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Fundamentals of Door Access Control Systems

By Andrew Erickson

October 9, 2022

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A door access control system is a security measure that helps to regulate who can enter and exit a building. By using electronic door locks, card readers, and other security devices, a door access control system can track and manage employee or visitor entry and exit.

3 Major Benefits of Door Access Control Systems for Your Business

There are many benefits of using a door access control system, including:

1. Improved security

By requiring employees or visitors to use an electronic key card or fob to enter the building, you can be sure that only authorized people are gaining access. This can help to deter crime and protect your business or facility.

2. Better tracking

A door access control system can help you keep track of who is coming and going from your building. Audit trails are massively helpful in any incident investigation. This information can be useful for security purposes or for managing building occupancy.

3. Enhanced convenience

A door access control system can make it more convenient for employees and visitors to enter and exit the building. For example, you can set up a system that allows employees to use their key card to enter the building after hours.

Should You Purchase a Standalone or Networked System?

If you're considering installing a door access control system, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, you'll need to decide what type of system you want. There are standalone systems and networked systems.

Standalone systems are independent and can be used without connecting to another system. Networked systems, on the other hand, connect to an existing network (such as a computer network) and allow for more complex features and functionality.

Standalone systems make sense if your building is exclusively in one business. You can easily manage a handful of different doors as individual entities. This greatly reduces your install complexity and cost.

On the other hand, it's nonsense to install such a system in a distributed network of buildings. Those are common in my industry, where telcos, power companies, and government agencies have small buildings spread across a wide service territory.

For this type of install, it's obvious that you'll need to manage users from one central server. That's what makes a network building access control system absolutely imperative if you have many remote doors and buildings to manage.

Networked systems can be further divided into cloud-based systems and on-premises systems. Cloud-based access control systems are often more convenient to turn up, but they're ultimately less secure for government agencies, power utilities, and large corporations.

Should You Choose Keypads, Card Readers, or Biometrics?

Second, you'll need to decide what type of security devices you want to use.

There are a variety of door locks, card readers, and other devices that can be used in an access control system. You'll need to choose the devices that best meet your needs.

Keypads are one common type of access control technology. They tend to be used in two common scenarios: Older systems that were created before card readers were cost-effective usually have keypads. You'll also find them in modern access control systems where there are so many short-term visitors that managing physical keycards would become a challenge.

Card readers are another type of access control point. Aside from the obvious difference of a physical card carried by each user, they're functionally quite similar to keypads.

As noted above, card readers tend to be better for granting access in systems used by long-term employees instead of an ever-changing mix of outside visitors. There's always at least some cost associated with issuing new cards. Newer systems that allow mobile phones to be used for door entry avoid this problem.

Fortunately, keycards don't have the flaws of legacy metal keys. You can always deactivate a card if someone should no longer have user access. Access decisions are always made in real time.

Biometrics is a third type of security device that can be used in an access control system. Biometrics uses physical characteristics (such as fingerprints or iris scans or facial recognition) to identify individuals. This technology is often used in high-security applications.

Aside from the lack of having to issue a card, biometrics are much like a keycard that is always physically "attached" to each authorized person.

Readers and keypads and biometric scanners can all be used to track employee entry and exit, which allows you to monitor building occupancy. Of course, this depends on the installation of both entry AND exit keypads/readers. That's a choice that most organizations don't make.

Instead, you'll more commonly see "Request to Exit" buttons and motion sensors that automatically unlock the door when someone wants to leave the building. For uncommonly visited sites, such as telecom huts, you can often still have perfect logging of most entries and exits. If you only have one person who entered the building, your access system knows how to assign the next "exit" event.

Will You Use Electric Door Strikes or Magnetic Locks?

If you're using keycards, card readers, or biometrics for door access control, you'll need to decide how those devices will actually control the door.

This decision is usually between electric door strikes and magnetic locks. They both have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Magnetic locks are often seen as more secure because they don't require any electricity. If the power goes out, the doors will still be locked. That is, of course, unless you choose to flip the polarity to avoid ever trapping someone inside the building. In that case, a power loss does present a security risk.

On the other hand, electric door strikes can be released with a battery backup in case of a power outage or overridden with a metal key.

This provides more flexibility in the event of an emergency.

Another consideration is that electric door strikes are often less expensive to install. That's because they don't require as much work to mount on the door. You'll also find that many electric strikes come with built-in features, such as LED indicators and monitoring contacts.

If you're trying to decide between electric door strikes and magnetic locks, it really comes down to a matter of security vs. cost. Electric door strikes offer more features but may be seen as less secure by some people. Magnetic locks are more secure but can be more expensive to install.

How Do You Power an Access Control System?

The power requirements of your access control system will depend on the type of devices you choose. For example, keypads and card readers are usually low-power devices that can run off of the same power supply as the door strike or magnetic lock.

Biometric scanners tend to require more power. They often need their own individual power source. The same is true for larger access control panels.

Most access control systems today use Power over Ethernet (PoE) to simplify installation. PoE provides both data connectivity and power through a single Ethernet cable. This can be helpful if you don't have a convenient outlet near the door or if you want to minimize the number of cables running through your walls.

Not all access control devices support PoE, so be sure to check before making your purchase.

How Much Does a Door Access Control System Cost?

The cost of a door access control system varies depending on the features and functionality you need. A basic system for a small business can cost as little as $500, while a more complex system for a large corporation can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

In most cases, the larger the building and the more access points you need to control, the more expensive the system will be.

You'll also need to factor in the cost of installation and maintenance. Installation costs can vary depending on the size and complexity of the system. Maintenance costs will depend on the type of hardware you choose and how often it needs to be serviced - and whether you can perform that maintenance using your own teams.

To get an accurate estimate of how much your door access control system will cost, it's best to consult with a professional. They can assess your needs and provide you with a tailored quote.

For Networked Building Access Control Systems, Choose One with a Good Management Interface

Finally, you'll need to consider how you want to manage the system. There are a variety of software interfaces that can be used to manage door access control systems.

Your buying decision among the various commercially available system directly determines what interface you'll end up using.

Looking for an intuitive interface that will be easy to use. That will be important forever, as you'll always have to train the next person to manage your door access users.

One very intuitive feature that I really like to see for a door control system is maps. A map display of your building(s) makes it so much easier to understand what you're looking at.

Give Me a Call to Discuss What You're Trying to Accomplish

At DPS, we develop remote monitoring and control systems for remote sites of all kinds. That naturally led us to electronic door access control, since these types of sites demand an effective physical security system. Today, we sell to mini-storage facilities and other places that weren't classically part of our client base.

What is it you're trying to accomplish here? If you call me and tell me that, I can help you decide on a good next step.

Give me a call at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com

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Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 15 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...

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