Become Master of the Portal

The term access control, per NFPA 731, is described as “The monitoring or control of traffic through portals of a protected area by identifying the requestor and approving entrance or exit.” It further goes on to describe an access control portal as “doors, gates, turnstiles and so forth.” So you have heard it officially here, the security terminology for a door or opening is a portal. By using this term, you can now convince your customers and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) that you are using the very latest industry jargon.

Now that the formalities out of the way, let’s take a serious look at what is needed for a security systems integrator to be the master of the portal. As you can see from the official definition, portals come in many shapes. In this article, I will concentrate on the doorway, which is probably the most common commercial portal. The commercial doorway can also be the most misunderstood with reference to security and life safety. Additionally, we will look at some new access hardware technology that will make your installation and service life easier.

Planning for Proper ‘Free Egress’
Let’s start by talking about what I believe is one of the most important parts of access control: life safety. Make sure to reference NFPA 101. Yes, I know the overall goal is providing electronic and physical control of the portal. However, this has to be performed in such a way as to allow safe emergency egress from a building. Poor planning and design can lead to either an inspection failure by an AHJ or, even worse, a serious fatality.

Floor plans will have designed hallways or paths of emergency egress. These paths will be equipped with exit signs and portals provided with typically push-bar-type exit door hardware. Remember that all hardware must provide the person with “free egress.” In case of situations like fire, people must still be able to get out quickly. Electrified locking door hardware, while not allowing unauthorized ingress to an area, will allow physical egress by simply pushing a bar or turning a door handle. If the egress is not allowed, then an alarm will sound, cameras will auto record, etc.; however, the person must still be able to leave. The simple single action of pushing a bar is preferred.

Another method of securing a portal in case emergency egress is required is to use a delayed exit device. When an exit push-bar device is activated, it would immediately sound and report an alarm. However, the person would not be able to physically exit the portal for a short delayed period of time (30 seconds). Delay times may vary depending on the AHJ.

Typically, not more than one delayed egress device (usually at the area perimeter) should be in a single emergency exit path. Accumulative exit times from several doors in one emergency egress path are considered dangerous. Exit portals are often required to provide a way to release an electronically secured door that does not have a simple physical means of free egress, such as a push bar or turning a door handle. This might be the case of a door secured by an electric magnetic lock, or maglock. In this case, it is often required to have a mechanical push-button to interrupt power to the maglock.

It is important that the emergency exit push-button switch be next to the door and has a pneumatic mechanical delay switch to allow time for people to easily exit the door. It should also have a distinctive emergency color and marking. The mechanical switch is often required even if a motion sensing request-to-exit (RTE) device is installed. Both devices must break electrified lock power locally at the door location.

Working With Fire-Rated Doors
Doors allowing passage through specified firewalls in a building will have a fire rating as well. One quick way to check is to look for the UL fire-rating label on the door. (TIP: Do not damage or paint over this label.) These doors should be handled in a special manner with reference to access control hardware installation.

I have known of situations in which alarm installers did not install access hardware properly on fire-rated doors and it cost tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Not following the rules and/or getting AHJ approval can cost an integrator considerable money.

The technical debate often comes up as to if it is OK to field drill and install access control devices in a fire door. Any access hardware such as door position sensors, electrified locks and connection hardware, and other exit hardware should be UL rated for the fire-rated door. Yes, it should be acceptable if the equipment is installed per the manufacturer’s instructions. Remember, this often means the entire door hardware assembly should be listed. Caution should be taken when mixing and matching components. A good reference for rules on this is NFPA 80.

If you will be running wiring assemblies through a fire-rated door for electrified lock hardware, make sure to have the fire doors ordered with the correct drilled assembly channels. If you have to drill into the doors to install cabling in the field, you may void the fire rating of the door and basically have bought the expensive defective door.

There are drilling jigs, such as the Dor-Cor from companies like Marray Inc. These fixtures will allow for uniform door core drilling of fire-rated doors. However, currently, you will still need to have an agency come on location and inspect the modified doors. Plan to pay for the additional on-site inspection of the modified listing.

Creative Door Wiring Methods
The challenge is to wire a door for access control in an efficient but reliable manner. One consideration is to use multiconductor cabling specially configured for access control equipment such as a card reader, electrified door lock, RTE and door position sensor. I still often see the DPS switch located at a separate location at the top of a portal. Try consolidating door access equipment so the lock, reader and DPS are all in one location, thereby saving time and money. A good example is the Schlage VIP lock, reader and DPS combination assembly (see photo on page 22).

One caution about providing power to electrified door hardware: Some exit devices can draw as much as a 16A surge when activating a lock solenoid. Often the power supplies for these devices should be located very close to the portal. Technicians must remember Ohm’s law and the subsequent voltage drop across cabling if a distant remote power supply is provided. This needs to be compensated for with either a heavier gauge conductor and/or using the higher 24V devices vs. 12V. If there is too much voltage drop on the cabling, the electrified exit device will not work properly.

To learn more about access control portal hardware, it is recommended to review information provided by organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), with standards like 70, 72, 80, 101 and 5000. Another organization that might offer some additional information on this subject is the Door Hardware Institute (DHI).

For a list of door hardware web resources, refer to the June issue of Security Sales & Integration magazine.

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