Its Not Just A Turnstile

Its Not Just A Turnstile

Evaluating an entrance location based on end user goals

Many professionals in the security industry today tend to use the word “turnstile” to refer to all security entrances, when, in fact, there are actually multiple types of entrances for different applications, industries and levels of security. These include a number of different types of turnstiles but also mantrap portals and security revolving doors. If assumptions are made between a customer and an integrator around the word “turnstile,” the end user can end up with a solution that doesn’t adequately meet their needs, is unnecessarily costly, or worse, allows a security breach to occur when they thought they were protected. For the integrator, it is vital to understand your customer’s needs and requirements for an entrance location before making a recommendation.

You can begin the process by evaluating each entrance location based on four potential end user goals related to tailgating mitigation: crowd control, deterrence, detection, and prevention. Clearly understanding the goal will help you in a discussion with your customer to determine the appropriate security entrance to deploy. In this article, we will break down each goal and its corresponding security entrance type, along with typical applications and benefits to the end user. Of course, budget can be a limiting factor and you will need to work with your customer and bring your own knowledge and experience into the discussion regarding certain applications, but this goal-centered approach is a great way to dispel misunderstandings up front.


Crowd control is a goal that involves slowing down traffic to count people or collect tickets or payments. Crowd implies a high volume of traffic, and therefore an ability to handle conditions that may be abusive toward the entrance hardware. Mechanical waist high/ tripod turnstiles are a great fit for this goal and they are typically seen in stadiums, public transit venues, amusement parks, shipping ports, distribution warehouses, manufacturing plants, universities and fitness centers. They are a low security solution for crowd management. Exception: when budgets are constrained, you might find them in office lobbies with matching finishes such as Corian or marble to “dress them up.” Here’s what security integrators should know about tripod turnstiles:

  • Designed to withstand high traffic, abusive conditions.
  • Exterior use okay, if covered.
  • High throughput, handling 30 persons per minute in one direction.
  • Lack of sensors can lead to easy defeat—turnstiles can be crawled under or jumped over without alarm/ notification to guard staff.
  • Low capital cost, but high annual operating cost due to necessary 24/7 guard supervision.
  • Other than counting who entered or exited, limited metrics capabilities available.


Full height turnstiles are a true deterrent to casual infiltration attempts because it is difficult-to-impossible to go over or under them. They are a rugged solution for perimeter fence lines, stadiums, metro stations, industrial plants, distribution centers, and parking garages. Upon activation, the rotor rotates 120 degrees to allow only one user to pass through, and for this reason they also work well as an exitonly solution.

They are typically unmanned, but if they are used in interior lobbies leading directly into higher security areas they should be supervised because two small people could potentially squeeze through on a single authorization, which is known as “piggybacking.” There are no sensors or alarms to alert when this happens, and due to these limitations, a full height turnstile serves only as a deterrent. Here are some other things to note about full height turnstiles.

  • Low capital cost, low annual operating cost (assuming no supervision)
  • Guard supervision not typical (unless directly leading into higher security areas).
  • Moderate throughput, handling 18 persons per minute in one direction
  • Only limited metrics can be retrieved – no sensors or alarms if defeated


The goal of detection is to track when tailgating happens and notify security personnel so they can respond quickly. Optical turnstiles satisfy both the goals of deterrence and detection due to their ability to sense movement during passage and alarm if tailgating occurs.

They are typically installed in many public-sector buildings including Fortune 1000 companies, Class A office buildings, universities, high-rise apartments and corporate call centers. Most models available today offer sliding or swinging barriers and they can be waist high or full height. A very common assumption in the security industry is that optical turnstiles with barriers prevent unauthorized entry and can be unmanned, which is not true.

Once the barriers are open, a second user could slip through, or, in the case of a wide lane to allow for disabled use, two people could walk through side by side. Most of the time, an alarm will sound, but there is the possibility of a false acceptance. Therefore, the cost of 24/7 supervision must be factored into the security budget. Here are some other points to make note.

  • Moderate capital cost, but high annual operating cost due to necessary 24/7 guard supervision.
  • Sensors detect tailgating and sound an alarm for post-tailgating reaction, but turnstiles can still be defeated.
  • Moderate metrics capabilities available (for example, number of times tailgating occurred, passback rejections).
  • High throughput, handling up to 30 persons per minute in one direction.
  • If traffic is bi-directional, for example during lunchtime, throughput is reduced per direction (people have to take turns).


The goal of prevention is to make it close to impossible to tailgate into a facility. Security revolving doors and mantrap portals accomplish this job, due to their full height and working principle.

The entry solution of choice for Fortune 1000 companies, or any company subject to mandatory regulations (e.g. HIPAA), they are commonly used at employee-only entrances, and sensitive applications such as government buildings, data centers, and any facility that requires two-factor authentication. Security revolving doors and portals do not require supervision because they are very difficult to defeat; sensors in the ceiling prevent tailgating (following in a trailing compartment). Optional piggybacking detection systems are also available (preventing two people in the same compartment from entering).

The benefits of using an unmanned door are compelling: guard staff can be reduced or reallocated and, depending on the hourly cost of a guard, an ROI can be achieved in as short a time span as nine months. Here’s some more information security integrators should know about security revolving doors and portals.

  • High capital cost, low annual operating cost due to no required guard supervision.
  • Sophisticated metrics capabilities available, allowing the end user to prove the value of their security spend.
  • Security revolving doors = 20 persons per minute, simultaneously in two directions; Security portals = six persons per minute in one direction.
  • Ideal for multi-factor authentication and use of biometric devices.
  • Bullet-resistant glass can be incorporated for an even higher level of security.

You should know now that when a customer says the word turnstile they could be thinking of anything from a low security, crowd control solution to a high security, tailgating prevention entrance.

A goal-based approach to a discovery conversation will break down this “turnstile” barrier and lead to clarity on both sides of the table and deployment of the best long-term solution for the end user and ultimately for installer as well. Once the goal and the type of entrance is determined, the manufacturer can assist further with integration needs, customizations, installation requirements, technical training, details about metrics, integration tips, local codes and ordinances.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Security Today.


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