The Physical Access Control Project Planner

A well planned access control project provides appropriate protection at a reasonable cost with minimum disruption. And if it's poorly run? Expect cost overruns, permitting delays, and a very, very annoyed workforce. An experienced system designer's guide to avoiding common access control errors.

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The procurement phase (if you handle it correctly) ends when you have signed an agreement with a vendor. Now you are ready to start project management of the installation process. You should have a project schedule in place, making sure to send it to the necessary individuals in your organization (most of whom you already involved in the planning stage). It's a good idea to prepare all employees for the presence of installation technicians, as they will likely be running cabling throughout your facility, using power tools, and otherwise marking a definite presence in your building. Cutting door strikes and mounting access control hardware often requires that doors and areas of your facility will be out of use for significant time periods. Keep close contact with the lead technician on the job, as he or she will best know the daily work schedule and can help you to prepare whichever employees and work spaces will be affected during the installation process.

Here are some other pointers that will help you successfully oversee your access control installation:

1. This is a good time to again check on the required permits for your system. Also, if inspections of the final system are required, be sure that the appropriate parties will attend scheduling inspections between employees, contractors, and inspectors can be difficult and can result in failed inspections and loss of time. Calling everyone on the day of the inspection is a good idea. It may seem like overkill, but these meetings get missed far too often to risk another round of scheduling.

2. Be sure to have a well documented project schedule that is followed by your installing contractor. Many contractors will take it for granted that they can pull off of your job if they have a more pressing issue, or are waiting for a part to come in. Unless you are flexible with your installation schedule be sure to be very specific about a project schedule.

3. If your facility or company requires specific conditions for contractors to perform work, be sure to take these into account. Many facilities have long training procedures, clothing requirements such as hard hats, goggles, steel-toed boots and numerous others. I have seen many job kickoffs go immediately south when the installation crew showed up on site and was informed they were non-compliant in one of the above requirements.

4. Check again on the status of the access control database — Be sure that you liaison with the contractor well before the installation is completed to make sure you have gathered the information you need to successfully program the system.

5. Be proactive when it comes to unexpected changes in the installation process. As a security system designer, I know that if I can account for every part and labor unit of an individual job and reduce my margin of error between estimated job cost and final cost to 1% that I am an excellent planner. As I've mentioned throughout, Access Control projects and buildings are organic. Be prepared in your budget and internal processes for the possibility of additional job expenses. If something comes up in the middle of an installation and you need five days to work out getting a Job Rider processed, you may lose five days of productivity and be forced to pull the installation team off the job. Have your contractor provide you with a blank and voided Rider so your appropriate finance and legal individuals can review it, and quickly approve one if needed.

Stage Four: Training and Ongoing System Management

Your system installation is usually defined as complete when the access control database has been programmed, and you have signed off on the system, certifying it as complete.  During this time you will be programming the system and putting it into daily use. Some pointers to help ensure your access control system is setup for reliable and productive use:

1. If possible, start your training by participating in the initial programming of the access control database. Often I see end-users skip this opportunity. You'll have a much stronger familiarity with your access control software if you help build the database. Remember, access control software is sophisticated, even if you have only a handful of employees you're still going to use numerous functions, and have to update the software as employees, schedules, and other events take place.

2. Put in place a database management plan. If you are going to have access control, use it! Take the time to learn to archive your data. Most access control programs can offload their event history to various remote media. Having an accurate and granular audit trail of the events your access system records adds resilience to your organization.

3. Assign a competent employee to manage the access control software. Don't make the mistake of thinking that access control systems run themselves once they are online. While this is true to a certain degree, your system will need a significant amount of almost daily interaction. Issuing cards to new employees, possibly badging them, adding and deleting users, changing schedules and software glitches are all frequent occurrences. Try to select an employee who is reliable, computer savvy, and ideally knows the physical aspects of the system.

4. Get a dedicated computer. If you are planning on pulling that computer out of the closet to run your access control software, you might be unhappy with the results. A computer that meets the minimum specifications of your access control software may still function poorly. While it will seem overpriced, most access control platforms offer preconfigured computers. The advantage of preconfigured systems is that the computer's operating system is set-up in an ideal state for the access control software to properly function. Also, the physical parts of the system are usually uniform, so repair and replacement is more reliable. And finally, a preconfigured system allows the installing company to preload your ACDB, as mentioned above.

Utilizing the pointers and questions of the above access control project stages will enable you to minimize many common issues, reducing project time and cost. Thinking about and planning for the often unexpected aspects of implementing an access control system benefits your organization directly to the bottom line, maximizing the return on your security investment and increasing resiliency, protecting your employees, data, and assets. ##

Jason Cowling has designed and implemented converged security systems for a wide variety of government and private-sector organizations, and has designed enterprise-level access control systems, biometrics, Matrixed CCTV systems, video servers and video analytics, burglar alarm, fire alarm, barrier gates, turnstiles, metal detection, safes and vaults, and building management systems. Send feedback to Editor Derek Slater at dslater@cxo.com.

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