Homeland Security Insider

Turning a New Page

FOUR years in the making, the drive to implement HSPD-12 at long last began by issuing smart identification cards last October. Every federal agency has now opened at least one facility where employees can go to get personal identification verification (PIV) cards fitted to the strict criteria of FIPS 201. This year, federal agencies will begin to activate a massive interoperable system of card readers in which any agency's readers will be able to read and process cards presented by any and all federal employees -- no matter what agency employs them.

In the next year, HSPD-12 implementation will revolutionize government security by beginning to install an interoperable access control system that officials from any government agency can trust. Before receiving the card, the employee must show identification and have his or her photograph and fingerprints verified to prove the person picking up the card is the person who applied for it.

The Department of Defense developed and implemented its own smart card system several years ago. In fact, DOD's system reportedly served, to some extent, as a model for the government-wide access control system now being assembled.

When the employee presents this card to the readers that will begin to appear at federal doorways, a technological verification system will answer up to three questions. The number of questions depends upon the security required at the door being accessed. The three questions are:

  • Is the card authentic?
  • Is the card presented really that of the person presenting it?
  • Does the card remain in good standing in the database?

Establishing and starting up a card-issuing system that can be trusted across the entire federal government has been the goal for PIV cards. During the next several months, the goal is interoperability -- upgrading or replacing access control readers, intelligent boards and servers so that the federal government's physical access control system will be able to read, evaluate, respond to and trust the new cards.

GSA is already testing and accrediting readers, ensuring the technology can read the data on the cards. Approved readers appear on the GSA's Information Technology Schedule 70 under Special Item No. 132-62. GSA has not written standards for access control systems. Instead, the agency has decided to leave the details up to the access control vendors.

Some departments of the federal government have developed access control systems that will meet the requirements of HSPD-12 without too much trouble. The Department of Defense developed and implemented its own smart card system several years ago. In fact, DOD's system reportedly served, to some extent, as a model for the government-wide access control system now being assembled.

At the other extreme, some agencies have never done much more than have a security guard monitor people as they walk through the doors. These agencies are starting from scratch. As these systems come on line with readers and updated access control devices to communicate with new cards, around 5 million federal employees and members of the armed services will begin to discover that their credentials are trusted by readers, access control systems and people across the entire federal government.

Smart cards are only part of the access control solution. Readers and other access control devices to augment the work done by security guards are necessary to perfect a complete solution. One technology gaining popularity is the optical turnstile. Optical turnstiles are often an integral part of a modern sophisticated access control system. Typically, optical turnstiles are integrated into a building's lobby architecture to provide a medium level of security at the main entry point while complementing the building's aesthetic features. Accepted alike by security/facility managers and architect/designers, the concept of optical turnstiles seems to be a reliable blend of security and design considerations.

Essentially, an optical turnstile works by detecting passage of a body between two pedestals (or bollards) by the use of infrared optical beams. Typically, a system of lights and sounders are integrated as the user interface and the system is controlled by the turnstile manufacturer's firmware. The optical turnstile also houses card readers and communicates with the customer's HSPD-12-compliant access control system.

In a typical transaction, the optical turnstile reads a card from the user, communicates with the access control system to verify authorization and admits one body to pass through in the correct direction. Tailgaters, piggybackers and other unauthorized people are singled out by visible and audible alarms, as well as by creating a recordable event in the client's access control system that typically must be addressed by on-duty staff.

However, these products provide a low-to-medium level of security. Though the technology aids lobby staff in screening entries to the building, it does not replace the need for lobby staff. A common scenario is to have one lobby staff person screen visitors, handle inquiries and monitor the traffic at the turnstile.

An optical turnstile system does not take the place of security personnel at the entry point, as a security portal or mantrap would. Optical turnstiles generally do not physically prevent unauthorized entry as a mechanical turnstile can. However, due to fast throughput and high aesthetic value, optical turnstiles are commonplace in today's corporate and government lobbies. By most accounts, barrier-type optical turnstiles have accounted for more than 75 percent of all optical turnstile sales in the past six years. This fact can be partly attributed to the greater concern for and acceptance of lobby security since Sept. 11, 2001.

The greater demand also is a result of the fact that the technology in this product range has improved greatly in recent years. Improved throughput, more reliable motor drive systems for the barriers, greater safety from accidental closing of the barriers and improved emergency egress capabilities are some of the recent advances.

One product that has come to the forefront of the market in recent months is the Delta 7000-B by Delta Turnstile Controls. Delta is an American-made swinging barrier arm product with features like a small footprint, fast throughput, low false alarm occurrence, warranty and optional crawl-over detection.

What's next for government access control? How about onboard asset tracking technology, integration with on-the-go biometrics readers, bomb/weapons detection systems? As long as security managers need to know who is entering or leaving the building and what that person is bringing with them, the possibilities are endless. Stay tuned.

This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Security Products pg. 48.
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