5 Phases of Access Control Planning & Design

Many critical factors must be considered long before work on a small or large installation project begins.  Asking the right questions and taking the appropriate steps will result in a successful job and a foothold into this market.

Ready for that first big access control installation? Or better yet, can you say, “Been there, done that, and have the shirt?” If you are interested in getting into the business big-time – to propose, bid, win and install such a system – you must understand all the phases of a security system project. When it comes to integrated access control system projects, you will be required to work within the schedules of other organizations. If you do plenty of homework, the odds are considerably higher that the installation will be a successful one.

Work on Small Projects First to Learn Project Management
To begin work on access control systems, first work on a small installation with just a few doors. Make sure to work closely with the manufacturer or manufacturer’s representative; leverage their experience. It will save you time and money. Don’t worry about asking for help. They will notice your up-and-coming talent and will be very interested in weaning you on their product line.
Whether it is an access control system or additional integration with CCTV and building automation, what is the most important area to concentrate on in a large project? Well, it has nothing to do with high-tech networking, like Wi-Fi, or stereoscopic vision. While these all sound exciting and important, the boring truth is that the most important area to concentrate on is project management.

The rules for a large access control project are designed so that you, your customer, their support people, other contractors and engineers, and the municipality are all on the same page. Any major project evolves from the same basic phases: Planning; Design; Implementation; Testing; and Maintenance.

As a dealer or integrator who wears many hats, you may come in on a project after the bid phase, or you may be lucky enough to work with a customer from the inception of his or her security endeavors. Either way, you will fit somewhere into one of the five phases:

1. Planning
Because of your subject matter expertise (SME), you may be called in at the very beginning of a project to give advice on what type of access control system to sell and install. 

Some important planning steps to consider are doing a security needs analysis; defining the assets; meeting with all levels of management; and reviewing the company’s security policies. A well-planned access control system will have a positive impact on all levels of personnel within that particular organization.

Additionally, go over “What the system will do.” This sounds simple but can be very challenging, which is why it is important. Since the system will also rely on some physical security, guards or security personnel, and possibly organizations such as local unions, make sure all these considerations are taken into account. 

Having a detailed checklist and making sure all bases are covered are good ideas. You may also want to consider additional professional resources such as certified consultants or organizations such as the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS).

When all have agreed and have signed off on a plan, then the design phase begins.

2. Designing
Whether you or someone else did the planning, designing is the phase where you and other companies may be asked to submit “design-bid-build” proposals. Also remember that good communication is vital at all phases of a project.

It is important to work with the manufacturers and distributors to make sure you are offering the best equipment at the best price. Look at utilizing design tools such as equipment check lists to make sure nothing is missed.

One design area often overlooked is access badges. Don’t assume anyone can draw a card design. Companies such as Avery Dennison provide design templates and management software that makes life much easier for everybody.

Large projects will have many surprises ahead. They will have everything from personality conflicts and politics to technical challenges. Just pray that they are all manageable.

3. Implementing
At this phase, you have checked over all contract material, agreed to the legalese (you did have your lawyer look at it?) and have committed to the project.

Make sure there is a good schedule with milestones all parties agree upon. Have a process to audit or inspect various implementation phases to make sure all work is per the project’s specifications. 

4. Testing
This phase might begin staggered as various parts of the implementation phase are completed. At some point, testing will often involve the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), particularly in the life-safety areas of your access control system.

Testing is often very methodical. It should include checklists, and all relevant parties must sign off on the results. Make sure to save copies for your records.
It is also recommended that, within a few weeks prior to actually starting to use the access control system, all operations, management and service personnel be trained. Training, if not properly implemented, will make for a bumpy transition to that new access control system.

5. Maintaining
The system will need ongoing maintenance, so a maintenance contract proposal is in order. This is a wonderful source of recurring revenue. Most decent-sized security projects will require ongoing maintenance programs because these kinds of projects are never fully completed.

So now we return to the beginning of the project cycle, with changes and add-ons, beginning a project cycle all over again. Such is life in the day of a project manager.

Life-Safety Rules, Terminology are Paramount
Since most access control systems are basically designed to keep someone out, important measures need to be observed so as not to accidentally keep a person from exiting a building. 

A key factor when working with access control systems is the important considerations of fire/life-safety rules. The most important rules are listed in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety Code(r). This is required reading for all who specify, sell, install and service access control systems. 

Dealers should be knowledgeable of safety terminology, such as knowing the difference between fail-safe and fail-secure.

Though it is typical to have free egress in a commercial building, there are ways to supervise and monitor an unauthorized exit. A suggested sensor for exiting through a door is the request-to-exit (RQE) sensor. The RQE is a motion sensor that senses only personnel who are directly in front of an exit door. Another option is having a door push bar also connected with the magnetic door lock.

Often, a happy compromise between allowing someone to exit but not exiting unnoticed or undeterred can be reached by using an electronic egress delay. Many RQE units, such as a door push bar, allow for an unauthorized exit but only after a short delay period in which a local audible and report alarm have occurred.

Typically, a bar would need to be pushed for more than two seconds and would not allow full unlocking of the door until after 15 seconds (an AHJ can make that up to 30 seconds). Still enough time to exit from a fire, yet enough time for security personnel to take action. 

‘Total’ Building Automation Standards Apply to Access
Since Sept. 11, 2001, one of the major frustrations the government and other large organizations face is the lack of standards for what is referred to as total building automation, including security and access control. 

l automation would include all building systems, such as heating, air conditioning, light

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