Physical Access Control Systems: What It Is & How It Works

In today’s world, where security is paramount, ‘physical access control’ is a phrase that echoes in businesses and residential environments alike. Safe and Sound Security specializes in offering top-tier physical access control systems, ensuring that only authorized personnel gain entry to your premises.

It isn’t just about locked doors; it’s about intelligent management of who enters your space, when, and under what conditions. Let’s dive into the world of physical access control and understand how it forms the backbone of modern security.

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What is Physical Access Control?

Physical access control is a critical component of security systems that restrict and manage access to physical spaces like buildings, rooms, or other areas. Its role extends beyond merely controlling entry and exit points.

Physical access control systems protect assets, sensitive information, and, most importantly, people. They work with other security systems, creating a layered approach addressing various security risks.

At the heart of physical access control is ensuring that only authorized persons gain access to specific resources or areas. It is achieved through electronic systems, physical barriers, and security measures, all working together to control physical access efficiently and effectively.

How Does Physical Access Control Work?

Physical Access Control System

The basic working principle of a physical access control system revolves around authentication and authorization. Here’s a simple overview of the process:

  1. User Identification: When a person requesting access approaches an access point, they present their credentials. These can be physical keys, key cards, PIN codes, or biometric identification like fingerprint scanning.
  2. Credential Verification: The access control system verifies the credentials against its database. It could be a local control panel or a cloud-based access control server.
  3. Authorization and Access Granting: Once the credentials are verified, the system checks the access rights and levels associated with the user. If the person is authorized, the system grants access by unlocking the door or removing other physical barriers.
  4. Record Keeping: The system logs every instance of access, whether granted or denied. This data can be crucial for managing access patterns, identifying security breaches, and enhancing overall security measures.
  5. Integration with Other Systems: Physical access control systems often work with other security systems like surveillance cameras, alarm systems, and visitor management systems to provide a comprehensive security solution.

Interested in implementing a robust physical access control system? Contact us for a free quote and let our experts help you fortify your premises against unauthorized access.

Key Components of a Physical Access Control System

A physical access control system is a sophisticated security measure designed to protect physical spaces by controlling access points. Let’s break down its key components, each playing a vital role in ensuring the security of your premises.


Readers are devices installed at access points to read a user’s credentials. These can be in various forms, such as card readers that scan key fobs or key cards, biometric readers for fingerprint scanning or facial recognition, and keypad readers for PIN codes. The choice of reader depends on the level of security required and the type of credentials used in the system.

Control Panel

The control panel is the central hub of a physical access control system. It communicates with the readers to receive credential data, decides if access should be granted, and sends commands to lock or unlock doors. Control panels also log all access attempts, providing valuable data for security teams and system administrators. They can be standalone systems or part of a larger network in more complex installations.

Identifying Credentials

Credentials are the physical or digital means by which the system verifies a user’s identity. These can range from traditional physical credentials like keys or key cards to more advanced options like RFID technology and biometric identifiers. Multi-factor authentication, which requires multiple forms of verification, is becoming increasingly common in high-security areas, providing an additional layer of security.

Access Points

Access points are the physical locations where access control is enforced, such as doors, turnstiles, or gates. Each access point is equipped with a reader and a locking mechanism controlled by the access control system. The system ensures that only authorized users can pass through these points, creating a physical barrier against unauthorized entry.

Access Control Server

The access control server acts as the system’s brain, managing access control software and databases that store access levels, user attributes, and credential data. It processes the information received from the control panel to make access decisions.

The server might be part of a more extensive computer network in more sophisticated setups, allowing for remote management and integration with other security systems, like logical access control and surveillance systems.

Incorporating these components into a physical access control security system helps ensure that access is granted only to authorized persons, thereby enhancing the overall security of your facility. For a tailored solution that meets your specific needs, consider consulting with experts like Safe and Sound Security.

Our team can help you choose the right elements for your physical security access control system, ensuring maximum protection for your premises.

Authentication & Authorization Methods

Man Opening a door

Authentication and authorization are crucial in any physical access security system. These methods verify a user’s identity and determine whether they have the access privileges required to enter a specific physical space. Let’s explore some of the common methods used.


Biometrics authentication involves recognizing unique physical characteristics of an individual, such as fingerprints, facial features, or iris patterns. This method offers a high level of security, as biometric data is unique to each person and difficult to duplicate. Biometrics is often used in high-security areas where identity verification needs to be precise and reliable.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps are increasingly being used for access control. Users can use their smartphones as a physical credential, gaining access through an app. This method is convenient and offers flexibility, as it can be easily integrated with other systems on the network. Mobile apps can also provide additional features like remote access management, making them popular in modern access control systems.

Key Fobs or Key Cards

Key fobs and key cards are common physical credentials used in access control systems. They contain electronic systems communicating with readers at access control points to grant or deny entry.

Key fobs and cards are portable, easy to use, and can be programmed with specific access levels for each user, making them ideal for diverse environments.

Access Control Points

Access control points are the physical locations where the access control system regulates entry to a secured area. These points include gates, doors, and turnstiles, each serving as an authority barrier to control entry and exit.

Gates, Doors, & Turnstiles

  • Gates: Often used as the primary entry point in outdoor settings or large premises. They can be automated and integrated with a gate access control system to allow only authorized vehicles and individuals to enter.
  • Doors: The most common access control point, doors can be equipped with electronic locks and readers. When an authorized person presents their credentials, the door unlocks, granting access. In contrast, an unauthorized person will find the door remains securely locked.
  • Turnstiles: These are used in high-traffic areas to control pedestrian flow. They provide a physical barrier and are often combined with credential readers. Turnstiles prevent tailgating, where an unauthorized person follows an authorized person into a restricted area.

Each of these access control points plays a vital role in the overall functionality of a physical access security system. They help ensure that only authorized individuals enter secured areas, thus protecting resources and maintaining safety.

If you’re looking to enhance the security of your premises, Safe and Sound Security can provide expert advice and solutions tailored to your needs. Contact us for a free quote to explore the best options for your physical access control requirements.

Types of Physical Access Control Systems

Discretionary Access Control (DAC)

In DAC systems, access control lies with the owner or administrator of the protected system. They can decide who can access specific resources based on user credentials. DAC is often used in environments where flexibility is needed and where a central figure or group can manage authority barriers.

Mandatory Access Control (MAC)

MAC is more rigid compared to DAC. This system’s resource access is based on information clearance and is classified into levels. This type of control is commonly used in military and government facilities where access needs to be strictly regulated and controlled.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

RBAC assigns access based on the role of an individual within an organization. It simplifies management by allowing network administrators to control access for groups of users rather than individuals. It is effective in corporate offices and large organizations where roles clearly define access needs.

Rule-Based Access Control

Rule-based access control systems grant or deny access based on defined rules. These rules can be based on various criteria like time of day, transaction type, or other conditions. This system is often used with other access control systems to enhance security.

Implementing Physical Access Control in Different Settings

Opening Door Using Mobile Phone
  • Corporate Offices: RBAC systems are prevalent here, facilitating access based on employee roles. Access to specific areas like server rooms or executive suites is often controlled by additional security measures such as biometric verification.
  • Government Buildings: These typically use MAC systems due to their stringent security requirements. Access is tightly controlled and closely monitored, often integrating key fobs and biometric systems for enhanced security.
  • Data Centers: These facilities require robust security due to the sensitive data stored. It often includes a combination of RBAC and rule-based systems, with strict protocols for accessing server rooms and critical infrastructure. Data center solutions also incorporate advanced monitoring and redundancy measures to ensure continuous operations and data integrity.

Integration with Other Security Systems

Physical access control systems are not standalone security solutions. They are most effective when integrated with other security systems:

  • Surveillance Systems: CCTV cameras can be synced with access control points to monitor and record who accesses what areas and when. This integration is crucial in identifying unauthorized attempts or security breaches.
  • Alarm Systems: In case of unauthorized access or security breaches, integrated alarm systems can immediately alert security guards and relevant authorities, providing an additional layer of security.
  • Electronic Systems and Computer Networks: Access control systems often comprise a broader network. Integration with computer networks allows centralized control and monitoring through an access control dashboard, streamlining security management and response.

In any setting, implementing a physical access control system requires careful planning and consideration of the existing infrastructure and security needs.

Safe and Sound Security specializes in providing tailored solutions that integrate seamlessly with your existing security measures. For a consultation on your facility’s best physical access system, contact us for a free quote.

Benefits of Modern Physical Access Control Systems

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Enhanced Security & Reduced Risk of Unauthorized Access

These systems are designed to prevent unauthorized people from gaining access to restricted areas. Features like electronic system verification, key fobs, and other physical barriers provide a robust defense against intrusions, significantly reducing the risk of security breaches.

Improved Monitoring & Reporting Capabilities

Modern systems have advanced monitoring tools that track and record access events. They provide detailed reports on who accessed what area and when enabling efficient tracking and auditing of movements within a physical space.

Challenges & Considerations

While physical access control systems are vital for security, they come with challenges and considerations.

System Breaches & Technical Failures

The risk of system breaches [1], either through hacking or technical failures, is a concern. Regular system updates and maintenance are required to ensure these systems remain secure and functional.

Privacy & User Convenience

Balancing security with privacy and user convenience is essential. Overly complex systems can be inconvenient for users and may infringe on privacy rights. Finding a system that provides security without being overly intrusive is important.

How To Choose the Right Physical Access Control System


Choose a system that can grow with your needs. Scalability is crucial, especially for businesses that may expand their physical space or increase their workforce.

Security Level

The level of security required will vary depending on the nature of the secured space. For instance, high-security areas may require systems with biometric authentication, while less sensitive areas might only need key card access.


The system should be easy for authorized users to operate. Complicated systems can lead to user errors, which can compromise security.

Compatibility with Existing Infrastructure

The new system should integrate seamlessly with your current security infrastructure. It includes compatibility with any electronic systems and physical barriers already in place.

Physical Access Control vs Logical Access Control

Physical access control and logical access control are two sides of the security coin:

  • Physical Access Control: This pertains to securing the physical premises, like buildings and rooms, ensuring that only authorized individuals can enter or exit.
  • Logical Access Control: This relates to digital security, controlling who can access computer networks, systems, and data.

Both forms of access control are necessary in today’s security landscape. While they operate in different realms, the ultimate goal is the same: protecting assets, information, and people from unauthorized access.

A well-designed physical access control system is a cornerstone of modern security strategy. Safe and Sound Security can help you navigate these options to find a system that meets your security needs, respects user privacy, and integrates with your existing infrastructure. For expert advice and a free quote, contact us today.


What is the most common physical access control?

The most common type of physical access control system is card access control, often using key fobs or key cards. These systems are widely used due to their ease of use, affordability, and effectiveness in controlling who is granted access to different areas.

What are the physical barriers to access control?

Physical barriers in access control include locked doors, turnstiles, gates, and barriers. These barriers prevent unauthorized entry and are often controlled electronically by the access control system, ensuring that only authorized individuals can bypass them.

Can physical access control be integrated with other security systems?

Yes, physical access control systems can seamlessly integrate with other security systems, such as surveillance cameras, alarm systems, and fire control systems. This integration enhances overall security by providing a comprehensive approach to safeguarding a property’s physical and electronic aspects.

What are the latest technological advancements in physical access control?

Recent advancements in physical access control include biometric authentication, mobile-based access control, and the integration of AI [2] for smarter access management. These technologies offer improved security, user convenience, and enhanced control over access points.

How does physical access control enhance overall security?

Physical access control enhances overall security by ensuring only authorized persons can enter secure areas. It prevents unauthorized access, reduces the risk of theft or sabotage, and maintains a record of entries and exits, which is crucial for security monitoring and response.

In Summary

Physical access control systems are essential in ensuring the security and safety of your premises. They restrict unauthorized entry and integrate with other security measures to provide a complete security solution.

At Safe and Sound Security, we specialize in installing and integrating top-of-the-line physical access systems tailored to your unique needs.

Are you interested in enhancing your property’s security? Contact us today for a free consultation and let us help you secure what matters most.



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