Port of Dover Installs Secure Access Control

The harbor at Dover has been in constant use for cross-channel traffic since the Bronze Age, with a lighthouse built by the Romans still visible on the cliffs to the east of town. Dover Harbour Board was established by King James I in 1606 and is...


The harbor at Dover has been in constant use for cross-channel traffic since the Bronze Age, with a lighthouse built by the Romans still visible on the cliffs to the east of town. Dover Harbour Board was established by King James I in 1606 and is responsible for the administration, maintenance and improvement of the harbor at Dover.

As northern Europe's largest passenger ferry and cruise port, and one of the world's busiest drive-on, drive-off terminals, Dover now handles around 2.6 million cars, 14.7 million passengers, 1.8 million freight vehicles and some 19 million tons of freight per annum. It supports 6,700 jobs in port operations, processing and regulatory authorities and 3,000 jobs in indirect supplier businesses, and it has approximately 60,000 staff, all requiring access to port facilities throughout the year.

The Old System
One of the main points of entry into and exit from the United Kingdom, the Port of Dover requires an effective access control system to assist with border security. To this end it has two security zones: the restricted zone and the controlled zone. The restricted zone is an area within the docks next to the sea. People allowed within it are the travelling public, whose tickets for sailings act as passes, and staff working directly with ships or their cargo. The controlled zone is for office staff and others with legitimate business in the docks.

Passes are the primary means of access control, and these are presented to readers at the gates. The previous access control system was mostly built from off-the-shelf components, with the exception of the software required to operate the gate controllers. The system consisted of pedestrian turnstiles both full height and waist level, and swing-arm vehicle barriers triggered by reading a pass or by signals from transponders mounted on vehicles that are read as the vehicle passes over a loop in the road. In the offices there were magstripe readers and keypad locks. This technology was aging quickly, however. Some parts were getting hard to source, and the growing port now had additional security requirements. So the decision was taken to review the access control system.

A project team was appointed under the leadership of Nigel Shepherd, for Feasibility, and Debbie Lawther, for Implementation, which set about talking to people who used the system, the pass issuers and staff on the gates of the restricted zones, as well as to other stakeholders including ferry operators and statutory authorities who employ the staff who work in the port. The new system had to meet ICT technical standards, carry forward the good features of the old system and improve on them, whilst eliminating the more problematic aspects of the old system. Since most access readers were located outside, exposed to the elements, the first requirement was to minimize electro-mechanical components, which were expensive to maintain. The continual swiping of cards through the indoor readers was fast wearing out the cards, and the keypad door locks in the offices had become inconvenient. The security code was changed on a regular basis as the best available measure of security, but that meant visiting each door each time the code was changed. There were similar maintenance problems with the vehicle barriers and pedestrian turnstiles outside.

The Pass Office was responsible for all permanent passes under the old access system, but gate staff could also issue visitor passes, which could delay traffic. A primary requirement for the new system, therefore, was to centralize all pass issuing in one place.

While the old permanent passes showed the image of the pass holder, the more than 48,000 visitor passes issued each year had no such image. They identified the holder as a legitimate visitor, but nothing more. The decision was taken to have pass holder images on all passes. Then there were freight and coach drivers, and drivers of regular supplier vehicles. These people make repeated visits to the port but do not qualify for permanent passes, so the port needed to find a better way of dealing with their access.

This content continues onto the next page...