compliance reasons (see sidebar, page XX).

Last but not least, there is a good deal of money involved in installing and servicing EAC systems. The recurring revenue that you can earn each and every month is another big incentive (see sidebar, page XX).

“Cutting in a door strike or changing out a key cylinder can provide you a great one-time revenue, but remember that with access control, you are creating a revenue stream of RMR (recurring monthly revenue) and service agreements that provide long term income,” says Mike Reed, owner/manager of SAFE Solutions of Hurst, Texas. “Your customers also will be in need of service from time to time. You can use those encounters to increase your offerings while keeping access control top of mind. You will become their trusted advisor and resource for all aspects of building safety.”

All of this translates into huge profits over time. In a word, EAC is growing increasingly popular and it’s trending now.

EAC Architecture

Instead of a key in a mechanical lock, a typical EAC system uses a mobile device, also referred to as a credential. This is the device that stores data that an EAC system uses to verify the identity of each and every user. Common credentials include access cards, such as proximity and magnetic stripe, keyfobs, RFID chips, bar-coded labels for the entry side of doors, tokens, as well as a biological traits. Common biometric identifiers include hand geometry; eye (retina or iris); finger/thumb prints; and, to a lesser degree, the human voice.

In a single-site application, the “headend” is the heart of the EAC system, which includes a host computer equipped with software that provides the system’s operating parameters. This programming is how the door controllers in the system know what to do when enabled user access credentials are presented to the readers. Additionally, there also is a printer(s) and a variety of power supplies designed to operate EMLs, EDSs, and other hardware.

Keep in mind that the host computer does not have to be dedicated to EAC alone, but can be used for other tasks in an office setting as well. Here’s why:

“There are two modes of operation that can be used with an access control system — ’centralized’ and ‘decentralized,’” says Electronic Systems Consultants LLC’s Larkin. “In a centralized system the host computer is on the job full time whereas in decentralized it only connects with the external readers when it’s necessary to make changes. The door controllers in the system stores user information so when the host computer is offline, the system will operate normally.”

Door controllers also are installed throughout the facility near the doors they respectfully operate. Where some door controllers are designed to control a single door, others are designed for two doors and others four doors.

Where a single facility is part of a larger enterprise system, the host computer may reside elsewhere. The host computer — whether on or off site — does not have to be connected to the door controllers all the time. Instead, when additional users are added or removed from the software program (at the headend), the door controllers are usually updated at specific intervals, such as once every 24 hours.

Conventional Vs. Network

There are two methods of installing EAC systems — traditional and network. IP-based EAC may not use a traditional LAN installed in a business to transport access data to and fro through the building. Instead, in most applications a second network is installed alongside the one that’s already there. In most cases, there will be a connection between the two that will provide managers and security personnel direct connection to data and other elements associated with the AEC system from their desk computer.

A means of transporting data from top to bottom in an EAC system consists of metallic cable as well as fiber-optic and wireless/RF (Radio Frequency). In conventional access control systems metallic cable is typically installed using what is commonly referred to as the EIA485 data protocol, which usually consists of a 4-conductor (two twisted pairs). Network connections also are made usually using either Category 5e or Category 6, which also is a metallic cable. Be sure to verify the cable type by make/model before installation begins.  

Using metallic cable in either conventional or computer network settings, a data transport infrastructure is easy to create, providing you know something about installing it. If you or your field techs haven’t installed cable before, especially in computer networks, you may want to work with a subcontractor that specializes in doing just that, at least until your techs understand all the issues. (In subsequent issues we’ll cover some of the issues that pertain to safely pulling both metallic and fiber-optic cable for network applications.)

EAC Applications

There are tremendous benefits associated with EAC systems that those who work in business, government, manufacturing, retail, and other settings are sure to appreciate and it’s this fact that makes EAC a slam dunk business wise. Probably one of the most notable is that of education, such as K12 school systems, colleges, universities, and sizable trade schools.

“In a university setting you may desire the access control system to be integrated with the student management system so that students are automatically granted access when they enroll in the school, and their access is removed when they [drop out or] graduate,” says Gonzalez.

Multi-tenant office buildings are another great example of an application where integration between accounting and an EAC system results in a similar working relationship. As long as the tenant pays his rent, his access rights are automatically updated in the EAC database by virtue of the accounting software. The same situation occurs when a new tenant applies for an apartment. The access software obtains all of his personal info from the accounting module’ database. This is also a handy feature to have when the EAC system is tied to a badging printer.

Large retail chains use enterprise-level EAC systems. Here a central office located somewhere else in the United States or even another country can connect with the door controllers that connect to a LAN (Local Area Network) at each store location. This enables management to review user access logs and exception reports, enter and delete users as needed, and download POS (Point of Sale) data.

Healthcare is another area of society where EAC is an essential part of facility safety and security. It also assists management and security in meeting federal HIPAA requirements. Additional uses include parking lots and garages, apartment complexes, large church organizations, factories, government buildings, and others. The list is virtually endless.

“If you’re not currently working in the field of access control, now is the time to start because the market for clients is expanding faster than ever before,” says Reed.

Integration Vs. Unification

According to Gonzalez, there are also methods whereby individual security applications can be combined with EAC such as facial recognition systems for access control, wireless locks for classrooms, and mass notification/communication systems that can be programmed to use local public address systems as well as audio/video (A/V)-based fire alarm systems as well as emails and text notifications in an emergency situation.

“Companies like Nortek, Mercury, DSC, DMP, and so many more have started to realize this as well and created hardware that easily integrates with the existing infrastructure so you no longer have to piece meal a system and can offer robust control with ease of expansion,” says SAFE Solutions’ Reed.

“When we speak of ‘integration’ and ‘unification,’ we’re actually talking about computer network technology using what is commonly called IP (Internet Protocol),” says Larkin. “It refers to the data protocol that we use to send data back and forth over the Internet. Apparently this method of data transmission works so well that many if not most security-related manufacturers now use it as a preferred means of data transference in their systems.”

The definition of ‘Internet Protocol’, according to The Free Dictionary, is “The Internet Protocol (IP) is the principal communications protocol in the Internet protocol suite for relaying datagrams across network boundaries. Its routing function enables internetworking, and essentially establishes the Internet” (

Until recently, security integration has meant combining or joining dissimilar security disciplines, such as EAC with video surveillance cameras; intrusion detection; and environmental control systems, such as heating and cooling. Until recently this means purchasing individual systems and combining them with special hardware and software so they can “talk” between themselves. Now, manufacturers are working to combine two or more of these security subsystems together via the same control system, or platform.

“Integrations are easier than ever, by using existing IP cameras, and alarm systems access control panels can make actionable data, from recording failed reader attempts and notifying security, to opening exits in the event of a fire. Easily create rule based scenarios that take place without user input and lead to a harmonious sequence of events that is logged and can be used to improve site performance,” Reed adds.

“In the last couple of years I have witnessed a transition of Access Control companies (AC) developing their own Video Management Software (VMS) to include it as a total solution and with one particular (VMS) company called Genetec. They are the first to offer both solutions and they have called it Security Center,” says Simplex’s Gonzalez. “I have also seen pure IP-based (AC) revolutionary company like ISONAS continuing to offer great values in just the Internet Protocol (IP) vertical since they have longevity with many deployments.”

Although most locksmiths are not ready to tackle security integration, IT (Information Technology) organizations will do so for a fee. They’ll gladly contract with your firm to perform all the necessary headend work in a computer network environment. More than 90 percent of the professional security companies that work in the IP area still hire outside professionals in the IT world to work alongside their own technicians—why not you?