Query the Access Control Expert

Oct. 27, 2008
Disaster Planning

Starting with the Access System
How do I prepare my customers’ access control systems for power failures, storms and disasters?

A: The overall disaster plan for your customers should include their security, access control and any other system that depends on electricity. It needs to take in other factors as well. A proper plan can be developed by asking and answering several questions.

In regard to access control, for instance, what happens when the AC power fails to the system? In some cases building codes or the requirements of the local authority having jurisdiction may mean that the electric locks will unlock as soon as the AC power is lost. If this is the case, you will need a contingency plan to deal with unlocked doors. If your plan is to secure the doors with guards, keep in mind that other duties may prevent them from staying at the doors full time until the power is restored. If codes and local requirements allow you to use battery power to operate the doors, you will need to calculate the power requirements of the locks and make sure you provide batteries with enough amp hours to keep the doors locked. If you need to be sure that a door operates without power, you should use fail secure locks, which lock when power is removed, along with appropriate mechanical releases.

Another critical part of the plan is on site and remote backup of data. In the event of damage to on-site data such as authorized card holders, schedules and a record of events, you will need to be able to restore it quickly in order to get it back in operation quickly.

There are other considerations you can include in the plan which do not necessarily fall under your responsibility as the service provider of electronic security. Doing so, however, shows you are concerned about the overall company and the well being of its staff. If a customer’s disaster plan requires personnel to remain on site, for example, that company will need to provide appropriate relief staff, provisions for food and water, first aid, space for sleeping and several means of communication. Make certain the customer has a prearranged list of who stays— with home and cell contact numbers for all personnel.

If you are using a backup generator as a part of the customer’s plan, you need to make sure that on-site personnel are trained on how to start or restart the generator and to disconnect it when power is restored. The plan should include what the required amount of fuel is for the generator to be on site.

Hurricane Katrina is a wake-up call. One of the most critical parts of the plan is how it adapts to changing circumstances. Your plan should anticipate what happens if circumstances take a turn for the worse and personnel on site are out of communication with off-site management. Your plan should also allow for the possibility that power, water and communication systems may be disrupted.

For more information on an overall plan, review the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS) Business Continuity Guideline: www.asisonline.org/guide lines/guidelinesbc.pdf.

Brad Shipp is a former Executive Director and Training Director for the NBFAA where he authored several NTS courses, including the Access Control Certification course. His involvement in the access control industry dates back to 1974 and, in 1986, he became an instructor for the NBFAA National Training School. Shipp has served on several law enforcement, regulatory and industry association boards and has been honored for his service by the False Alarm Reduction Association and the International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators. Send in your access control questions to [email protected].