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Access Controls: Keys, Numeric Pads, Proximity Sensors, and Beyond

The following table describes some of the access controls available on the market today. Used in combination, they provide the best protection against unwanted intrusion.

Device

Description

Keys

The most basic security, easily kept on a keychain. Individually assignable. Simple and inexpensive. The weakness of keys is losing them and duplication. Also, departing employees may not turn them in, and thus end up with access that they shouldn't have.

Numeric pads

Touchpads come in manual and digital formats. Manual ones are cumbersome to set. Digital ones are easy to set, but also easy to reset (perhaps by an intruder). All it takes is a screwdriver and hitting the right button, and you've reset the password to the default (sometimes 1234).

You can have one common code or individually assignable codes. Common codes are easiest, but also the least secure; all employees know the common code, but so does anyone else they've told. Even former employees would know the code, unless you change it every time someone leaves. Such changes aren't easy to keep up with, unless your company is small. Individually assignable codes, though more secure, take time to maintain, and still can be shared with others.

Proximity sensors

A sensor is mounted on the wall near the door that it protects. Each authorized employee is issued an access card (looks much like a credit card) or a key fob (small plastic device that goes on a key ring). Using the access card or key fob is simple; present the card or fob to the sensor. You don't even have to take it out of your pocket or purse; you just have to be near the sensor (thus the name proximity). Cards or fobs are individually assignable. They cannot be shared like a code, as you must possess the device. The downside is the time it takes to issue and maintain the lists of authorized users per door. Moderately priced, but rapidly becoming the most popular method of securing doors.

Retinal and fingerprint scanners

Retinal scanners read the retina on the back of your eye. Expensive and uncomfortable. With a fingerprint reader, you scan either one finger or the entire hand. Simple, but still very expensive.


My company chose a proximity sensor with key fobs. The hassle of maintaining the security database is worth the extra control you get for controlling access to privileged areas.

Here's a great idea if you have a receptionist in a lobby: Install a panic button. Whenever there's a need for additional protection in an uncomfortable situation, or a creepy-looking character steps off the elevator, the panic button can be used to alert others to assist the receptionist. My company's panic button works silently, with strobe lights flashing to get the attention of strategic personnel. (It also has an audible alarm that we can turn off.) The silent method allows supporting staff to approach the lobby from different sides without putting the receptionist at risk by tripping an audible alarm.

Consider installing security cameras. Add a time-lapse VCR to each camera, and you can capture everything on videotape. All you have to do is change tapes once per day.

If you want to use a professionally monitored security system, I advise installing motion sensors, glass-break sensors, and door and window sensors to trigger alarms with any unauthorized movement within the office. The sensors can automatically call the monitoring service, which can dispatch emergency personnel. Smoke alarms are required anyway, but tying the correct kind into the security system could notify the monitoring service to dispatch the fire department. There are many other considerations, and I recommend contacting certified security vendors for detailed advice.

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