The Big Opportunity

The Big Opportunity

Making the case for access control

Let’s face it. Times are changing—and rapidly. It is all around us. We now have cars that drive and park themselves, pilotless aircraft that take off, fly and even land on a moving aircraft carrier, smartphones with countless apps that can do practically anything and so much more. Technological advances have allowed online retailers to commoditize nearly everything, thus reducing the classic retailer’s profits—and door hardware is not exempt from this revolutionary formula. For most business owners, locksmiths included, these changes have been evolving while they are focused on running their businesses in the same way they have in the past. The question becomes: is this sustainable?


Being in the electronic security integration business for many years, I have had the opportunity to be the security integrator for many small and large projects. From designing and installing access control and CCTV systems in a small medical center with six reader doors and four cameras, to having hundreds or even thousands of reader doors and cameras in locations such as: JetBlue Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport, Westchester County Jail, the New York Times headquarters, Hearst Publishing headquarters, 330 Jay Street NYS Supreme Court, and countless other locations. For all of these projects, we contracted with many locksmith companies, since, after all, each of those clever readers and its associated software needed an electrified lock to do the job.

Historically, regardless of how much time we spent on engineering and delivering an access control project, the customer’s perception of its functionality boiled down to a simple question: Did the door unlock properly?

When thinking about that question I first realized, that despite their good knowledge of locking hardware and life safety compliance, most locksmiths do not take advantage of the market opportunity they have, installing access control. Think about it, every electrified lock needs an access control system.

There are likely more than a dozen reasons why this is the case, I will briefly focus on a few:

  • The need for basic electronics knowledge.
  • The need to have basic IT knowledge and skills.
  • A lack of access control products that are resilient, simple to install and maintain.

You may want to take a mental note of the opportunities and needed steps, so that you can provide your customers with a complete, simple access control and CCTV system. These will improve your bottom line.

One of the most accessible opportunities for the average locksmith to capitalize on is the existing-system market. Electromechanical locks, by definition, fail. There are moving mechanical parts within the locks and for various reasons, many unpredictable, they break. When they do, it is naturally the locksmith that gets called for the repair, and herein lies an opportunity. Providing solid security system design, excellent installation and on-going service, are the antidotes to being commoditized.


Recently I was called upon to work with a locksmith to fix a troubled access control system in one of the buildings of a large, multi-site customer. The customer was complaining about numerous issues like: Access doors that did not unlock, doors that had trouble locking, random “access denied” messages, unauthorized tailgating into the facility and frequent “system not working” messages. These issues were taking many resources, including multiple days and costly additional dollars, to rectify. After spending time at the facility to evaluate conditions, it was determined there needed to be an action plan and provide an upgrade solution.

Basic electronics knowledge: Wiring. When thinking about an upgrade of an existing system, we always try to preserve as much of the present infrastructure as possible, adding and upgrading as needed. One of the largest labor investments (and costs) is the existing wiring. At the card access door, it is relatively simple to identify and repair wiring issues.

However, at the access control system’s “head end,” wires are normally already terminated inside the system controller enclosure. These wires are typically too short to make it to a new controller destination for a system upgrade. For this reason, installers often use telco type “chicklets” to splice the old wires to the new controllers. Doing so only exacerbates the situation. The end result is a cabinet loaded with many intermingled wires that are not only difficult to identify, but worse yet, even harder to service in the future. In this building, the original installer also added a local power supply in the ceilings near each door, making the system upgrade even more involved and complex as we had to find each, examine and determine what was happening.

Instead of using an inferior and unsupportable “chicklet” approach, DIN rail mounted Phoenix connectors are typically used. With the use of Phoenix connectors, wires from the new controller are terminated in an orderly form on one side of the connector. At the time of the cutover from the original system to the new access control system, existing field wires are terminated on the other side of the connector. This allows for a neat and orderly installation, easily serviceable at any time (by any technician), as each of the wires are identifiable and accessible for testing, troubleshooting and repair.

A tip I learned a long time ago is to take the time to fully document the job. We memorialize device locations, wire types/runs, controller locations, assigning color-codes, IP addresses, details and the like. The more detail, the better for our future in servicing the system and keeping the customer happy.

Documenting the system is easy using CAD, not to mention easy to store, update and maintain. If you are not using CAD, then at a minimum, take a piece of paper and create a “stick figure” of the building, show door locations and anything else you did, as this will make much easier for you and your technicians to service the system into the future.

Basic IT knowledge: the use of network controllers and software. In this case, we actually had an easy choice to make. Since the customer was a large multi-site type with an existing, high quality integrated access control and CCTV platform, we simply utilized the customer’s platform hardware and controller requirements. This plan benefitted the customer greatly.

There was no need to purchase, manage or maintain another piece of software. This saved the customer a minimum six months of time and numerous “committee” resource hours, the headache of another construction-like project that would impact much of the building, not to mention carrying a high cost. Based on knowledge of the system and IT infrastructure, we were able to immediately offer relief by bringing this building online with the others in the customer’s networked access control system. The building became a part of the customer’s existing “enterprise” access control system, allowing for use of a single system-wide access card.

Employees and contractors of this facility can now travel between this and other buildings throughout the enterprise, carrying one master proximity card containing their authorized user credentials. System administrators have control across the enterprise. The impact of cost savings and control to the customer are huge.

The “user list” integrity was immediately enhanced, as system administrators were able to add/delete users and even automate credentials for new or terminated employees, from a singular centralized database. It is worth noting here, it does not make a difference whether an access system is comprised of two doors or two hundred doors, the same rules of proper product selection, design, installation and documentation apply.


Most locksmith are very familiar with proper locking hardware selection and the associated life safety code requirements. Security integrators typically are not as familiar with available electrified door locking hardware and tend to use magnetic locks everywhere. Magnetic locks, or “maglocks”, are easy to install and require no prior installation planning. I get called to evaluate many installations and am not surprised to see maglocks installed on hollow metal or wood doors that have been prepped for an electrified mortise or cylindrical lock.

I often see maglocks installed on doors that are in the path of egress, despite the fact that emergency egress hardware has already been installed prior. There are many reasons and sound opportunities for the local locksmith to both correct and profit from the use of proper electrified locking hardware for customers, not to mention save lives.


As you know, correct access control door installation also requires a door contact, otherwise known as a Door Status Monitor (DSM). The reasons are many, including benefits from “Door Forced Open” and “Door Help Open” alarm notifications, to “Normal/ Unused” transactions, and “Door Relock” features. The relock is an important feature. Most default timers for valid card reading in controllers is an average of eight seconds.

Most people take roughly three to four seconds go through the door. That leaves a period of four seconds in which the door remains unlocked, allowing a person to tailgate and enter the premise without presenting a valid access card. The use of the DC/DSM is what signals to the processor (system controller) that a door remains open, thus causing an alarm, based on programming. Remember the complaint our customer indicated regarding unauthorized facility access—a door contact paired with a REX device is a simple way to dramatically reduce the tailgating problem. Remember, when using a DC/DSM, it is mandatory to also use a Request to Exit (REX) sensor, for which many types are available.

As for the REX, especially when pertaining to maglock doors, we are all familiar with the single gang plate and green button marked EXIT. Users have to push the Exit button in order for the door or gate to unlock and allow them through. Other than the button’s color and text, for life safety and code compliance, one must consider the type of switch behind the green button. The use of a momentary Single Pole Single Throw (SPST) switch connected to the system processor ‘REX input’ is prohibited. At this site, we replaced all SPST switches with an all metallic, pneumatic REX device, the S106 series with DPST (N/O and N/C) pneumatic time delayed switches, made by DeltrexUSA. As required, the N/C set in series with the maglock power wires and the N/O contacts to the processor REX input. This assured positive fail-safe door unlocking as well as enhancing the relock feature.


When dealing with a “home run” cabling installation, it is important to use centralized, battery backed-up lock power supplies mounted next to the controllers. This is an imperative solution that offers an efficient alternative to those supplies installed at random locations in the ceiling and by the door. Imagine the labor time required to find and service these locations, not to mention the time needed to figure out which goes to each door location.

Ceiling mounted power supplies are costly, hard to maintain and typically do not include battery backup power. In this case, many doors, some of which were perimeter type, were outfitted (incorrectly) with a maglock, ceiling located power supply and no back-up batteries. A simple power failure caused card access doors to unlock, compromising the building’s security. Additionally, most installed “over the door” power supplies lack the required fire alarm release interface from the building fire alarm panel.


The described case has detailed only some of the various items considered in order to upgrade the access control system at a customer’s facility. The goals were to make it a functional and compliant system, while reducing high maintenance costs for the customer. An onsite service coupled with remote support via the network allowed a quicker reaction time within minutes to most issues. This results in a highly functional system delivering the value the customer had envisioned, and ultimately making for a happy and well satisfied customer. For us, a happy customer is a guaranteed repeat customer, who also willingly recommends us to other opportunities. You see—it really does pay to do a good job.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Security Today.

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