Tallying the Pros and Cons of Standalone Access Control Readers
While standalone devices may be more cost-effective for the business to install, they aren’t the right fit for all applications.
When it comes to securing a facility, there are many methods and technologies available to end-users. Solutions such as mechanical locksets, varying types of access control card readers and biometric readers are all useful; however, some may be more appropriate than others, depending on the application. Understanding the pros and cons of the available access control technologies, combined with the facility’s specific needs, will assist risk managers, business owners and facility managers in making more informed business decisions for their site and allotted budget.
Standalone or “offline” access control readers have emerged as a viable option for many organizations needing to secure a facility. Standalone access control readers, like the one shown in Figure 1, are different from typical “online” readers. Offline readers are not wired back to an access control panel, nor are they connected to or controlled over a network. Instead, these readers are programmed locally and internally record and store an audit of door access history data. This data can be retrieved at a later time by manually connecting to the reader using a handheld gateway device. Therefore, real-time programming and monitoring of these readers is not possible. Although a lack of real-time programming and monitoring may render this type of reader difficult to utilize for certain organizations, there are applications which fit specific users’ needs. Standalone readers often provide a cost effective, architecturally sensitive, and viable access control solution. Below are some of the pros and cons that are associated with standalone readers which can help in making the right decision when considering their use.
Pros of Standalone Readers
Installation Cost Savings
A standalone access control reader is, as the name implies, a standalone device. This means that all of the parts and smarts are within the device at the door and are not distributed across the site. This results in a reduction of costs otherwise associated to cabling, conduit and increased installation or labor costs. For some environments, such as independent stores or schools which may have lower budget allocations for security, these cost savings are often the number one reason standalone readers are selected over a fully networked access control system.
Architecturally Sensitive or Inaccessible Spaces
There are times when running cabling and conduit are simply not feasible or permissible, such as within a historic building. In existing buildings, there may not be room for access control panels (Figure 2) or monitoring equipment to be mounted or stored. Also, penetrating existing door frames to install cabling for access control readers, door position switches, and electronic locks may be unacceptable or not practicable.
If a door’s fire rating or UL listing is compromised as a result of being penetrated, the door may need to be replaced to meet code requirements, thus resulting in further costs. In instances such as these, standalone readers may be the most viable and cost effective option.
Facilities with Few Access Control Points
If a facility has only a few doors that require access control, as opposed to a large site such as a hospital or airport, the use of standalone readers may be the practical solution. A facility with a couple of secured doors may only have a few users that require access control rights. These few readers can be programmed and updated relatively easily when a user is no longer employed at the facility or when a new one is added. When a site has only a few doors requiring access control, and there are no plans for further expansion of the access system, money can be saved; the cost for a few card readers can be thousands of dollars less than the alternative (i.e., a network-based system).
Cons of Standalone Readers
Lack of Real-Time Monitoring
Standalone readers offer the ability to review access history data only after a potential incident has occurred, not during one. The staff at the site will not be able to see when a controlled door has been forced open or if an unauthorized person has attempted to gain access. Due to this lack of real-time monitoring and response capabilities, standalone readers may not be the most effective solution for all end users, specifically those that require high-security applications (e.g., banks, casinos, hospitals, etc.).
Unable to Make Universal Updates
Access control user rights and other information cannot be universally updated across all readers when standalone devices are utilized. Should an employee leave the company, be terminated, or simply need their access rights to be updated, it would require a manual update of each of the readers. This task can be cumbersome and time-consuming if there are a large number of readers installed at the site. In fact, some organizations may see this task as too burdensome and choose to leave former employee user rights programmed within the readers, creating the potential for unauthorized access if the former employee still has their credential. Similarly, when software and firmware updates become available for the access control system, this would also require a manual update of each reader rather than being able to push it through the network when utilizing a system with online readers.
Reader Battery Life
Although the recurring cost of replacing batteries may not be seen as costly for most organizations, what must be accounted for is the time required to replace batteries at each reader. If there are only a few readers installed, this would not be much to consider; however, if there are a large number of devices, it will take some time to replace all of the batteries when they are in need of changing. Additionally, if batteries are not changed prior to their end-of-life, access controlled spaces may become vulnerable if the readers are set to fail safe, as the devices no longer have power. Since networked access control readers are powered by the panels or another power supply, battery life cycles are of no concern.
Inability to Perform Automatic Lockdown
Due to the nature of standalone devices, the ability to perform a lockdown of all access controlled doors does not exist. Since the readers cannot be controlled from a head-end monitoring point or over a network, the readers will only perform as they were last programmed to do. Much like updating user rights, making universal changes to all readers (e.g., updating a lock/unlock schedule) is not possible.
Standalone access control readers do have a niche within the security marketplace. What is critical for them to be effective and meet the needs of the end user is the understanding of appropriate applications. There are business owners and facility managers that have smaller sites and reduced access control needs. As a result, they can save their organization time and money by implementing standalone readers when their use is suitable. Understanding the security needs of the facility, as well as understanding the positive features and drawbacks of these security devices, is the most important step one can take prior to making a decision regarding online vs. offline access control readers.