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Guide to Physical Access Control Systems

Too busy to read? Here’s a summary:

  • A physical access control system prevents unauthorized access to physical spaces by requiring the presentation of a credential associated with preprogrammed site authorizations.
  • The counterpart to physical access control is data access control, which controls access to digital information rather than physical spaces.
  • Access control software allows administrators to remotely monitor their system, audit automated access logs, and adjust access privileges easily and instantaneously.

Physical access control systems electronically control doors and gates to regulate who can enter physical environments.

This article dives into the subject of physical access control systems, exploring features, uses, and much more.

Introduction to Physical Access Control Systems

A physical access control system (PACS) acts as a gatekeeper by requiring the presentation of authorized credentials before opening doors, gates, and other physical barriers.

These advanced security systems have been implemented worldwide and have proven to be the most cost-effective and reliable approach to the prevention of unauthorized access to commercial and institutional spaces, such as site perimeters, parking lots, facilities, and areas within facilities.

Physical Access Control vs. Data Access Control

This guide focuses on providing relevant information to help you understand everything about physical access control. But first, let’s compare physical access control systems to their counterpart, data access control systems.

While physical access control systems focus on regulating individuals' physical entry and exit within a property, data access control systems safeguard digital assets, such as medical and financial information. Data access control determines who has the right to access specific data, files, and network resources stored in a digital format.

Components of a Physical Access Control System

A typical physical access control system is comprised of a mix of hardware and software solutions that work together to ensure that authorized users can enter physical spaces while unauthorized users are kept out.

Physical Access Control Hardware

Credentials

Electronic signals transmitted by keycards, fobs, and smartphones are common access control credentials, as are passcodes entered at door keypads. The most advanced access control systems today often require biometric credentials, such as fingerprints. And the most secure access control systems require multi-factor authentication, such as the input of a PIN code in addition to a biometric iris scan.

Credential Readers

These are the devices that scan an access card or fob, scan a biometric credential, or accept security code inputs. Credential readers enable these systems to identify individuals before assessing their access privileges.

Gates, Cages, and Doors

Physical barriers like entry gates, cages, and doors are commonly employed to prevent unauthorized entry.

Door Controllers

These units control a door or gate’s locking mechanisms. Access points remain locked unless door controllers transmit an unlock signal to the entry barrier.

Structured Cabling

Low-voltage cabling supports reliable data transmission between all components of the system, ensuring that the system will function without the delays and noise associated with wireless data transmission.

Physical Access Control Software

Control Panel

The control panel of an access control system contains preprogrammed site authorization lists and serves as the brain of the operation. The control panel cross-checks credential data against the authorization list at the site where the credential is presented. Whenever there’s a match between a presented credential and a space’s authorization list, the panel will transmit a temporary unlock signal to its connected door or gate.

Interface Software

Access control software allows administrators to monitor, manage, and adjust their system rules and users remotely and at any time.

The interface allows administrators to:

  • Assign access rights to users using a variety of assignment approaches
  • Monitor activity logs
  • Update user credentials
  • Receive alerts for unauthorized access attempts

Why Choose a Physical Access Control System?

Enhanced Security

A physical access control system enhances security by ensuring that only authorized individuals can enter specific areas and by maintaining automated access logs.

Audit Trails

The system maintains logs of who accessed what, when, and where. This can be vital for internal investigations and compliance audits.

Scalability

As your organization grows, so does your need for enhanced security. Physical access control systems are scalable, allowing you to add more doors and users as your needs evolve.

Approaches to Privilege Assignment

Understanding physical access control systems also involves understanding common approaches administrators take to assign privileges to credentials.

Discretionary Access Control (DAC): Here, administrators have full discretion to determine who is allowed in a specific location on an individual basis. DAC is ideal for small businesses and organizations that need to manage fewer than 30 unique credential identities.

Mandatory Access Control (MAC): These systems are often utilized in government and military environments, which classify users by security levels and provide access accordingly.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): In these systems, access is given based on the role within the organization, making it easier to manage multiple users.

Physical Access Control and Legal Implications

A robust physical access control system is not just about security; it also helps many businesses and organizations comply with laws and regulations. For example, businesses that deal with sensitive information are often required to have robust physical access control mechanisms to comply with industry-specific regulations, such as GDPR and HIPAA.

For more information about patient privacy regulations for healthcare facilities, HIPAA by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has everything else you need to know.

Mammoth Security and Physical Access Control Systems

Contact Mammoth Security's professional installers to ensure a smooth and effective physical access control deployment. Our crew knows the ins and outs of commercial-grade access control and has extensive experience designing and installing access control systems for a wide variety of security and entry management needs.

For a free needs assessment before you choose a system, reach out to our friendly Mammoth Security team. We will help you with a 100% free site survey and consultation before you choose a system and provide free training after installation to educate staff on how to efficiently and effectively operate their system.

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FAQ

In the context of security, a physical access control system (PACS) is an advanced system that electronically controls doors and gates to regulate who can enter physical environments. It acts as a gatekeeper by requiring the presentation of authorized credentials before unlocking doors and opening gates.

While a physical access control system focuses on regulating individuals' physical entry and exit within a property, a data access control system safeguards digital assets, such as medical and financial information. Data access control determines who has the right to access specific data, files, and network resources stored in a digital format.

A typical physical access control system is comprised of both hardware and software components. The hardware includes credentials like keycards and fobs, credential readers, door controllers, structured cabling, and doors. A physical access control system’s software components consist of a control panel (which contains preprogrammed site authorization lists) and interface software that allows administrators to manage the entire system remotely and from a single point of control.

In access control systems, electronic signals transmitted by keycards, fobs, and smartphones are common credentials. The most advanced systems often require biometric credentials, such as fingerprints, for authentication.

Organizations should consider a physical access control system for enhanced security against threats like trespassing and burglary. Additionally, these systems provide audit trails by maintaining logs of access, offer scalability for growing organizations, and can help businesses comply with industry-specific regulations.

There are three primary approaches to assigning access rights in physical access control systems: Discretionary Access Control (administrators determine access on an individual basis), Mandatory Access Control (users receive privileges based on security levels), and Role-Based Access Control (access is given based on an individual's role within an organization).

Yes, physical access control systems are scalable. As an organization's need for enhanced security grows, more doors and users can seamlessly be added to their existing system.

A robust physical access control system helps many businesses and organizations comply with laws and regulations. For instance, businesses handling sensitive information might need strong physical access control mechanisms to adhere to regulations like GDPR and HIPAA.

The interface software in a physical access control system allows administrators to monitor, manage, and adjust their system rules and users remotely. It enables them to assign access rights, monitor activity logs, update user credentials, and receive alerts for unauthorized access attempts.

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