In this article, Jon Cole, chief operating officer of Secured by Design, the national police crime prevention initiative, looks at how visitor and access control systems can keep tenants safe in blocks of flats while providing landlords and the police with an unprecedented opportunity to investigate system misuse.
Having a way of controlling who can enter blocks of flats is of crucial importance to the safety of the residents who live there, especially those who are elderly and vulnerable.
Access by unwanted intruders gaining entry by simply pressing the trade or residents’ buttons until a trusting or exasperated occupant buzzes them in significantly increases the risk of burglary, arson, criminal damage, drug dealing and use, and all kinds of anti-social behaviour. Such crimes can be difficult to investigate due to the lack of evidence.
The modern twist to this problem is the hiring of privately-owned luxury apartments for short city breaks via online companies which has resulted in press reports of them being misused for parties, resulting in criminal damage and anti-social behaviour.
Technology, in the form of visitor and access control systems, incorporating video monitoring, can play a significant part in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. The police can now work with the housing provider to gather data and images that could be vital in bringing those responsible before the courts.
Secured by Design (SBD) looked at many of London’s toughest estates when drawing up recommendations to protect flats and apartment blocks, which are contained in ‘SBD Homes 2016’ standards (www.securedbydesign.com/industry-advice-and-guides).
The main focus for the police was the front door or the communal entrance doorset and restricting unlawful movement within the block, known as compartmentalisation. The objective was to allow residents and their visitors unrestricted access to those areas they have permission to be in, while keeping the opportunist criminals and undesirable callers outside the building.
How systems work
Access-control and door-entry systems have two connecting, but different, functions. The door-entry call panel mounted at the building’s communal entrance manages the visitors to a multiple dwelling premises. The visitor calls the flat for the resident to permit or decline access. The resident will use an audio or video phone, the latter allowing the resident to see who is calling before they speak to them. The access-control reader, usually mounted within a call panel, manages the residents’ entry. The resident would offer a key fob to a reader and may also have to enter a code to gain entrance to the building. Until recently, key fobs will have been programmed at the access control unit in the building by a key management company. However, the most sophisticated access control systems are now cloud based so that key fob management and reporting may be done remotely via PC, tablet or mobile phone.
SBD Police Preferred Specification requirements
- 5-25 dwellings/bedrooms: a visitor door-entry system with access to the building using a restricted electronic key fob, card or key, remote release of the primary-entrance doorset from the dwelling or bedroom, and audio and visual communication between the occupant and visitor (with colour monitors recommended over black/white to help the occupier describe the caller and their clothing to police, if needed).
- More than 25 dwellings/bedrooms: as above, but also a vandal-resistant external door-entry panel with an integral camera, being able to record images in colour of people using the door-entry panel, battery back-up of the resident entry features of the system in the event of a power failure for up to six hours, unrestricted egress from the building in the event of an emergency or power failure, entry-system events for both visitors and residents stored for 30 days.
- Tradesperson release mechanisms are not permitted.
- The above systems are not normally required for developments of four dwellings or fewer.
SBD and UL 293 standard
Installers of door-entry and access-control systems should be aware of standard UL 293; ‘Outline of Investigation for Access Control Units intended for use in the UK’, which was produced by UL, a global standards and certification body, after a three-year collaboration. This allows access- and door-control units to be tested to the same level of attack as the door, but supplied separately to the door, allowing greater choice of system without compromising security. The standard was born out of US version UL 294, which looked at the electrical safety of access control systems. SBD added security, attack testing, such as keypad resilience, and the need for management information.
Movement within the building (compartmentalisation)
Access-control systems can also be used to curtail unlawful free movement through the building. This could be achieved by a combination of access controls and dedicated doorsets using a proximity reader, swipe card or key. These measures will prevent unauthorised access from the lift, from the stairwell and fire egress stairwell to communal corridors while providing residents with access to the floors they require.
Fire service access
It is vital to enable the fire service to have unrestricted access to all floors in an emergency. To facilitate such access, the police and fire services have collaborated to create a secure emergency-access protocol. This involved the siting of a secure external box near the main entrance of the building (and other locations in larger developments) with a fire-fighters’ switch inside. The box is accessed via a secure restricted lock (with the keys carried on the fire tender). Once the switch is operated, the access- or door-control system is rendered safe (open). This includes all internal compartmental doorsets within the system. The box itself should be certificated to a minimum of STS 202 BR2.
Activity/alarm monitoring and management data
One of our member companies, Entrotec, specialists in door-entry solutions, reports that there is huge scope for obtaining management data. When a system is scaled up over a number of doors, it is often linked to a computer-based or web-based programme to allow greater control over the system and for extra information. Usage reports should be available to show which flats are called, or which fobs are used, frequently or infrequently, and even show the ‘state’ of any given door (e.g. whether it has been forced open or wedged open), and who has entered or exited the building. It should be possible to send alarms for both user and system events, which may be reported with the option of predetermined alerts being sent out using SMS or email.
Jon Cole is chief operating officer of Secured by Design.