The Codes Behind Access Control

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Mar 27, 2013

In Electronic Access Control, there is one basic rule: Life safety above all else. While simple, this rule often appears to be at odds with the purpose of the system; keeping an area secure. When combined with the huge number of building opening possibilities, the basic rules quickly grow complex. Addressing the potential variations is the job of Codes, or 'design guidelines' adopted as law. In this note, we look at the major codes dictating access control work (including NFPA101, NFPA72, and IBC), discussing what these codes mean in practice, and how to best avoid issues when designing systems.

This reading has been updated in April 2016 to reflect updated code references.

The Major References

While a substantial number of codes are in use worldwide, most local authorities and municipal codes draw intent from a select two or three references. For access control, those references are:

  • NFPA101: The official 'Life Safety Code' is the most widely used source to protect people based on building construction, protection, and occupancy ratings.
  • NFPA72: Created for for Fire Alarms, this code is sometimes cited in electronic access control because of the special integration required between the door locks and the fire alarm system.
  • IBC: The International Building Code, as published by the International Code Council, is the essential guidebook for designing and engineering safe buildings. If not observed directly as the authority, then whatever resulting codes that do have authority take guidance from the source.

Because they are the highest default authorities, if no other codes are cited they become the defacto regulations governing access control in the US.

Not Everyone Agrees

Because many other codes, especially locally exempted or municipal codes, are ratified for use by AHJs, the first priority of an access control designer is to establish which authority to observe for a given project. While checking Jurisdictional Adoption is a critical first step, confirming the full scope of rules for access with the AHJ is the most important measure to take.

However, even if verbiage differs, the intent is the same: life safety must be preserved. In no circumstances, whether in normal operation, emergency condition, or even equipment malfunction, can a door prevent an occupant from escaping the premises. In most cases, free egress is preserved by the mechanical hardware configuration, but it cannot be hindered by the addition of electronic access. For every lock, there must be a mechanical or physical override. Because of this, exit devices and Request to Exit hardware are essential devices for most access systems.

Specific codes and regulations depend on 'occupancy rating' and what is permissible for one type may be illegal in another. In many cases 'one size does not fit all', and each project and system may vary depending on the facility's occupancy use classification.

Because occupancy classifications determine how codes define access, the end result to the uninformed designer or installer can appear to be akin to 'hitting a moving target'. For example, a maglock controlled exit may be permissible in one building type, but forbidden in another. Emergency Exits may be able to access controlled in one occupancy, but not in other.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Door Function Important

Aside from building classifications, the function of a controlled opening is also an important consideration. The types of doors below have special considerations when installed as part of access systems:

  • Fire Doors: The openings are more than just secured openings; they provide an integral safety function to limit risk in a fire condition. Because of this function, and their special construction, fire doors must be positively latched in a fire and cannot be cut or modified for hardware.
  • Stairwell Doors: Usually stairwell doors are locked, to prevent unauthorized access during normal conditions, but in a fire these locks must be dropped so an occupant fleeing a fire cannot be trapped in a stairwell. For this reason, access controlled stairwell doors are especially configured in typical use.
  • "Nanny" and Delayed Egress Doors: Other systems that momentarily 'lock inhabitants in' are subject to special authority, and the full scope of operation is typically governed by code, from how long a 'delay period' can be (15 or 30 seconds?) or which doors can be kept closed to prevent unauthorized exit (ie: nursing home facilities).

Reconciling the security plan with the floorplan and facility occupancy code is vital, and clearly establishing what controls are permissible on which doors must be done up front, before any installation work commences.

Detailed Passages

Included below are specific citations that are commonly cited in access control use:

Ultimately, other sources may be applicable for access control systems, including legacy BOCA, ADA, and Government Department Codes.

13 reports cite this report:

Building Occupancy Codes and Access Control Tutorial on Nov 01, 2018
A building or room's classification can greatly impact which building codes must be followed. In terms of access control, these 'occupancy codes'...
Anti-Tailgating Startup: Spyfloor on Oct 03, 2018
A Canadian startup, Spyfloor, is using a different approach to warn against tailgating, a common access control problem. By counting feet,...
AHJ / Authority Having Jurisdiction Tutorial on Sep 27, 2018
One of the most powerful yet often underappreciated characters in all of physical security is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Often,...
Favorite Request-to-Exit (RTE) Manufacturers 2018 on Sep 19, 2018
Request To Exit devices like motion sensors and lock releasing push-buttons are a part of almost every access install, but who makes the equipment...
Free Online NFPA, IBC, and ADA Codes and Standards on Jun 27, 2018
Finding applicable codes for security work can be a costly task, with printed books and pdf downloads costing hundreds or thousands. However, a...
Understanding The 20+ Lock Functions on Mar 27, 2018
While locks can look the same, they may operate in significantly different ways. To make understanding them simpler, widely adopted industry...
Brivo 'Buy Now' Online Campaign on Mar 26, 2018
Brivo has a new marketing campaign running across the web: Are you ready to buy access control now? Brivo tells IPVM this is a new campaign,...
Top Maglock Provider Warns Against Using Maglocks on Nov 21, 2017
Do not buy my company's product. It sounds strange indeed, but a senior Allegion consultant stated that maglocks should not be used in common...
Multipoint Lock Access Control Tutorial on Oct 17, 2017
Doors are notoriously weak at stopping entry, and money can be misspent on wrong locks that leave doors quite vulnerable. While closed and locked...
Delayed Egress Access Control Tutorial on Oct 04, 2017
Is it ever legal to lock people into a building? The answer is: Yes... under specific situations. With so much of access control driven by life...
Dahua and Hikvision Entering Access Control on Sep 05, 2017
Until now, Chinese video giants Hikvision and Dahua have held back releasing access internationally. Both companies have now pulled the trigger,...
Access Control AHJ Nightmares on Jun 01, 2017
For access control jobs, a single person can be the difference between finishing a job, costing thousands in extra dollars, and being profitable...
Banned: Classroom Barricade Locks on Apr 14, 2016
In this age of classroom shootings, many are looking for barricade locks - a cheap and easy stopgap to bolster door security.   Critics condemn...
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports on Access Control

ACRE Acquires RS2, Explains Acquisition Strategy on Apr 19, 2019
ACRE continues to buy, now acquiring RS2, just 5 months after buying Open Options. One is a small access control manufacturer from Texas, the...
Access Control Course Spring 2019 - Last Chance on Apr 19, 2019
Register for the Spring Access Control Course. IPVM offers the most comprehensive access control course in the industry. Unlike manufacturer...
Door Operators Access Control Tutorial on Apr 17, 2019
Doors equipped with door operators, specialty devices that automate opening and closing, tend to be quite complex. The mechanisms needed to...
Alarm.com Favorability Results 2019 on Apr 15, 2019
The once dot com startup has evolved to become a core provider for home security and is now expanding into commercial. In their first entry in...
ISC West 2019 Report on Apr 12, 2019
The IPVM team has finished at the Sands looking at what companies are offering and how they are changing their positioning. See below for 50+...
Spring 2019 50+ New Products Directory on Apr 08, 2019
We are compiling a list of new products for Spring 2019 and have over 50 already. Contrast to Fall 2018 New Products Directory and Spring 2018...
Startup GateKeeper Aims For Unified Physical / Logical Access Token on Apr 04, 2019
This startup's product claims to 'Kill the Password' you use to keep your computers safe.  They have already released their Gatekeeper Halberd...
Airship VMS Profile on Apr 03, 2019
Airship has been developing VMS software for over 10 years, however, with no outside investment, and minimal marketing, the company is not well...
Silicon Valley Access Startup Proxy Raises $13.6 Million on Mar 28, 2019
This mobile-credential based access startup just raised $13.6 million in funding.  Further, they claim that their technology can free businesses...
Casino Security Consultant Carl Lindgren Interview on Mar 26, 2019
For more than 20 years, Carl Lindgren worked as a casino surveillance pro, while being active (and sometimes outspoken) on various online video...

Most Recent Industry Reports

19 Facial Recognition Providers Profiled on Apr 23, 2019
IPVM interviewed 19 facial recognition providers at ISC West to understand their claimed accuracy, success and positioning. 9 from China, where...
Locking Down Network Connections Guide on Apr 23, 2019
Accidents and inside attacks are risks when network connections are not locked down. Security and video surveillance systems should be protected...
Hikvision Admits USA Sales Falling on Apr 22, 2019
Hikvision, in a new Chinese financial filing, has admitted that its USA sales are now falling. Less than a year after the US government passed a...
Speco Ultra Intensifier Tested on Apr 22, 2019
While ISC West 2019 named Speco's Ultra Intensifier the best new "Video Surveillance Cameras IP", IPVM testing shows the camera suffers from...
Arecont Favorability Results 2019 on Apr 22, 2019
Arecont's net negativity remained the same in IPVM's 2019 integrator study, though integrator's feeling became relatively more neutral compared to...
H.265 Usage Statistics on Apr 19, 2019
H.265 has been available in IP cameras for more than 5 years and, in the past few years, the number of manufacturers supporting this codec has...
ACRE Acquires RS2, Explains Acquisition Strategy on Apr 19, 2019
ACRE continues to buy, now acquiring RS2, just 5 months after buying Open Options. One is a small access control manufacturer from Texas, the...
Access Control Course Spring 2019 - Last Chance on Apr 19, 2019
 Register for the Spring 2019 Access Control Course----Closed IPVM offers the most comprehensive access control course in the industry. Unlike...
Riser vs Plenum Cabling Explained on Apr 18, 2019
You could be spending twice as much for cable as you need. The difference between 'plenum' rated cable and 'riser' rated cable is subtle, but the...
Verint Victimized By Ransomware on Apr 18, 2019
Verint, which is best known in the physical security industry for video surveillance but has built a sizeable cybersecurity business as well, was...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact