Defining and Differentiating Access Control, Perimeter Security

There seems to be debate among security professionals regarding where access control starts and perimeter security ends. Is access control, for example, just a facet of perimeter security or does it involve something more? Is perimeter security limited to only fences and alarms? A&S Editor Ginny Lu gathered responses from security players to find where they stand, as Senior Editor Brian Asmus drew some conclusions.

Players in the market, said Adam Rosenberg, Vice President of Marketing at Magal Security Systems, are responding to the question of what is access control and what is perimeter security depending on where their comfort zone is. "Perimeter is Intrusion. Access Control is Access Control," stressed Rosenberg. The two terms, he added, mean two entirely different things. "No company that manufactures access control also manufactures perimeter intrusion detection systems and vice versa."

Rosenberg believes that perimeter security is a specific niche in the security market. "It requires unique knowledge to cope with the challenges given. In the perimeter market, you deal not only with catching intruders, but also must consider weather factors that may cause confusion in the control center. Like other market niches, you have different categories with a number of different products." Magal, he noted, has a 40-percent market share of the perimeter intrusion detection market.

"This does fall a bit into a gray area," said Scott Goldfine, Editor-in-Chief, Security Sales & Integration, "but I classify perimeter as the first stage of intrusion security. That is because it works the same way as other intrusion in that it detects a breach and triggers an alarm or alert. Access control always relates to permitting or denying access; it is more interactive than intrusion."

Paul Everett, Senior Research Analyst, IMS Research, agreed. "Perimeter security falls under the alarm area. In Europe, some intrusion manufacturers also manufacture a line of perimeter security products, particularly in Italy." Gallagher Security Management Systems, he noted, makes an integrated access and intrusion panel. Access control products, on the other hand, are proactive. "The products do not allow unwanted visitors access to a building. Intruder alarms are more reactivenot until an unwanted visitor enters a building does the alarm sound. I would definitely put perimeter security under the alarms area."

Perimeter Security: A Castle's Walls

This line of thinking has other adherents. According to John Shih, Editorin- Chief of A&S International, perimeter security can best be envisioned when thinking of a medieval castle. "First, you have the castle walls and moat to keep out intruders," said Shih. "You also have the watchmen who stand guard to make sure that no one swims across the moat or scales the walls. That is what perimeter security is all about."

Then, continued Shih, "You have the drawbridge, which provides access to the castle. You also have guards asking for identification or a password, while scrutinizing what people are bringing in with them, or maybe they are looking for enemy agents. That part is what access control is all about." Naturally, said Shih, today's security players are heavily involved in integrating the two different sectors, but they still remain separate entities.

Wikipedia's definition is roughly similar to that of Shih. "Physical access control can be achieved by a human (a guard, bouncer or receptionist), through mechanical means such as locks and keys, or through technological means such as a card access system. Access control includes authentication, authorization and auditing. It also includes measures such as physical devices, including biometric scans and metal locks, hidden paths, digital signatures, encryption, social barriers and monitoring by humans and automated systems."

Kiri Gray, Public Relations and Marketing Communications Manager at the Br i t i sh Secur i ty Indus t ry Association, seconded this. "We classify perimeter security under physical security equipment. We have a number of perimeter fencing specialists in membership, which all belong to our Physical Security Equipment Section. We do not have official definitions for access control and intruder alarms, but we think of access control as providing ability to control, monitor and restrict movement of people, assets or vehicles in, out and around a building or site."

That is exactly right, said Russ Gager, Senior Editor of SDM Magazine. "We think of perimeter security devices as intrusion. We think of gate access systems as access control. They would be located at places where access is allowed. Wherever access is not allowed, we think the device would be an intrusion device."

The same goes for Mike Parry, Chairman of the BSIA Export Council. "Perimeter security is really not related to access control and should be kept separate. Access control is about controlling access, whereas perimeter security is actually used to prevent access and of course deter, detect and delay intruders." In many instances, he noted, access control and alarms complement each other as perimeter security generally include gates, barriers and other access points that need to be controlled. The two systems are then integrated. "This can include CCTVs and other sensors that form a total integrated system."

A More Encompassing View

For Rachel Neiman, a public relations professional for Agent Vi and other Israeli companies, the definition was slightly different. "Perimeter security is the overall category, with access control as a subcategory of that and intrusion alarm as one of several methods that can be used in perimeter security."

Also thinking in this direction is Sandra Jones, Principal Consultant, Sandra Jones and Company. "Perimeter, in some cases, is treated like a door, which is also part of a perimeter, ergo access control."

Georgia Calaway at the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) incorporated elements of both Neiman's and Shih's view, albeit from a different vantage point. "Perimeter security can be part of both systems depending on the client's needs and circumstances." Access control, she observed, is defined as the control of persons, vehicles and materials through entrances and exists of a controlled area or premises. Perimeter detection, in contrast, is defined as the detection of access to the outer limits of a detection area by means of physical barriers, sensors on physical barriers, or exterior sensors not associated with physical barriers. Finally, intrusion alarm systems are defined as alarm systems that signal entry or attempted entry of a person or an object into the area or volume protected by the system.

Integration Straddles the Fence

Philip Baum, Editor of Aviation Security International, straddled the fence somewhat. First, the more traditional definitions were given credence. "Sometimes, we have two sections: perimeter security, which includes fencing, bollards, barriers, gates, turnstiles and PIDS (perimeter intrusion detection systems), and access control, which tends to focus more on building access control solutions, such as ID cards and biometrics."

If not subdividing the topics, however, he prefers to view perimeter security as access control because "the fences and sensors do just thatthey control access to restricted areas." The problem, as he correctly asserted, is that they all overlap. "You could argue that intelligent CCTV does too! Today, with integrated solutions, everything is becoming much harder to categorize."

And, perhaps, that makes the perfect place to reach a conclusion.
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