When Access Control Worlds Collide

What critical component area of an access control system is made up of two closely associated yet distinctive technology groups? These technologies often appear to come from different worlds but rely on each other to provide the useful access control end product and service. Give up? The two component groups are electro-mechanical lock hardware and electronic control devices and systems.

Through the years, I have had the opportunity to observe and participate in what I refer to as two parallel technical universes. When I talk to locksmiths and mention relays and electronic controls, they often run for the hills. On the other hand, when I talk to security system techs about fitting electrified door hardware, they often say they let the locksmiths do this work.

First off, I want everyone to know I am not suggesting we steal the other person’s specialized job. That could not be farther from the truth, as the specialty of security electronics has created a job for many a year for yours truly. What I am suggesting is the need for a better understanding of each other’s technology, and further, an understanding how these technologies work together to form an integrated access control system.

Many of the comments in this month’s column are directed to the consultants, engineers and designers of access control security systems. Those of you who work on or, better yet, manage large access control projects know where I am heading and are probably chuckling a bit under your breath. Especially on large building projects, the electrical contractor works with the door contractor and the security contractor in order to successfully complete the access control system.

To compound things, the system is specified by an architectural and consulting firm and implemented by a general contractor who often has limited knowledge of how all the access control details should work together. After all, “How hard can it be? It is just a bunch of wires, relays and buzzers.”

Knowing Access Electronics, Locks
Speaking mainly to the electronic security side of the fence, make sure to learn the different types of locking hardware you will need to control within your access system (see table on page 26 of November issue). Learn some terminology like “right hand” and “left hand” on door configurations. If you have mainly worked in the electronic security industry, then read or take a course on lock assemblies. Check lock manufacturers’ Web sites as many have pretty good tutorial information.

Spend a little extra time with a locksmith the next time he or she is installing some electrified lock hardware. Promise you will show him or her some basics as to how your access control system works. I am sure that person will be happy to trade some technology tips.

On the locksmith side of the fence, learn the basics of electricity: how Ohm’s law works, as well as relays and alarm controls. Play around with some basic circuits and make a relay trip on a light from a battery. Understand the concepts of basic access devices, such as card readers, keypads, door contacts and request-to-exit (REX) motion sensors. Learn what wires in an electrified lock are for power, egress shunting or latch status and how they interconnect with access system controls.

One thing I have learned through the years is that even though access control systems have different features, they all basically work the same way: entry access is granted or not, and an alarm is reported if you enter or exit without permission.

Learn the Protocols of Life Safety
One of the most important aspects of merging electrified door hardware and electronic access control is understanding — and following — the rules of life safety. While the bible for these standards is NFPA 101, one should consider variations of these standards by the regional authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Not having everything in order during the planning phase of your project can cost you and your customer big money later.

It is very important to learn the difference between fire-exit devices and panic hardware. Fire devices and doors carry a fire label and typically cannot have more than a 1-inch hole drilled in them. Call in door experts if fire doors need to be modified. You could ruin the door, and they are not cheap.

Fire doors are often found in interior firewalls. The rule of thumb is that the door-locking mechanisms must be able to latch and hold back an intense fire. If door strikes mounted in the doorframes are used, they typically should be fail-secure for a fire- exit door.

Some panic doors or other items not related to life safety can have different panic devices securing the door. These are often low-occupancy exits. The lock configuration you select should still be cleared for building code by the local AHJ.

Realizing the Rules of REX Devices
The use of passive infrared (PIR) motion REX devices has grown in popularity. One big use is with magnetic locks. The holding force by maglocks on doors is impressive, but there are no doorknobs to turn for free egress from a secured area. This is a life-safety nightmare.

Placing an REX over the secure side of a door will allow the power to the maglock to be broken. Now the door can be opened with ease. Remember that REX devices should break power at the door. Also, some AHJs may require an additional exit pushbutton switch to break maglock power as well. The button should be next to the exit door. Maglocks are often used on glass entrance doors. This can also pose a problem if a stranger outside walks up to a glass door and attracts a curious person on the inside to approach the door. At that moment, the interior REX would open the door and the possibly dangerous stranger could walk in upon the curious bystander.

There are some REX devices that have the option of sequential signaling and an exterior REX to avoid this situation. Another technique is to use two sequenced interior REX devices to avoid someone trying to compromise an REX from the outside by slipping something through the door (see diagram on page 28 of November issue).


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