5 Access Control System Components & How They Work (2024)

You need a solid access control system to help you coordinate traffic flow through your building, report potential security breaches, and log traffic for later review.

Whether you’re using key cards or biometric scanners, you face the basic challenges inherent to any dynamic, context-based system, and you need to know your priorities regarding your security settings.

Access control systems can be tricky to understand, but knowing the components of access control is the first step to securing your business.

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5 Components of an Access Control System 

1. The Server

Your access control system starts with the server. Whether you use an on-site server or rent space on the cloud, the server stores and manages the approved credentials issued to individuals.

This safelist can be updated as needed to reflect changes to your security. The server also stores all entry and exit data, allowing you to retrieve the information for later use.

On-site servers generally have a dedicated terminal and cannot be managed anywhere else. While this is highly secure, installing and maintaining is also more expensive.

A dedicated IT team is generally needed to update the system and ensure everything runs smoothly. You certainly want a more complex system update to make your access control system usable.

Cloud-based access systems like Brivo OnAir skip the on-site server and host the whitelist for you, allowing you to gain access and update your database from anywhere you’ve got a wireless or cellular signal.

Since you’re using their server, you don’t have to worry about managing an IT team either, but you also won’t have the specific level of control over your database you would if you owned your server.

Also, learn more about Access Control Design.

2. Credentials

Credentials can be anything that stores data – PIN codes, proximity or magnetic strip keycards, key fobs, fingerprints, and even smartphones.

Regardless of the format, they should always be unique to the individual. Each credential has a unique ID number assigned to it that will be read by the scanner described below.

For the more security-conscious, it’s best to require more than one of the above credentials to open the door.

Two-factor authentication readers are common, often combining a fingerprint scanner or access card reader with a PIN pad for additional security. The credentials must match not only the whitelist but also each other – using two authenticators from two different people will not open the door.

3. The Reader

Card Readers you will use depends on the kind of credentials you choose. They might be PIN readers, mag strip readers, card insertion, RFID scanners for prox cards, fingerprint scanners, or cellular receivers for a smartphone signal.

All card readers take the scanned credentials and convert their data into Wiegand numbers, a universal protocol readable by all door controllers. Once you input the correct passcode, the card readers will trigger an alert, and you can gain entry.

4. Control Panel or Controller

The control panel or controller is the central hub of your access control system. All your readers are connected directly to the control panel, which compares the Wiegand ID to the whitelist on the server. The controller signals the door to open or unlock if the credentials match.

Because all door controllers read, any door controller can communicate with any reader (barring brand-name incompatibilities).

5. Door Locks

The locks you have hooked up to your door controller largely depend on what kind of doors (electric, magnetic, wood, aluminum, glass doors) you have and your specific security needs.

The best locks for access control systems have electromagnetic plates mounted at the top of the door (electromagnetic locks) – they’re incredibly strong and reliable.

Automatic doors may also be wired into your door controller – instead of just unlocking, they’ll unlock open for approved credentials.

electromagnetic door lock

There are different types of conventional door locks, like everyday cylinder locks and older mortise locks, that you can use to improve your security system. Cylinder electronic door locks are the standard doorknob-and-deadbolt combination used on nearly every house in the United States.

Mortise locks look somewhat similar on the outside, but the mechanism is much larger and set into a hollow in the door instead of through a simple hole. Mortise locks are easier to fit in an access control system and are more secure, but electronic locks can also be added to cylinder locks.

You can install “door forced open alerts” on electric locks of doors in case someone tries to force the electric lock hardware.

How Access Control Systems Works

How access control systems work infographic

Submitting Credentials to Reader

When an individual approaches a secured entry point, they present their credentials, including access cards, key fobs, or biometric information, to a reader device installed near the door. 

The reader captures the credential data and transmits it to the system and central access control panel.

Verification by Control Panel

The control panel, acting as the brain of the access control system, receives the credential data from the reader. It then compares this data against the information stored in the system’s database containing authorized users and their access permissions. 

Access control panels will be used to process the comparison and determine whether the presented credentials are valid.

Access Decision 

Based on the comparison results, the control panel swiftly decides on access. If the presented credentials match those stored in the database, indicating that the individual has permission to enter, the control panel sends a signal to the electronic door lock installed on the door. 

This signal instructs the lock to disengage, allowing the door to unlock and granting the individual user access to the secured area.

Locking or Denial of Access

If the credentials presented by the individual do not match any authorized entries in the database, the control panel denies access. In this scenario, the control panel does not signal the electronic lock, keeping it engaged. As a result, the door will remain locked, preventing entry of an unauthorized person.


Can access control systems be integrated with other security solutions?

Yes, access control systems are highly versatile and can seamlessly integrate with various security solutions such as video surveillance, alarm systems, and visitor management systems. 

This integration enables organizations to create comprehensive ecosystems with enhanced protection and efficiency.

What maintenance is required for access control components?

Regular maintenance of access control components is essential for optimal performance and security. This includes routine checks of electric lock hardware functionality, power supplies, access control software updates to patch vulnerabilities, and ensuring proper configuration settings. 

By staying proactive with maintenance, organizations can ensure the reliability and effectiveness of their access control systems for their building.

How do access control components enhance security?

The basic components of access control play a crucial role in enhancing security by effectively managing and regulating access to premises. 

These features, such as credential verification, audit trails, and real-time monitoring, reduce the risk of unauthorized entry, enhance accountability, and provide valuable insights into every process access control activity. 

You can restrict access or keep the door locked if the credentials do not match the card reader. This contributes to overall improved security posture and risk mitigation efforts. 

Also, in compliance with the building and fire codes, access controllers should grant access in case of emergency. They should not restrict the ability to exit the premises without access cards or a unique code. 

Get Safe & Sound

Now that you understand the components of an access control system and how access control systems work, you’ll need to determine how you want yours set up.

Access control is best installed by professionals. If you’re interested in getting an access control system such as Openpath, KeyscanC•CURE 9000 system, or Paxton access control or want more information, give Safe and Sound Security a call.

We’ve been California’s best local access control system installer for nearly ten years, and we’re eager to share our expertise and experience with you and answer any access control system questions you may have.

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