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Access control system planning has become almost ubiquitous in relation to modern commercial building security, with today’s most advanced configurations not only capable of providing reliable physical security benefits, but also a wide range of data management and further integration functionality. 

Examples of access control can be found in the doors, parking lots, perimeter fences and interior key locks of most modern commercial properties, ranging from simple keypad-based devices to advanced biometric scanners. However not all access control system plans can meet the specific security needs of different commercial buildings. 

To receive the full benefits of door access control, property owners must consider how these systems are to be installed and utilized, including the goals of the security network and the common threats that the site is likely to face. To achieve this, a comprehensive access control plan is essential. In this guide, property owners can review the benefits, access control examples, use cases and what to consider when developing an access control plan for commercial buildings.

Where to start with access control system planning

Before considering the finer details of any access control system plan, it’s important to investigate the wider security needs and security vulnerabilities of the property in question. This includes the types of security threats that the system must be equipped to prevent and how access control can be integrated as part of a wider security network. 

By understanding the goals of an access control plan, property owners are able to decide on which key features will be most necessary and how best to implement individual hardware components with efficiency, installation costs and future scalability in mind. Some things to outline when developing an access control plan are: 

Defining security goals

The type of access control design to implement in a building will heavily depend on the location of the property. For example, a commercial building in an area with higher crime rates will require a large focus on physical security features like alarms, deadbolts and automated lockdown system functions. Conversely, access control systems designed to protect data centers and computer servers containing confidential files will have an increased need for comprehensive cybersecurity protections. Both physical and cyber security defenses should be considered as part of any access control plan. 

Identifying internal and external threats

Although the security risks of external threats such as break-ins and vandalism can often be understood by reviewing local crime statistics, many businesses are affected by internal security issues, with some studies indicating up to 75% of white-collar employees admit to stealing from their employer at least once. 

Defending a commercial property against internal threats requires the active management of access credentials, with security teams and trusted admins benefiting from the ability to monitor and adjust permissions remotely in order to ensure that secured internal environments are not easily breached.

For organizations entrusted with sensitive digital information, such as financial institutions and educational facilities, advanced mobile and cloud-based access control can often provide robust physical and cyber security protections through the active monitoring of user credentials. 

Environmental access control design considerations

A consideration that can be easily overlooked when drawing up an access control plan is the likelihood for extreme weather and other uncontrollable environmental factors negatively affecting the operation of certain security features, including extreme temperatures, storms and flooding. 

An example of access control designed with environmental consideration in mind would be cameras capable of operating in extreme heat being installed on unsheltered exteriors or electrical components carrying an IP65 or above water and dustproofing rating if they’re to be regularly utilized in heavy rain or inside factory buildings that commonly see high particulate concentrations. 

Crime prevention through environmental design

In addition to a well-designed and integrated access control system plan, following the principles of crime prevention through environmental design may help property owners reduce the occurrence of physical access crimes, including break-ins and vandalism. 

To successfully implement these principles, property owners should consider the four key aspects of natural security: 

  • Territorial reinforcement — The creation of clearly defined boundaries between public and private property, including hedges, fences and similar impassable perimeter markers. 
  • Natural surveillance — Ensuring that the boundaries of the property are free from natural cover and alcoves, which could conceal would-be intruders from cameras and guards. 
  • Environmental access control — The use of landscaping, footpaths and lighting designed to direct foot traffic along predetermined paths in view of operational security technology. 
  • Property maintenance — Research has shown a direct correlation between poorly maintained grounds and an increase in physical crime, as criminals are less likely to trespass on properties that are perceived to have regular groundskeepers and security staff present.

4 crucial elements of an access control plan

Once a property management team has a good understanding of the goals and intended uses of an access control plan, deciding on an access management system can be much easier. Although all access control system plans share the same basic operational premise, the specific methods certain configurations use can vary to a notable extent, so it’s important to fully consider all available types of access control.

1. Scope of the system

When creating an access control system plan, it’s important to know how many people will be interacting with the system on a daily basis, the different levels of access needed for different individuals, and how many doors or entrances will need to be secured. An example of access control planning for a school campus will look much different than the plan for a small, standalone office. 

2. Authentication methods 

Another factor that plays heavily in access control system design is how authorized people will verify their identity. Because the key role of access control in security is to limit who can gain entry to the space or property, choosing the best credentials for your building is crucial. Some of the most popular credentials and access methods include: 

  • Keypad and PIN access
  • Proximity cards
  • RFID fobs
  • Mobile credentials
  • Biometrics

When choosing credentials during the access control planning process, there are benefits and drawbacks to each type. The important things to consider are how easy the system is to use, how secure the credentials are and whether your system can support new or more advanced access methods in the future if needed. 

3. Monitoring and testing

Your access control system plan should also outline how entry activity will be monitored, and ways to ensure the system is working as it should. Depending on the software and system implemented, you may need to have more manual monitoring processes in place. Consider the following questions when designing access control strategies for your organization:

  • Will an internal security team be responsible for identifying and responding to incidents, or will you hire an outside company? 
  • Does your system support automatic alerts? 
  • What rules or triggers need to be created in the event of a security breach or emergency?
  • How will teams verify incidents and individuals?

Testing is a crucial component to a successful access control plan, so be sure to include schedules and protocols for regular audits, as well as measurements for success or failure to ensure you remain protected from the latest security vulnerabilities.

4. Project costs 

Knowing the budget will greatly affect your final plan, which is why access control price planning is a key component of access control system design. Examples of access control systems that affect the project cost include the types of readers and hardware you choose. Biometric devices offer high security, but are often more expensive than other reader types. 

The size of your deployment also drastically increases the cost of a system. In most cases, not every single door in the building needs to be controlled and monitored as part of the access control plan. When looking at the number of spaces that need access control, examples can include front doors, elevators, turnstiles, parking lots, individual offices and server or equipment rooms. If the budget is tight, prioritize the spaces that are most vulnerable first, and consider an access control design that allows for future growth if needed.

Access control examples and use cases

Each variety of access control design comes with a unique set of benefits and user considerations when implemented as part of a commercial security network. Below are some common access control use cases and why some systems may be more suitable for specific types of buildings:

Access control design for office buildings

For this use case, an appropriate commercial access control plan would involve contactless readers and some degree of cloud-based functionality. As offices must be accessed daily by large numbers of guests, contactless cards or mobile options are often more efficient than biometric access control scanners or keypads, primarily as the access method allows faster interaction with readers to gain access. They also tend to be more cost-effective.

Additionally, a touchless access system can be integrated with a cloud-based network to allow security teams to monitor the usage of individual credentials, as well as access further security features such as business video security cameras and alarms, to quickly gain insight into usage and take action when incidents occur. 

Access control plans for residential properties

Residential properties such as multi-tenant housing and apartment blocks will generally see a higher turnover of residents compared to commercial businesses, meaning that access control plans that require physical key cards can often result in high operational costs relating to the replacement and reissuing of physical credentials.

For these use cases, mobile credentials can provide an ideal multi-tenant access control solution, as security staff retain the monitoring benefits of contactless systems, but gain the ability to issue credentials virtually to residents’ mobile devices. This removes the costs associated with ordering replacement cards, allows teams to issue unlimited numbers of personalized credentials and still allows teams to integrate access control plans alongside wider cloud-based security and visitor management functions.

Access control system design for high-security buildings

Certain organizations, such as government entities, financial institutions, airports and medical laboratories need more advanced protection. Access control system planning for high-risk buildings may require advanced credentials such as biometrics or multi-factor authentication to offer a higher degree of protection.

Some access control plans will include both high-security options and more basic methods. Looking at examples of access control for government-run facilities, there are often public spaces within the building that must remain accessible, while others are more secure. Therefore, the access control system plan should include devices and protocols for both, taking into consideration different permission levels and which types of access control management methods, such as rule-based or role-based access strategies, are best to ensure all high-risk areas remain secure.

The architectural considerations of access control system design

Whether an entry point management system is to be installed in a new building or intended as an upgrade to an existing structure, the unique design features of the premises will need to be carefully considered as part of the overall access control system planning process. 

Access control design not only plays an important role in the functionality and the usability of a commercial property, but the system chosen will also greatly affect the visual aesthetics of the site, which can be a determining factor in the acquisition or retention of commercial and residential tenants. 

Before purchasing any individual access control units or related hardware components, it’s vital that property owners and security teams take the time to consider a few essential architectural features. Here the steps to take to assess a building’s architectural features and decide which system would be best for your property’s access control plan: 

  • Review building blueprints. Rather than making final purchasing decisions based only on the visible aspects of the property, proprietors should locate site blueprints to help better plan how many devices are needed and where each access control unit should be installed. These documents will provide detailed information regarding existing electrical systems and how previous structural work has been performed, helping installation teams to draw up a more efficient access control plan that can allow teams to make efficient use of available resources. 
  • Confirm details in writing. This is especially important when dealing with an external installation company. By ensuring that every detail of the project is clearly defined, property owners can confirm the scope of the installation and protect themselves from hidden costs. Written confirmations should be created by referencing the number of devices needed, any timelines for installation and should include the full scope of the project from start to finish. A detailed, clear access control system planning proposal will help minimize errors and keep all parties accountable. 
  • Consult local officials. Before committing to any installation requiring considerable structural or electrical work, property owners must consult local officials to determine if their proposed access control plans meet existing building and fire codes. These requirements will vary across different states, with some areas following blanket-issued guidelines and others adopting building codes specified by local authorities. In either case, this guidance should be considered during the creation of any access control plan.

Access control planning for installation and maintenance

Developing and implementing an access control plan can be a fairly involved process, with a number of intricate details to consider beyond choosing the most appropriate type of access control system plan. 

While working with an access control specialist is recommended to ensure that the job is completed professionally, it’s also a good idea for property owners to gain a good understanding of the access control system plans to help supervise the project and to ensure that future and ongoing maintenance is performed. Some installation and maintenance considerations include: 

Selecting cloud-based or on-premise access control for your plan

Most commercial access control system plans can be divided into two categories: Those that function using on-premise servers and those that are configured to operate via a cloud-based network. The cloud versus on-premise security distinction will greatly affect the overall functionality and usability of site-wide security systems.

An on-premise system will require computer servers to be installed in the property, with all access credentials and permissions configured locally. This can be beneficial in some cases, as no data is required to travel beyond the local network. However, remote-access functionality may be limited. 

Operating from a cloud-based server provides a flexible security approach. With all communications handled by a single cloud-based platform, multiple sites can be remotely monitored and permissions can be adjusted at any time. Cloud-based platforms also help reduce maintenance costs. Often, providers will handle all IT support internally, with further benefits including easier scalability. Server space can be adjusted when needed and overall running costs can be reduced if a use-based subscription is chosen. 

How installation affects access control design

Understanding the full scope of your access control system plan also includes preparing appropriately for the install. It’s recommended to always hire and work with a professional team for any commercial project to reduce the risk of costly DIY mistakes. Further considerations include whether new hardware is backward compatible with existing security systems, and whether newly installed internet-connected control hubs are fitted with backup power sources in the event of blackouts. 

Assessing recurring maintenance needs

Access control system planning not only involves the installation of new hardware but must also consider all recurring maintenance needs and future scalability. For systems using on-premise servers, this usually involves IT teams performing regular checks on the servers and could include the renewal of recurring licenses. 

Updates must also be considered, which in many cases will involve a certified integrator visiting the premises to access on-site hardware. Some systems will require manual updates to be performed on individual credential readers and control hubs as well, which can be time-consuming depending on the size of the premises and number of devices. 

For sites using cloud-based platforms, most server-related maintenance will be performed by the service provider’s IT support team and rolled out automatically as soon as they are available. Access control system plans for internet-connected hubs should outline regular maintenance to any battery packs and network receivers, as these devices require on-site attention.

Access control system plans to strengthen on-site security

In order for property owners and security teams to make the most efficient use of available resources, on-site security systems should be developed with control and versatility in mind. Here are some features to look for in an access control plan to enhance security while giving operators flexibility in managing the system: 

  • Site-specific permissions — By issuing all authorized individuals with personalized access credentials, security teams can monitor and adjust permissions based on specific company roles. This is particularly useful when implemented across multiple sites, as a centralized team can control all active permissions remotely. The implementation of individual credentials in the broader access control design can also help to reduce incident response times. Admins can quickly deduce which credentials have been used to access areas of interest and security teams can instantly revoke permissions from anywhere as a security threat unfolds. 
  • Mobile credentials — By opting for a door card reader compatible with mobile credentials, security teams no longer need to issue costly physical key cards and fobs. This means temporary credentials can be easily sent to guests and visitors on their phones, and admins can revoke permissions remotely when necessary, creating a more convenient access control plan template. 
  • Visitor management integrations — Commercial and residential properties that see large numbers of temporary guests may find it difficult to track access credentials, as it’s not always possible to issue physical key cards or ensure that all visitors are escorted through the building by authorized individuals. By integrating on-site access control readers with an electronic visitor management system in the broader access control system design, temporary mobile credentials can be issued to guests, which can then be used to grant access only to predetermined areas. This is particularly useful for monitoring access to contractors working out-of-office hours or to ensure appropriate safeguarding is followed in schools and educational facilities.

Access control plan template

Property owners should now have a good idea of what to look for when designing an access control system, although to successfully implement new hardware, a formal access control plan must be created. 

An actionable access control planning document will contain the following information: 

  • Introduction: This will include all site-wide security and access control policies and make note of the available resources for the project. A description of any existing access control models should also be included, as well as information detailing how these systems may affect the new installation. 
  • Physical security protocols: This section will describe all environmental access control and physical security features on the property, including lighting, sensors, alarms and CCTV systems. Additionally, emergency lockdown protocols should be outlined including how law enforcement are intended to access the property. 
  • Installation and power supply: Here, the technical aspects of installing access control system plans will be defined, including hardware requirements, power supplies, software management and maintenance needs. Considerations of how the system will be monitored and how access control alternatives are used during power outages should also be included. 
  • Infrastructure: This section should make note of all the internal technical information relating to site-wide cybersecurity features. This should include individual unit passwords, computer network controls, internal access control methods and any role-based access control measures relating to the new hardware.

Key takeaways for access control system planning

To budget for access control installation and integration, property owners must gain a deep understanding of the building’s unique security needs. An effective access control plan will consider the size of the property and a summary of all likely security threats.

Detailed thought should be given to the benefits of utilizing cloud-based or on-premises servers, including how each configuration is able to be integrated with wider security features. With these components taken into account, a thorough access control planning document can be created with considerations toward recurring maintenance needs, existing systems, legacy hardware and plans to update or scale business operations.

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