Electronic access control solves many security-related problems, but the wiring and conduit required makes it a difficult choice for retrofits, and expensive even for a new build. But, with new wireless technologies that allow you to “electronify” any lock in a facility, your clients will reap all the benefits of electronic access control at a small fraction of the cost of conventional wired systems.
What’s Wrong with Mechanical Locks and Keys?
The fundamental problem with trying to control access with mechanical locks and keys is that the facilities professional can’t really control access:
- They have no way of knowing if and when a lock was opened.
- They don’t know if and when someone tried, but failed, to open a lock.
- Most mechanical keys can be copied.
- Most mechanical locks can be picked.
If they can’t really control access to their facility, they can’t really protect their property or people.
Additionally, mechanical locks and keys impose unnecessarily high operating costs:
- Facilities professionals have to manage a large number of keys.
- They have to re-key a lock if a key is lost or stolen, which is unavoidable when managing a large number of keys. If they’re misfortunate enough to lose, or have stolen, a master key, that means re-keying all locks.
- Mechanical locks are easy to vandalize. The need for a keyhole means they can be disabled by inserting some foreign object or covering it with superglue, requiring repair or replacement – in addition to lost revenue while out of service.
Conventional Electronic Access Control
Securing facilities electronically solves the problems and mitigates the risks associated with mechanical locks and keys. Unfortunately, conventional electronic access control requires that every access point be wired for power and has conduit for network communications. This puts the cost of conventional electronic access control at $1,000 to $2,000 per access point. Apart from the high cost, in the case of retrofits, there’s the issue of disruption. For historical buildings, installing wiring and conduit for every door simply may be unacceptable. Finally, some things that need to be secured, like equipment that’s padlocked, can’t be secured with conventional electronic access control.
New Wireless Technologies
New wireless technologies require no wiring and no conduit, and enable electronic access control to be easily retrofitted into almost any mechanical locking mechanism. Anything that can be secured with a mechanical lock can be secured electronically, and at 10 to 25 percent of the cost of conventional electronic access control.
How Wireless Electronic Access Control Works
The cores of the mechanical locks are replaced with new electronic cores. There are now electronic cores available to replace almost any mechanical core, and the procedure for swapping them out is simple and quick, and usually can be done in the field.
The electronic cores require no onsite power because they’re powered by battery-powered keys when the key is presented to the core.
The locks are programmed to accept specific keys within specific timeframes for a specific period of time.
The keys are programmed to open specific locks within specific timeframes for a specific period of time, and are assigned to specific personnel.
When a key with the proper permissions is presented to the lock, the lock opens. When a key that isn’t authorized to open the lock is presented, the lock rejects it.
The programming of the locks and keys is done by a designated administrator using desktop or hosted software.
The administrator then uses the same software to monitor and control access, as well as automatically generate desired reports.
The communication link is the key. Each time a key is presented to a lock, it uploads access information (including denied access) from the lock, which will date back to when it was last opened. This information is downloaded to the administrator’s system when the key is placed in a download station, usually located at some central dispatch point, or presented to the infrared port of a computer. At the same time the access information is downloaded, the key is refreshed with any new permissions, which can include renewing the previous permissions, changing them, or killing the key completely.
As a backup, in case a key is lost or stolen, the lock stores access data that can be uploaded by a special key.
Ideally, the software for the system is hosted, as this allows the administrator and others to use the system from anywhere with an Internet connection, and to use cell phones to upload information from the keys and refresh them.
Protects People and Property; Reduces Operating Costs
Like conventional electronic access control, wireless electronic access control better protects the people and property in your clients’ facilities:
- They know when any lock in their facility is accessed.
- They know when unauthorized access is attempted.
- They can limit access to specific days and times.
- Electronic keys can’t be copied.
- Electronic locks can’t be picked.
- They have an audit trail they can use to detect problems or investigate reported problems.
- The mere fact that access is being monitored electronically, which is apparent to anyone looking at the facility’s locks, is a powerful deterrent to theft.
Also, like conventional electronic access control, wireless electronic access control reduces operating costs:
- Facilities professionals don’t have to manage many keys – electronic locks and keys allow each person to carry only one key that has all the permissions required for whatever locks they’re authorized to open.
- No more re-keying locks – when an electronic key is lost or stolen, it can simply be killed and no lock is compromised.
- Electronic locks can’t be vandalized – no key hole.
New wireless technologies provide facilities the benefits of conventional electronic access control at a small fraction of the cost while avoiding the disruption and limitations of conventional electronic access control. These wireless technologies should be seriously considered whenever electronic access control is being considered, or where it has been rejected as too expensive or disruptive.
Mike Hopkins is CEO of EZ-Apps. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.