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How Does Physical Access Control Work? (Simple Guide)

James McKellar January 19, 2021 7 min read

Security as an industry will always be evolving, as criminals get smarter, or threats become more apparent, companies will pivot, evolve, and adapt their practices to keep their premises secure.

With the shift moving away from the traditional lock and key methods, businesses look to newer, more secure methods to ensure their premises are safe.

This quick guide will give an overview of one of these methods, Physical Access Control. We will look at how it works, some features, benefits and the industries who can benefit from implementing a Physical Access Control system. 

  • The background of Physical Access Control
  • Features of Physical Access Control 
  • How Physical Access Control works
  • Benefits of Physical Access Control
  • Industries that can utilise Physical Access Control?

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What is Physical Access Control?

Physical Access Control is defined broadly as the creation of barriers to secure a physical space and prevent unauthorised entry, or in short, only allowing permitted people into an area.

Although on paper it would seem that lock and key is a Physical Access Control method, that’s not entirely correct.

The key difference (no pun intended), is that a Physical Access system is trackable, and defines who is allowed to enter. With this method, there is more of a record, whereas with a key anyone can access or copy it.

Physical Access Control is a fairly open term that can cover a range of different barriers from locked doors, to gates, to turnstiles, to parking barriers, to a wide range of systems. This term encompasses any method of limiting Physical Access.

There are two major types of Physical Access barriers, Physical Barriers (doors, gates, etc..) and Barriers of Authority, these could be a sign saying ‘Staff Only’ or a security guard limiting access. 

When the industry refers to Physical Access Control however, it is primarily focusing on Physical Barriers. 

Physical Access Control encompasses a lot of different areas, if you are interested in Key Fob Access Control, take a look at one of our recent blogs.


Key components of Physical Access Control 

Below we will take a quick look at a few components of Physical Access Control and how the features of these systems can be implemented and used in businesses.

Are Physical Access Control Systems Secure?

Physical Access Control systems are designed to be more secure than other security methods, here are a few factors that can showcase their features.

Create a More Secure Environment - Physical Access Systems keep your locations secure from the ground up and utilise one of the most tangible lines of security; physical. If you can see a location has advanced security, you are much less likely to attempt a break-in or robbery.

Define Individual's Privileges - systems are more secure because you can set how much or how little access people have to certain areas. Making sure only authorised people can access defined areas means you limit your security breaches. 

Emergency Access - due to being controlled by a system, in case of emergency, doors, locks, gates, etc.. can be opened for a safe exit or entry. For example in a power cut or fire, doors can be unlocked without having to access keys.

Limit Data Breaches - with the huge increase in data loss and push for greater data protection, companies moved towards more secure methods of storing data. Having a Physical Access Control system in place on your site and  IT areas can limit these breaches.

These are just a handful of the reasons that make a Physical Access Control system secure and serves as a broad overview of some of the features. Nuances in systems will have different features, so these are mostly universal points. 

How are Physical Access Control Systems Better than Traditional Keys?

In comparison to lock and key, Physical Access Control systems have a host of reasons that make them better and more viable for any size of business.

Trackable and Manageable - unlike lock and key, you have much more of an understanding of how people are accessing your secured areas. Depending on your systems, you can get real-time data and keep an eye on any suspicious activity or patterns. 

Temporary Access - using Physical Access Control, your business can grant temporary access and monitor visitors, contractors, suppliers etc and more with ease. Removing any need for a key exchange or additional security personnel. 

Reduction of Internal Security Issues - there are several ways internal security is increased, from harder ability to recreate keys to more trackable entry points to better procedures and tracking. 

Hard to Duplicate - copies of keys can be made incredibly easily, which has been a longstanding issue with traditional lock and key security. Physical Access Control systems are much harder to fake credentials and access cannot be duplicated in the same way. 

Key usage has faded out in the previous decade or so, with the above points serving as just a sample of the reasons they have started to become obsolete. 


How does Physical Access Control work? 

As Physical Access Control is a term that covers a few different types of systems we will give a fairly universal answer to this section.

Physical Access Control limits unauthorised access to predefined areas, such as a key coded security door or a security gate. 

The way Physical Access Control works is by controlling the entry to a secure location with a physical barrier. There are a few ways a physical barrier can be accessed, from a Key Fob to Coded Entry, to Number Plate Recognition and a few less common methods.

The short version is that some form of identification allows entry to the secure area, whether that be an ID badge, a unique code, a number plate, or a Bluetooth or NFC signal.


What are the benefits of Physical Access Control?

As technology moves forwards so must your security methods to keep up to date and not create flaws in your systems, creating points of entry and weakness. Physical Access Control presents a lot of opportunities for a stronger system if implemented correctly.

Security Benefits of Physical Access Control

Reducing Physical Breaches - having harder to access premises means security threats will be much less likely to occur. Crime is often opportunistic so having stronger systems will limit breaches.

Lower Internal Threat - with more secure systems, companies are much less likely to encounter internal theft or threats. If employees know a system is outdated or easy to access they are much more likely to commit internal theft.

Move Away from Traditional - with the ease of replication and potential for loss, lock and key systems are being switched out for newer Physical Access Control systems. Which in turn are much more secure.

Operational Benefits of Physical Access Control 

Easier Integration - these systems play well with others and will give your company a much more holistic and unified security system. Having systems that can be linked to each other and monitored with ease helps alleviate traditional security issues.

More Efficient - implementing a Physical Access Control system in your business will not only increase efficiency but reduce lost time and improve your security. From limiting security leaks to mitigating lost keys to controlling access to your locations, there is a range of efficiency improvements. 

Accessibility for Users - having a system in place creates not only a more secure, but also a more accessible environment for your staff. This means they can be more effective and you can keep control of who can access where, or when. 

General Benefits of Physical Access Control 

Move with the Times - understanding that the industry is shifting and that security threats can come from a wide range of areas is just part of the reason to utilise a Physical Access Control system. As the baseline shifts, not updating your security leaves you vulnerable from several angles.

Customisable - one of the best things you can ask for from your security system is to be customisable and have some universal elements that can work with your other systems or measures. 

Versatile - Physical Access Control systems come in many shapes and sizes, which means that they can be tailored to your situation and needs. The versatility and widely available systems mean you can set up your system exactly how you want.


What industries can benefit from Physical Access Control?

As one of the most widely practised methods of security, Physical Access Control does not have a specific set of industries that it is limited to. 

With this in mind, however, here are a few that these systems are commonplace in:

  • Hospitality 
  • Retail
  • Entertainment 
  • Construction 
  • Parking 
  • Transportation (Airports/Train Stations etc..)
  • Logistics 
  • Supermarkets 
  • Casinos 
  • Fast Food 
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels 
  • Flats, Apartments, Halls of Residence
  • Storage Facilities 
  • Fitness (Gyms, Spas, Health Clubs)

As alluded to above, there is not an industry that would not benefit from having some form of Physical Access Control and it would be difficult to find one that does not have a certain level of these practices in place already. 

So whether you are looking at limiting access to your premises, managing your parking, or improving your security systems, Physical Access Control is a great way to keep your business secure. 

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Why Should You Trust Us?

It seems that people and vehicle access control is an incredibly complex world using hard to understand technology, yet it impacts so many of the environments we interact with on a daily basis.

We are here to fill in the disconnect. We'll break down access control, the benefits, and drawbacks as well, including expert insight based on over 30 years experience in the industry operating as an independent British company. Our goal is to give you ALL the information so you know what's right for you.

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James McKellar

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