No Loitering Here

Retail stores experience a flux of activity all year long

Securing doors and valuables in retail locations without hindering operational efficiency can be a challenge. And that’s just from the customers’ perspective.

Adding to the difficulty of securing these dynamic environments, retail stores must manage large, flexible workforces, typically with high turnover.

Traditional locks and keys, even smart cards or key fobs, provide only a thin layer of security because they can be lost, stolen or borrowed. There also are the costs associated with lock changes and card inventory management.

Throw in having to maintain separate intrusion systems -- operated by someone with nothing more than PINs that also can be forgotten or loaned -- and often the results are numerous false alarm incidences and ensuing municipal fines.

Advancements in biometrics with physical access control have made it easier to implement systems that not only provide better security, convenience and costsavings but also help comply with government regulations.

Look no further than your neighborhood pharmacy.

According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, there are more than 56,000 pharmacies in the United States today, making retail pharmacies the perfect candidate for biometric access control. Over the last 10 years, biometrics has become more widely used because of its increased speed, reliability, accuracy and affordability.

The systems themselves can feature different types of modalities (fingerprint, iris, hand geometry, facial recognition); different platforms (from embedded access for fewer doors to client/server architecture for enterprise-level applications); and multiple factors of authentication (biometric/PIN/smart card). It simply depends on the requirement or network of the particular retail application.

Personnel Access
One major national chain was faced with the issue of a limited number of pharmacists to work at each location. The company’s compromise was to rotate pharmacists over multiple stores in a regional area, sometimes daily. This resulted in a complicated inventory of keys, cards, PINs and handwritten records -- costing time and money and providing a less-than-ideal level of security.

A pilot installation last year featured an embedded access control system with fingerprint biometrics for several of the company’s stores. This solution authenticated pharmacists, other employees and their access rights, eliminating the need for carrying the proper key to that store, as well as the need to remember the unique store alarm code.

With embedded software on the hardware, there was no need to install a dedicated server at each store or install software locally to make modifications. In this environment, the access control software securely sits outside of IT systems and is open source and Linux-based, which also eliminates constant updates to operating systems.

Gone, too, are false alarms because the only way for a user to activate the biometric reader -- installed on the public side -- is for the sensor to recognize the pharmacist who has arming or disarming rights to the intrusion system. Without this process, the device will not unlock the door or change the alarm status.

Event reporting for the installation shows that there would have been numerous false alarms if not for the device. The chain’s employees said they were surprised by how simple it is to use, and by how accessing the door throughout the day is no longer a disruptive situation.

“It’s perfect for the front door to the pharmacy, but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” said John Carter, president and CTO of e-DATA Corp. “Drive-through windows, partitioned warehouses, even cabinets containing Schedule II or other controlled substances can restrict physical access and keep an electronic audit just about anywhere.”

The electronic audit trail is especially important in pharmacies. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) mandates that healthcare facilities, to control medicines and records, must protect patients’ personal information and meet all necessary requirements and codes. Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in both civil and criminal penalties.

The authenticated approach also allows pharmacies to investigate incidences, track operations across all stores and provide proper documentation for government agencies.

How about biometrics for a shared restroom area? That was the dilemma another major retail pharmacy encountered. With a retail clinic door on one side of the restroom and the pharmacy door on the other, a solution was developed to disengage pharmacy-side access when a person entered from the opposite door.

Some systems allow access rights to be electronically managed and moved in real time on a regional or national level. Many administrators need only a network- connected Web browser, on a laptop or a smartphone, to make changes to the pharmacy schedule.

Systems distribute fingerprint templates to other locations with the click of a button from anywhere in the world, without the need to enroll users at other biometric readers in the network or at other sites. The initial enrollment process itself has advanced to a matter of seconds. Convenience has now become a huge factor.

Loss Prevention
Loss prevention will always be a large component of retail as drug shrinkage and theft of critical-care consumables continue to plague pharmacies. Biometric access control eliminates internal fraud by preventing unauthenticated staff from opening secure doors, cabinets and drive-through windows. And the time stamp on the event log creates a more-detailed record of all access-related store activity. But a biometric solution isn’t just for pharmacy employees. Unattended or after- hour delivery vendors and contractors can access an armed auxiliary exterior or warehouse entrance -- even during commonly worked hours -- without a key, card or the alarm code.

Especially since the events of 9/11, the government’s increased use of biometric systems has paved the way for installations across many applications, including retail.

“What we are now seeing happen, however, is that as biometric technology has been embraced by the government for entrance into facilities, others have also begun to accept it as a better solution,” Carter said.

Biometric access control systems are easily integrated with camera, video and alarm monitoring to provide a complete suite of features. The robust offerings are combined with systems designed for easy installation, dramatically cutting down the time for setup, whether at one retail pharmacy or thousands.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Security Today.

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