Few employers want to allow all of their employees access to all facilities all of the time. That’s why more and more are using electronic access control to limit employees’ access to their facilities. At a minimum, an electronic access control system can be used to allow only employees into a building after hours, and provide excellent documentation of when and where employees enter and exit. Access control is the only technology that proactively attempts to keep unauthorized individuals out of a building or areas within a facility, and is a perfect complement to video surveillance, burglar and fire systems in a comprehensive security solution proposal.


Managing keys is a nightmare for most companies. Some facilities use dozens of keys, making them cumbersome to carry and a liability while the holder stands at an entrance wading through the set for the right one. High employee turnover and multiple locations only compound the problem. Keys are easily lost or duplicated, and terminated employees often do not return keys. If however, an employee leaves the company without returning their access badge, the employer can easily delete that former employee’s access. On a networked system, that access can even be changed remotely. In many cases the annual cost of re-keying a facility alone will justify the ROI of an electronic access control system.


One of the advantages of an electronic access control system is the ability to document and report access activity. Most small single door applications have reporting available either through a printer or through web-based access that shows an audit trail of door access activity. Mid-range and large-scale systems can provide in depth, user-defined reporting of access activity. This is a critical component to the access system because it helps you to quickly understand who had access to critical areas of your business before and after an incident.


Access systems are often designed so that visitors, temporary employees, contractors and regular full time employees wear different color badges. Additionally, badging systems frequently use a photo of the employee in conjunction with their access card. Photo I.D.s on an access card help building occupants know the card user is the person to whom it was issued. Policy then dictates that these cards are worn above the waist on all individuals for instant visual verification of everyone in the building.



The fastest growing technology for access control applications, proximity readers continuously transmit a low-level fixed radio frequency (RF) signal that provides energy to the card. When the card is held at a certain distance from the reader, the RF signal is absorbed by a small coil inside the card that powers up the card’s microchip, which contains a unique identification code. Once powered, the card transmits the code to the reader. The whole process is completed in microseconds. The big advantage of proximity over other technologies lies in its simplicity. There are no moving parts, no mechanical wear, no slots, and no read heads to maintain. The reader can be concealed inside walls or special enclosures and poses even fewer problems when surface-mounted because it has no opening with which to jam or tamper. The proximity card is extremely secure and practically impossible to duplicate. Proximity cards are less prone to physical damage or loss, saving you money in reduced card replacement costs.

Read ranges depend primarily on the reader. The larger the read range, the larger the reader’s concealed antenna and, hence, the size of the reader. A reader’s read range is always specified using standard cards. If the card’s coil is smaller, as in thin photo ID cards, keytag or keytag type cards, it may reduce the read range by up to 40%. There is a great variety of proximity readers designed for different environments including vandal resistant mullion mounts, smaller decor styles, and integrated keypad/reader units.


Biometric technologies include fingerprint, hand geometry, voice recognition, retinal scan, and any other method of identification based on unique personal characteristics. Biometric solutions consist of a reader that compares a user-selected template against the measured features of the actual person. Templates may be called up in a system manually by entering a PIN number or automatically by using bar code, magnetic stripe, smart card or proximity identification technologies.


The typical magnetic stripe card accommodates three tracks or areas for storing data. Banking and credit card operations rely on this technology, most frequently using Track 2 (sometimes referred to ABA-2 or ISO-2) to store their data. The card must be swiped or inserted into the reader so that the read head can pick up the card’s encoded data. This contact operation creates wear on both the card and the read head. With new high-density magnetic stripes, however, loss of data due to reasons other than physical damage is now uncommon. This technology provides a medium level of security because it is possible, with the right equipment and proper knowledge, to duplicate cards. Yet, lower cost for both readers and cards makes it an attractive choice for many users.


Bar code technology is very common in non-security applications but it is seldom the technology of choice for security. The card is swiped so that the cell inside the reader can read the bar code through a lens. Visible bar code technology has obvious security drawbacks. For example, cards can be duplicated with a photocopier or by faxing. Although it is possible to mask the bar code with a filter that makes duplication more difficult, most buyers prefer more secure technologies. The cards have an average life of 18 to 30 months. The reader lens requires cleaning once a year on average, or more if installed in dusty environments such as parking lots.


This technology was originally created to provide a permanently encoded card when magnetic stripe cards were too sensitive to magnetic fields. The Wiegand card contains a stream of “Wiegand effect” wire inside. As the card is swiped through an electromagnetic field inside the reader, the bits of wire create a data stream that is used to identify the user. Wiegand was the most common technology in high security applications before the advent of lower cost proximity technology.


Multiple technology cards are most often used on sites where a system, such as one that measures time and attendance, is already in place and uses magnetic stripe or bar code cards. If the customer wants higher security proximity cards for the access control system, the existing cards can be replaced by dual-technology cards which combine proximity and a second technology, such as bar code or magnetic stripe or even smart card. This is a more convenient alternative than asking employees to carry two cards. It is also less expensive and less time consuming than switching out all of the cards.



Different access control technologies provide different levels of security. Combining proximity technology with biometrics yields the highest level of security by adding an extra layer of ID verification. You can also use either of these independently or opt for other types of readers that offer a less expensive yet viable alternative for medium and low level security.


Heavy traffic requires a technology that can process authorization data quickly. A proximity reader takes less than half a second whereas a biometric reader requires up to two seconds and is better suited to less busy situations. Environmental factors can also affect your readers. Proximity readers are the most impervious to the elements; biometric readers, being the most sensitive, should be used exclusively indoors.


You may find it more efficient and cost effective to continue using your current technology throughout your operation as it grows. Multiple technology cards offer the option of combining old with new, letting you retain existing bar code, Wiegand, or magnetic stripe functions while adopting another type of access control like proximity technology.


The most common locking devices used in the industry are electric door strikes and electromagnetic locks. To select which locking device should be used on a specific job, you should begin with an evaluation that takes into account not only the security requirements but also the regulations imposed by local and national authorities.


Government regulation of entrance and exit devices often renders the door strike the most economical locking mechanism. Always consider the following when ordering electric strikes:

You may need to obtain approval from your local fire department before installing a door strike on a fire-rated door to maintain its rating. A fail-locked or fail-secure electric door strike will lock the door when you remove power.

Electric strikes can be more difficult to install than electromagnetic locks and may require assistance from a professional locksmith.

You should install the door strike on the inactive door of a double door entryway, with the inactive door bolted down. A door cord or electric-conductive hinge will carry the power to the strike.

It may not be possible to install a door strike on special doors like full glass doors; in such instances, an electromagnetic lock may prove the only viable option.


When exits must be controlled, it is necessary to provide a fail-safe device such as an electromagnetic lock that will keep the door locked not only on the entry side but also on the exit side. In the past, installing electromagnetic locks was considered less expensive than installing door strikes. As a result, the market for electromagnetic locks has grown exponentially over the past few years. Unfortunately, a great number of electromagnetic lock installations were not performed according to regulations and in some instances actually jeopardized the safety of occupants. The proliferation of electromagnetic lock installations has caused great concern among safety regulators and now stringent local regulations and site inspections are common. This shift has substantially increased the cost of using electromagnetic locks. Because of these extra costs, electromagnetic locks may be more appropriate in situations where they are the only alternative, such as locking a controlled exit door.