Read This Before Answering Your Next Access Control RFP

Standalone or integrated access control systems could add a profitable new page to your portfolio, provided you understand everything that’s involved. Here are some areas that may act as speed bumps along the way.

Tim Albright

Click, clack, click, clack, click, clack.

The black wingtips walk with a purpose down an ultra-white corridor.

The man in the immaculate suit stands at an obvious heavy steel door with a hand and retina scanner to its left.

The man places his hand and eye in place to verify he is the super, secret spy he actually is.

The computer system in the backend verifies this fact and the door unlocks and opens.

No, this is not the beginning of the latest movie starring Matt Damon, Tom Cruise or any other action hero. It is an example of modern access control.

You have the opportunity to do it and make it work with your audio visual system.

In the simplest form access control is the ability to make certain areas of a facility either accessible by the general occupants of a building or inaccessible, or perhaps accessible to only certain personnel.

“Access control is the ability to access a secure area by user input, biometrics, RFID, or other forms of input,” says Don Getz, CTO of Intelligent Control Systems.

These systems have evolved, like security, AV and VoIP, onto a network system. That is not to say there are no traditional systems that are put into place.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on access control that uses the network to communicate.

“On the face of it, access control is just I/O (inputs and outputs),” says Getz. “It’s the regulations and network stability that is the real catch.”

Before you head out to answer an RFP that includes access control, let’s go over some areas that may act as speed bumps along the way.

Licensing

If you are old hat at putting in security systems this will come as no surprise. If you are new to the area, this is something you need to know.

Your local government has rules and regulations detailing who can install security and access control systems. Most of them require a security contractor’s license, FBI background check, fingerprints and verification of a physical address of your business.

I want to emphasize the local part of that. The license and requirements may vary from county to county and city to city. They will most certainly vary state to state.

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“Research the local policies for city and county for intrusion detection, fire alarm, access control and surveillance,” Getz advises. “They will generally fall under the county’s code.”

If, for example, you are in the New York area but do business in New Jersey, Connecticut or elsewhere, you will be required to obtain a license from each of the governing bodies in which you serve.

New York has a division of licensing services where you can find out more about their specific requirements, as do California, Illinois, Florida and the other states.

“Make sure you are protected in case something goes wrong,” adds Steve Greenblatt of Control Concepts. Besides your protection, the other reason to get licensed is for your client’s defense.

“In order for a client to get insurance ratings, you need to have the system certified by a licensed security contractor,” says Getz.

Network Stability

General Electric and Honeywell both have their own branded switches when you install their IP-based access control systems.

These devices have been tested by the manufacturers to work with their systems with as little down time as possible.

“When we begin a project we start by talking with the network design team about VLAN segmentation,” Getz says.

If you are not putting in one of these systems, then hiring or partnering with an IT network engineer is key.

The network engineer should separate the various types of traffic on their own VLAN. HVAC should get its own, streaming video on a VLAN, and security and access control on one all by themselves.

You will provide ports for communication, but to pass a network security audit, a VLAN is the safest way to go.

“You should also be doing network audits yourself to make sure the network is configured correctly,” adds Getz, “because this is the first time the network is imperative.”

Programming the System

As mentioned earlier, access control is really quite simple. It’s a system of inputs and outputs.

But that is doing the system a disservice. It is a network of locks and secure input mechanisms that either allow someone into an area or denies them entry.

So, how do you integrate that into an AV system?

“I would look at it in terms of leveraging universal logins or other forms of authentication,” says Greenblatt. “Take a look at the spec and make certain it has everything you need in there before beginning.”

There are two avenues to consider. One is a full integration of the access control with your AV control system. This is utilizing the AV control to accept the authentication of the person trying to access the secure area.

The AV control system then authenticates with its database and allows, or refuses, the person entry.

The other way is to allow a standalone access control system to do the authenticating for you and interface with it via a touchpanel or other AV control system interface.

Partner to Start

Access control is not something you wake up one morning and decide you are just going to go out and do.

As we have stated, there are regulations and licensing considerations as well as the networking and deployment aspect.

The most consistent piece of advice we received was to partner with an existing security company, if you are not already one yourself, on the first few jobs.

“Either hire someone who has a security background and training to go with it, in intrusion detection, access control, and surveillance, and is familiar with your local codes,” says Getz, “or pair up with a security contractor company that is used to working with integrators.”

“Either hire someone who has a security background and training to go with it, in intrusion detection, access control, and surveillance, and is familiar with your local codes, or pair up with a security contractor company that is used to working with integrators.”                    —Don Getz, Intelligent Control Systems

Take a look at the scope of work or RFP and get the layout of what the client is expecting in terms of access control and security. It may very well be in your wheelhouse.

It also may be a bit over your head, but you have this great client that is asking you to take it on. Protect yourself, and your client, by having the right people involved.

“Know what you’re getting yourself into and know the risk you are able to take on before you get involved,” adds Greenblatt.

Access control has the potential to be a fun and rewarding area of security. Integrating it into an existing, or new, AV control system can also be a rewarding challenge for your programming team.

It is also a level more involved than integrating occupancy sensors or other IO devices.

There are significant licensing, regulations, and network issues to consider.

Make certain you have the right players in place. Once you do, walk with your client, your security team, and networking team to pull off a successful install.

If you do, it could be your company responsible for the secret agent being given access to the inner sanctum of some highly classified building.

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