Knowing Your Access Control

Knowing Your Access Control

Marina owners should examine what type of electronic security system they want

Having participated in securing many marinas, there is one thing I know for certain: when planning to go into the marina business, not one entrepreneur planned to become an access control manager. However, upon opening their marinas, most very quickly learned that they would need some type of electronic security system to protect their business, property, customers and staff.

Nonetheless, most take on the role of access control manager for their properties and here are some of the things that they have learned that have made them effective.

What Are Some Access Control System Parameters?

In a quick walk-through of your marina, ask the following questions:

  • Do I have four or more access points around my property?
  • Is one or more of those access points somewhat hidden, making it easy for an unauthorized person to enter?
  • Do I have offices in different places throughout the property?
  • Can I connect my access points with hardwiring or will wireless make more sense?
  • What type of reader will work best?
  • What type of credential will work best?
  • What kind of door locks (strikes) will make most sense?

With four or more access points around your property, there is no way that you can keep eyes at all entry points, especially if all can’t be viewed from a single location. Plus, you want to assure that only authorized people get into your office to say nothing of who is using your dock gates, vehicle gates and equipment, such as fish hoists, pressure washers, pump outs, cranes, boat launch ramps, power plug-ins and restrooms. To assure that all these locales are observed would take a team of guards or a sophisticated video system. For most marinas, that would simply cost too much money.

To determine if you need your security system to be hardwired or wireless, you don’t need to be an access control system designer. Can you connect wire from wherever your controller will be to the various access points without a lot of trenching throughout the property? Without even seeing your property, I can tell you, “probably not.” Almost every marina that has an access control system uses wireless. Instead of spending money to dig up the property to lay wire, a wireless system lets you put much more of your budget into the hardware and software you need to protect your marina.

Lastly, you will need a marina-grade electrical solution. The power, wiring, locks and readers need to stand up to the ultra-demanding outdoor environmental constraints of water from power spraying to saltwater, sleet, snow and hail. In fact, your marina may be considered a very environmentally nasty place to install any type of electronics. As a result, you need to be looking for products that meet a minimum IP67 rating, not simply labeled as “waterproof.”

“IP” stands for “Ingress Protection.” An IP number is used to specify the environmental protection of enclosures around electronic equipment. These ratings are determined by specific tests. The IP number is composed of two numbers, the first referring to the protection against solid objects and the second against liquids. The higher the number is, the better the protection. An IP67 rated product is rated to protect against solids, including dust, as well as jet spraying with and immersion in water. To emphasize, waterproof is not enough. IP67 rated products feature tough tamper-proof and weather-resistant epoxy potting to avoid problems with dust, mist or water.

Quick Overview of Readers and Credentials

Now that you’ve been schooled on IP67, let’s look at the readers, credentials and locks in more depth. There are different sizes of readers. It is important that you choose the reader that works best for that particular entrance point. The first is a small 1.5 x 3 inch proximity card reader that mounts to a metal door or window frame, referred to as a mullion reader. The authorized user holds up the badge, which is the size of a credit card, in proximity of the reader and the door unlocks. If the card isn’t authorized, the door stays locks.

The second is a somewhat larger—3 x 4.5 inch—proximity card reader that mounts on a wall and includes a 3-color LED indicator—red, green and amber. Marinas that want to have higher security use a reader that combines a proximity card reader with a keypad so that those who are authorized to use a particular entry or piece of equipment must produce their card plus enter a PIN. Most marina management prefer keypads combining solid-state non-mechanical keys for maximum reliability with backlighting of the individual keys for maximum visibility even at night.

Credentials available range from badges, which are the size of a credit card, to key ring tags which, as the name implies, can be easily carried on a key ring. As with card reader quality, again you always choose those that provide a lifetime warranty. Additionally, look for passive devices that don’t require a battery. And, as a marina owner, experience shows you should be considering a credential that offers maximum convenience and durability. For this, most prefer a key ring tag. I recommend looking for one that includes a reinforcing brass eyelet and is fully sealed with epoxy potting.

Regarding proximity credential formatting, always consider a custom format, which helps ensure that the individual credential codes are truly unique. Your integrator can provide a high-security handshake, or code, between the card, tag and reader to help prevent credential duplication and ensure that your readers will only collect data from your marina’s specially coded credentials. No other company will have reader/card combination that only you get from your integrator. Only your reader will be able to read your card or tag and your reader will read no other card or tag.

Regarding card reader quality, always choose those that provide a lifetime warranty. Inquire about FCC and ETL compliance. You may also want to consider personalizing your cards and tags with your logo, telephone number, location map or some other graphic which helps promote the use of your marina.

Another type of access control system popular with marinas is a long range system that uses a receiver and a transmitter, not a card or key tag. This system is provided to good customers so that they can more easily enter the marina’s front gate as the system will “read” from up to 200 feet away. It is available in a two- or four-button configuration and equipped standard with a weather-resistant potted proximity or contactless smart card module. Each transmitter integrates the convenience of long range identification with traditional proximity or contactless smart card access control.

To enter the marina, the customer presses the transmitter button from the secure convenience of their vehicle (without lowering the window) and, when wanting to gain access at the door to a bathroom or other site, they simply present the transmitter to the building’s proximity reader. Since identical data is transmitted upon button press or presentation, each user needs only be enrolled once in the access control system.

Locks become more complicated because various types of locks meet different types of specifications and functions. Your system designer should have the different locks available detailed on their website. Here is a rule of thumb: If the designer is providing IP67 compliant readers and credentials backed by a lifetime warranty, they are probably providing quality locks as well. Plus, you can always call one of their customers and ask how the locks are actually holding up.

Pay Plenty of Attention to the Software and Controller

This is the heart of your new access control system. You can be meticulous regarding all the above but, if the software and controller aren’t reliable and easy to use, you’ve just bought a problem, not a solution.

Most marina owners needed an enterprise based solution that will also run with the marina management software system that most marina owners use to operate their businesses. Odds are that your best choice for software and controller will be an integrator that has already put in other marina or similar types of property systems.

Real-Life Examples of What Can Be Done with Access Control Systems

Entry is basic to the need for an access control system at marinas both small and big. For instance, the Blue Water Yacht Club in Sausalito, Calif. uses their system to control a vehicle gate, dock gate and two restroom doors while the Miami Beach (Fla.) marina is uses their system to control many dock gates, restrooms and parking garages. The Port of Everett (Wash.) consists of a hodge-podge of legacy systems that have been integrated into a security system with more than 60 access points in an area greater than 3.5 acres that features links up to a mile apart.

The ingenuity of marina owners has led many to extend the reach of their systems from only entrance access control. The fish cranes in Juneau and Valdez, Alaska, small boat harbors are now controlled by their access control systems. To use them, authorized patrons use their credentials in exactly the same way that they enter the marina.

In Valdez, the system links to a crane from a mile away. The Port of Anacortes (Wash.) uses their wireless system to control boat/fish hoists. And, at Paradise Village (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), the system provides gated access to the ramps. Some of these ramps are available 24/7 and some limit access to those who dock there.

The Good News about Access Control Systems

A marina owner can assure that the investment in an electronic access control system provides quick payback and a solid ROI by spending time up front with a reputable systems provider. Working with the designer to determine the scope of what the access control system should do and assuring that the hardware and software being specified will provide a reliable solution that will work now and provide expandability for the future.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Security Today.

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