Effective Access Control Becoming More Critical

With no apparent slowdown in sight for violent outbursts claiming innocent lives in areas where people gather, it is time to reassess all areas of access control. Find out how better practices and technology advancements can help the cause.

In late September, the nation’s attention was turned to the nuances of access security at the Washington Navy Yard. When this horrific event was unfolding the public had an opportunity to question and scrutinize how access control is planned, prepared and executed.

It has also inspired me to not only comment on past access control observations, but also to offer additional suggestions on how to potentially improve access control system applications. The irony is that often these systems can be improved through simple procedural changes and equipment modifications utilizing much of what is already in place. We will also take a moment to look at recent technology breakthroughs that may enhance access control systems going forward.

Technology Needs Tactical Support

Through the years I have had many opportunities to visit commercial and government complexes, and to observe their security procedures. Much has been done to increase security at these facilities with the implementation of access cards and biometrics. However, in many cases much has also been missed. Let me give one of my favorite examples.

Years ago I had a chance to survey a government facility where stakeholders were very proud that they had finally, post-9/11, increased security with proximity card readers at all entrances and body/article scanners at the main entryway. The new security procedure was for employee ID badges to be only visually confirmed by guards and only visitors’ bags to be scanned. It took almost a decade before this particular facility realized that the simple addition of prox readers at the two main guard entrances could considerably improve access security for all. Now, access cards are verified as valid by the guard station prox readers. However, the staff and their bags, to this date, are still not scanned, leaving occupants vulnerable to an incident from a possible armed, disgruntled employee entering the facility.

The question is often asked, “Is a single authentication method in an access control system all that is needed?” Biometric technologies should also be part of the formula. I know that many through the years have gotten a bad taste for poor performance of biometric technologies such as fingerprint scanning. Did you know there are fingerprint scanners that read below the skin and reduce problems with surface irregularity? It is the security industry’s job to promote reliable biometric scanning technology. As you may be aware, the new Apple iPhone 5s promoted fingerprint identification only to have hackers show the system could be compromised. It’s yet another high-profile media setback for our industry regarding trustworthy biometrics.

One of my favorite existing biometric security technologies remains hand-geometry recognition. It is one of the most developed and applicable biometric techniques; it is simple and very user-friendly.

Mobile Devices Extend Security 

The hottest access control application today is the “mobile access” solution using smartphones for physical access control. A prime example is HID Global’s iCLASS SE platform, which can read existing prox cards as well as a new type of HID credential called iCLASS Seos that can be used on NFC-enabled smartphones. In a HID pilot project, more than 80% stated the smartphone was more convenient to use than their current access card.

Besides smartphones, specialized pendants are another area in which portable devices are realizing higher market penetration. Health-related monitoring is a strong example, as is the need to do more with less via force multipliers in occupations such as guards and security personnel. 

Many organizations today are faced with having to cut back in the expenses of properly deploying adequate staff levels while also facing the possibility of more violent attacks as have recently been presented in the media. Perimeter guard stations that in the past would have had a minimum of two guards now have to do with only one. The same goes for roving patrols. This can account for a delay in communications when assaulted with deadly force.

One device that could help better monitor the status of security personnel, especially in solo situations, is the man-down transmitter. This automatic personal security transmitter could be a good supplement to any access control system and is already used by guards in prisons and security officers in large facilities. Providers of this technology include Visonic (see Tool Tip) and Inovonics. Wireless mobile devices associated with Inovonics’ Radius enterprise system not only report an alert condition, but the location of the officer under duress.

2 Innovations to Keep an Eye On

Following are some recent technology breakthroughs you may soon see having direct access security applications:

BodyCom (microchip.com) — In an effort to make electrified door hardware and alarm controls more intelligent, what if you had a small fob you could carry in your pocket that would allow you to securely open any locked door handle or disarm any alarm control you touched? This is another token-type control that uniquely uses the human body as a communication channel. The manufacturer states, “Compared to other existing wireless technologies, BodyCom offers lower active and standby energy usage, increases security through bidirectional authentication, provides a secure communication channel using the human body and allows for simpler circuit-level designs.” Development kits are now available for interested security manufacturers.

Nymi (bionym.com) — Have you heard of the Nymi from Bionym yet? The technology of using someone’s heartbeat for unique identification actually goes back 40 years. However, it has come to the forefront in the past 10 years. Recently, a major breakthrough was made by Bionym in identifying the overall shape and unique algorithms in a person’s electrocardiogram (ECG), allowing it to be, according to the manufacturer, a reliable biometric. The company is taking advanced orders for an inexpensive Nymi bracelet that serves as a wearable authentication device that uses a person’s heartbeat to verify identity. The device will also come with a built-in accelerometer to allow authenticated control of several devices, depending on the motion of the bracelet. It will be interesting for the security industry to see possible access control applications that come from such a consumer device.

MDT-122 is a microprocessor-controlled man-down-type personal emergency transmitter designed for use by guards and security officers in prisons and institutions, or by people working alone in industrial and other high-risk facilities. Image courtesy VisonicTech Talk Tool Tip

It is important for security professionals to supplement security personnel safety with technology. That is why this month I have selected the wireless man-down-type alarm transmitter, in particular Visonic’s (visonic.com) MDT-122. This device provides dual panic buttons, man-down detection when the guard is tilted down more than 60°, a pull-cord option for the device being pulled away from the guard by an assailant and a single button test.

The device also has tamper if opened by unauthorized personnel. In an effort to prevent unintentional alarm transmission, the product is equipped with a 15-second prealarm state if the unit is tilted down by more than 60°. When used with Visonic’s MCR-308 receiver, the manufacturer says the product can be integrated into any alarm system.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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