The Ins and Outs of Physical Access Control

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of a few basic mechanical and electronic access control systems.

Contact smart cards incorporate a micro processor that carry a great deal of information such as medical records and can be used in interactive ways that allow information to be updated and exchanged. These cards are expensive and prone to ware from the reader contact required to power and access the processor.

Proximity Card Advantages:

  • Can be stand alone or networked
  • Cards are simple and low cost
  • Difficult to duplicate
  • Can be immediately deleted from system if lost or stolen
  • No rekeying costs
  • Can be programmed with access windows restricting access days and hours
  • Can allow automatic lock down, saving lock-up man hours while increasing security
  • Can include features to detect doors left ajar and unauthorized entry
  • Cannot be picked
  • Long term cost is low


  • Can shared with or used by unauthorized persons
  • Initial installation cost can be high


  • Recommended for all high security and perimeter door application
  • Recommended for all high security or core asset applications

Biometric Devices

Biometric devices measure some aspect of the individual user to confirm their identity.  These can include iris scan, fingerprint scan, facial recognition, hand geometry and now even scent. This is a rapidly developing field with ongoing improvements and breakthroughs. Currently, the downside of these devices has been reliability as a primary access control measure. The current best practice limits these devices to the roll of access verification. When a card credential is presented to a reader, the biometric device can confirm that the person requesting entry matches the biometric data stored in the system or the card.

License Plate Recognition

License Plate Recognition or (LPR) systems combine a specialized video camera with software that can read the letters and numerals and compare them with a data base. They have been used effectively in parking structure applications. They have also been used for patrol applications to assist in identifying stolen or lost vehicles.

Radio Frequency Devices

Radio Frequency Devices (RFID) have a wide variety of applications. These range from simple garage door type access applications to gates and garages to anti theft applications that protect campus equipment. One important advance in the technology allows these systems to be used to allow gate access to emergency responders by having them key their police or fire frequency radios in close proximity to a receiver.

About the Author


Jim Grayson is a senior security consultant. His career spans more than 35 years in law enforcement and security consulting. He worked for UCLA on a workplace violence study involving hospitals, schools and small retail environments and consulted with NIOSH on a retail violence prevention study.Grayson’s diverse project experience includes schools, universities, hospitals, municipal buildings, high-rise structures and downtown revitalization projects. He holds a degree in criminal justice and a CPP security management credential from ASIS. He is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on a wide range of security topics.He can be reached at Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

Read More Articles Like This… With A FREE Subscription

Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!

Get your free subscription today!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety HQ