Last edited 12 May 2021

Access control in buildings

Key lock 800.jpg

Access control is the selective restriction of access to a particular place, building, room, resource or installation. To gain access to a restricted location, an individual generally needs to have authorisation or to be given permission to enter by someone that already has authorisation.

Most buildings contain assets that need to be kept safe, secure and protected from theft. Authorised access might be controlled using doors, gates, turnstiles and secure installations such as safes, barriers and bollards. Installation of access control may be a requirement of insurance policies.

Access control systems can be monitored or controlled by staff, or might operate autonomously, for example, with the use of locks. Locks and keys are one of the most common methods for controlling access, but they are relatively inflexible, and keys can be lost, misplaced, stolen or copied. Greater flexibility can be achieved and the inconvenience and expense of changing locks and re-issuing keys avoided by electronic access control systems.

Electronic access controls can be an efficient and flexible way of securing buildings. Once an electronic access control system is installed, access points can be monitored and controlled remotely or programmed to operate automatically, giving authorised personnel access to specific facilities at certain times.

A number of different accreditation systems can be used to validate authorisation:

  • Staff monitoring.
  • Access badges or tokens.
  • Fingerprints.
  • Iris recognition.
  • Keys, key cards or key fobs.
  • Passwords, codes or PINs.
  • Video verification.
  • Tickets.

Access information can be transmitted to an access control system where credentials can be verified. There are two main types of electronic access control systems:

  • Standalone systems.
  • Networked systems.

Standalone access control systems may be used to control access at one specific location. A local system is programmed for each entry point and access is normally gained by using a numeric code or password or by presenting a key fob, card or token.

Standalone access control systems are typically used in houses, small business premises, small secure sites and storage units. The installation and management of the standalone systems is relatively straightforward and access controls can be extended if requirements change.

Networked access control can regulate one or more access points. Networked access control systems can help to manage a large number of users and doors efficiently. It offers central control and can allow different individuals or groups varying levels of authorisation at different times. The system can be expanded easily, might operate across more than one site, and increasingly can be integrated with other systems, such as CCTV, fire alarms, intruder alarms and lighting. Systems might include automatic report generation.

Networked access control systems are commonly used in small or medium-sized business premises, large corporate premises, or multiple-site premises.

Specialist access control products such as turnstiles can be used to allow one person access at a time or can be used to control the speed or direction of flow. They can also offer an accurate and verifiable count of attendance, for example, before a sporting event. Single-file access can be useful in giving security personnel a clear view of each entrant.

Access control bollards can be found on private roads, parking bays or areas where deliveries take place. Retractable bollards can protect areas overnight which are likely to be used significantly during the day and vice versa. Bollards can be controlled by key, card, intercom or a staff member watching CCTV.

Gates and barriers may help to control access to certain sites by restricting the movement of people, vehicles or even animals.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki


Designing Buildings Anywhere

Get the Firefox add-on to access 20,000 definitions direct from any website

Find out more Accept cookies and
don't show me this again