From Offline to Wireless

Combining networking options has never been simpler

Why, users ask, must they choose between offline and online solutions? If online, why must they choose between wired and wireless? Why must they isolate technologies when they could choose them all, working under one system with only one database, to provide a holistic security and safety solution?

After all, users seek to deploy the best of the best and have heard about the benefits of emergency lockdown, Wi-Fi, network on a card, mesh networks and all the other new technologies being discussed in the media and at tradeshows.

Users have said they want their electronic locks to integrate seamlessly with their existing software. In addition, they want lock hardware to be as easy to upgrade as its software. The lock itself would provide a migration path to future technology needs, not only protecting the facility but also protecting its investment.

Users could upgrade their locks without ever taking them off the door, saving installation costs. Let’s look at this issue a little closer.

When Standalone Offline Locks Make Sense
Standalone offline locks are a cost-effective way to upgrade from traditional mechanical locking devices. They provide more convenient security than traditional mechanical locking devices, along with:

Audit trail reports that tell you who went where and when;

The options to update users and access rights at the lock using the keypad, authorized credentials or a handheld programming device;

The ability to program automatic lock and unlock times as well as holiday schedules; and

The ability to add and delete users easily, track usage and manage data without installing a facility-wide network.

This gives users more control, allowing them to manage the system more efficiently than they could with a traditional mechanical system. These computer-managed locks are ideal in situations where users may want the convenience of a networked status signal monitoring.

Computer-managed offline locking systems are cost-effective and easy to install because they do not require routing network cables or power wires when retrofitting an existing facility with electronic access control. These standalone, programmable, batterypowered locks are networked through software to provide audit-trail capability and time-based scheduling for restricting access.

Standalone locks, exit trim and offline hard-wired controllers, which manage strikes and magnets, can be programmed using access control software from a laptop or PDA. A variety of credentials, including PIN, magnetic stripe cards, proximity cards and smart cards, can be used with this type of system.

New users, access points and access privileges can be entered into the system in seconds. Users can upload updates to each device via a handheld programmer or programming credential.

Security professionals can become creative and provide a balanced approach to access control with such standalone locking systems. These systems facilitate simplified, uniform access control administration. Multiple openings on a campus or in a building can be managed with a variety of standalone locking solutions that share common access control software, simplifying management by eliminating redundancies associated with managing multiple systems. These battery-powered, standalone locksets and exit trim provide code-compliant-free egress and are easy to retrofit.

The system operator can easily use the system’s software to control both users and access points based on time of day, day of the week, credential needed and period of time. Reports show audit trails retrieved, access privileges granted and time functions established, categorized by either the user or door.

With a PDA, the administrator can open and plug the interface into the locking system right at the door and upload new access instructions to the lock while downloading audits of who has been through the door and when they went through.

Access rights can even be assigned to users by credential and time function, providing the system operator with flexibility to control the flow of people into, through and out of a facility. Selectable functions include time zones, time activation and expiration, auto-unlock time scheduling, first-person-in and holiday scheduling. A variety of reports are available to help manage a facility more efficiently, including audit trail data, access privileges data, and time function schedules by user or door.

Whatever the credential, administrators can perform various functions, including momentary and maintained access, lockout, one time use, supervised and even linked access, in which a code must be used in tandem with a credential, such as at a bank’s ATM.

Linked access reduces the probability of lost or stolen credentials yielding unauthorized access. These computer-managed locking devices can even manage up to 5,000 users per opening, which is useful for those facilities with high turnover.

They will also provide audits on up to the last 5,000 events that occur at the opening.

When Do You Move to Networked Wireless Locks?
In facilities that need increased monitoring and control, a networked solution is essential. Networking provides the ability to instantly change access rights and schedules on a large number of doors, monitor and control the system in real-time, and manage large user databases from one centralized computer.

What are you looking for? In most cases, you will want:

An open-architecture platform that allows for easy integration into virtually any access control or other software system;

Real-time monitoring capability that can inform you of various conditions, such as a low battery or a door held open;

Real-time audit trails that can tell you who went where and when;

A centralized lockdown feature that allows you to secure your facility instantly; and

Configurable fail safe/fail secure and other capabilities per code.

The business case for deploying wireless systems for networked openings is compelling. Installations demonstrate that a wireless solution can have a substantially lower installed cost than an online, hardwired system because wireless systems use less hardware and install five to 10 times faster. They also make it easy to retrofit electronic access control solutions in facilities and applications that have previously held back due to budget constraints or installation limitations.

In addition to providing access control at a door in the form of a wireless lock, organizations can now take advantage of wireless solutions for elevators, gates, exit devices and electric strikes. Importantly, the wireless system easily integrates into all existing access control systems, and customers can continue to use their existing keys or electronic credentials.

Migrating from Standalone to Wireless
It used to be that one would remove the standalone lock and change it out with a wireless lock, preferably one with the same footprint. This would take about an hour or so per door.

Today, it is much easier with modular locking systems, such as the Schlage AD-Series locks.

With interchangeable network modules, you can go from standalone, offline locking to a networked access control system by installing a 900 MHz communication module and upgrading the firmware. After linking the lock to a panel interface module, you can initiate emergency lock/unlock commands throughout the facility when needed and change access rights from a central location.

Furthermore, you can use wireless on those openings where it has been traditionally too expensive or cumbersome to switch over but still use hardwired networked locks where it is most cost effective, all under one system and one database.

“Usually, with WiFi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock five to six times per day versus five to six times per hour with 900 MHz solutions, a 10-minute heartbeat,” said Gary Conley, University of Virginia’s facilities and systems engineer in the office of business operations. “Access control decisions may also be managed within the locks -- as is the case with offline locks -- to minimize communication from the lock to the host and conserve batteries. However, such limited connectivity with the host limits the locks’ ability to receive urgent commands from the host.

For instance, even with a 900 MHz platform, a direction to immediately lock down could be ignored for 10- plus minutes.

“With the AD-Series, a new Schlage patent-pending ‘wake up on radio’ feature works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to 10 seconds and responds. Thus, ten seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown,” Conley said.

The 900 MHz band also enables longer transmission ranges and simplifies system design. Signals with longer wavelengths travel a greater distance and penetrate through and around typical building construction much better than signals with shorter wavelengths.

Pathway as Long, Short as Required
When planning the move from the mechanical world to electronic, networked or wireless locking systems, remember that the transition does not have to take place overnight and that it does not need to be total.

Adding electronic locking systems to access points as time and budgets allow is a sensible migration plan for any organization, no matter how large or small. A large facility may have dozens of doors with varying levels of security needs. A broom closet may be adequately secured with a simple offline lock, while surveillance or computer rooms may demand high-security locks that are integrated with access control systems.

No two facilities are alike; choosing a scalable solution allows users to accommodate a variety of offline and networked needs within the same system.

The right lock system for a given door may be found anywhere along the electronic migration path.

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

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