What is Physical Access Control?

“Access Granted” — it’s a term seen all over television and movies.

From the retinal scanner in Charlie’s Angels to the comical face scanner in the Fast and the Furious, the phrase “access granted” has long been an action-movie trope.

But access control involves more than some futuristic device made in a Hollywood prop shop. Modern access control is the security barrier protecting a building and its content from the outside. Commercial real estate buildings to co-working spaces, hospitals to schools, and homes to apartments all use access control in one form or another.

This article will help those new to access control understand the basic principles of physical access control.

Two Types of Modern Access Control

Access control falls into two categories: logical and physical.

  • Logical Access Control restricts virtual access to computer networks, files, and data (e.g., you type a login password into your computer).
  • Physical Access Control restricts access to a location. (e.g., you can’t access the breakroom with the Strawberry Pop-tarts and instead settle for the cinnamon-flavored ones in the lobby…gross). Physical Access Control might block access to a building or a server room, a front door, or a back door. The only way to gain access to a secure area is with the proper credentials. These come in forms such as key cards, fobs and, the “new kid on the block,” smartphones.

Though both types of access control serve unique purposes, they often work in tandem. For example, role-based user management systems integrate physical and logical access control.

“How?” you ask. Let’s find out.

How Does Physical Access Control Work?

Imagine your office. Now imagine it without doors and windows. By the end of a week, all your belongings will have disappeared. The problem is it does not have physical access control.

While it may be tempting to secure an office space using a key card, this method leaves the area vulnerable to security risks. Consider these security methods:

  • Door Access Systems range from a lock-and-key system to biometric systems. These are often integrated with logical access control.
  • Video Surveillance Systems: found outside and inside commercial and residential buildings. They frequently integrate with logical access control.
  • Bollard Fencing and Boom Barriers deter unwanted vehicle traffic. Rising bollards are often cylindrically shaped and planted underground. With restricted access, security teams trigger the bollards to mechanically rise.
  • Security Personnel/Human Guards: Catch these guys and gals patrolling parking lots in their security cars or walking the hallways late at night. Hopefully, they aren’t dozing off behind a desk!
  • Bulletproof Glass: single-cost, permanent fixture providing immediate defense. These windows are commonly found in banks.
  • Mantraps: A nickname for quicksand? Not quite. Mantraps are rooms with two interlocking doors situated across from one another. These are common in banks and high-security areas. A person enters through the first door. When that door shuts, it locks and the second door unlocks.

Physical access control could be as simple as a lock and key or as complex as a cloud-based, multi-factor authentication mandatory access control system. The former does not require logical access control, but the latter–and other systems providing higher security—do.

Fun Fact

The earliest known locks date back to 4000 B.C. Archeologists discovered these locks at the Palace of Khorsabad in modern-day Iraq. Though crafted from wood, the principle of these prototypical locks remains the same in modern locks. The only alternative to the wooden locks was to post a guard at the site.

How Logical and Physical Access Control Work Together

Logical access control creates restrictions within the physical area. The most robust security solutions integrate both logical and physical systems.

In a mobile access control system, Administrators begin by logging into a user management system on their computer. They then assign access credentials to personnel–like the new employee, Plain Jane. The administrator determines which doors and access points Plain Jane can enter.

Next, Plain Jane downloads the modern access control mobile key to her smartphone. This software acts as a key, holding her credentials. When she waves her smartphone near the physical receiver located outside a suite or building, a signal gets sent to a controller inside the building or suite. The controller holds the credentials. If the sent information matches the information within the management system, then physical access is granted. Plain Jane accesses the office.

Next time you look to upgrade an access control system, remember, implementing a logical and physical access control system helps achieve the highest level of security and safety.

Wanting more information about physical access security? Book an Access Control demo today.

Subscribe to our blog!

Get the latest news, product updates, and other property tech trends automatically in your inbox.