What Is Access Control and Why Do You Need It?

By September 20, 2022 February 17th, 2023 Blog

What Is Access Control and Why Do You Need It?

In the security industry, we get asked the question “what is access control?” a lot. 

If you’re looking to harden your residential or commercial security, access control is an important concept to understand. We wrote this article to clarify the term and clear up any doubts you may have.

What Is Access Control?

In broad terms, there are two types of access control: physical access control and cyber access control. For the purposes of this article, we will only be discussing the physical variety, as we are in the physical security profession.

Physical access control is a term that refers to the practice of creating barriers that prevent unauthorized people from entering certain physical spaces.

Access control can take many forms, including locked doors (accessible with a key, key card, or code), security gates, turnstiles, and physically present security personnel or other authority figures.

The goal of these controlled access points is to allow only people with the proper credentials to pass beyond them.

What is access control used for?

Access control points have many different day-to-day uses. A turnstile manned by venue staff taking tickets at a concert is an example, as is a locked employee entrance to an office that requires a key card to get through.

Access control is an important part of any security plan, as it controls the flow of people in and out of facilities through key entrances. 

Any non-public building should employ controlled access to mitigate the threats of theft and more serious crimes, such as violent attacks by active shooters.

Types of facilities that can benefit the most from access control systems:

  • Schools
  • Office buildings and campuses
  • Employee-only areas of retail stores and other facilities
  • Government buildings
  • Financial institutions
  • Hospitals
  • Any other high-security facilities or areas of buildings

Depending on the type and size of the facility, it may have one or many access control points. They might be controlled in different ways, too. 

For example, the main entrance may have a security guard who buzzes people in, and there may be multiple other controlled access points that require people to use a key card or enter a numeric code to get through.

Access Control and Fenestration Security Go Hand in Hand

Fenestration security refers to security in terms of a building’s doors, windows, and other openings. Since access control deals with controlling who goes in and out of a facility or certain areas within a facility, it is a key component of any fenestration security plan.

However, controlled access entryways are nothing without other physical barriers to forced entry. We’re referring specifically to security glazing that prevents would-be intruders from simply breaking a pane of glass in a door or window to gain access to a building.

How to improve fenestration security using retrofit security glazing

If you’re implementing access control points on your property, you should also reinforce all vulnerable windows and doors with retrofit security glazing, ideally using polycarbonate glazing.

Polycarbonate security glazing can be retrofitted into or onto almost any existing framing system, typically without needing to remove or replace any of the existing glass.

This glazing looks and feels very much like traditional window glass, but it creates an invisible, virtually unbreakable barrier over the existing glass to protect it from all types of impacts.

When used in tandem with controlled access entry points, retrofit security glazing can help you achieve extremely high levels of physical security against a full range of threats.

Retrofit security glazing plus access control protects against:

If a would-be intruder of any kind attempts to gain unlawful entry to your facility, their attempts to pass through an access controlled entrance or a security-glazed window will be met with frustration.

How can you get started with installing access control points and security glazing?

For any retrofit security system implementation, the first step is always to start with a threat assessment.

A threat assessment is a special type of consultation with a security expert. This expert does a full walkthrough analysis of your property to identify vulnerabilities in its security and make professional recommendations on how to fix them.

Specifically, a threat assessment will provide you with actionable steps you can take to improve your building’s security by reinforcing specific windows and doors with security glazing and making certain entrances access controlled.

What To Look for in Access Control Systems

If you’re shopping around for new physical access control systems, there are a few different things to keep in mind.

For starters, you should decide what type of credentials you want people to use to pass your controlled access points. Key card systems work well for most applications, and are relatively budget-friendly.

But, keep in mind that key cards tend to wear out or get lost, and thus need to be replaced fairly frequently. Not only that, but a lost keycard can pose a security threat if it falls into the wrong hands.

Another option you have is to use mobile access control credentials, which allow people to use their smartphones to enter and exit spaces. These systems typically have multi-factor authentication built in, and smartphones are less likely to get lost.

If it’s in your budget, manned access control points, especially at principal entrances, are one of the most secure solutions you can choose.

Whatever physical access control system you select, keep in mind the type of maintenance and management it will require. 

Legacy access control systems that use on-site readers and servers are reliable and secure, but they often require on-site maintenance and management. 

For a more convenient option, consider cloud-based access control systems, which can be maintained and managed from anywhere.


At Campbell Window Film, LLC, we are authorized dealers and installers of industry leading security glazing products. We can help you get started with a security system retrofit by scheduling a threat assessment. Contact us today for your free consultation.