Access Control in case of a fire

 In Access Control, Fire Safety

Access Control solutions are a great tool to make sure no unauthorized people gain access to your building. Getting out in the case of an emergency, however, is just as important. Fire safety is often overlooked when it comes to access control. The primary goal, after all, is to keep people or vehicles out, exiting the building is often an afterthought. When an emergency or fire occurs at an access controlled building, the emergency exits need to unlock to allow people to exit. Otherwise, injuries and possibly even death could occur, causing a significant liability issue for the building owner as well as the integrator that installed the system.

Considerations for an Access System

Obviously, no one wants to think about the worst case scenario of a fire or emergency within a building. When designing an Access Control solution, it is important to think of exactly those scenarios and more to ensure these emergencies go over smoothly. With an access controlled environment, the system can help streamline the evacuation or lock down, but it can also hinder it. If a door does not open during a fire, the unthinkable may happen. In fully access controlled buildings, doors will need to have a handle that will allow the exiting of the secured area to a less secure area or even an emergency exit, if the door is secured with a door strike. If the door is locked with an electromagnetic lock, the power will have to be cut to the lock, via a pull station or other means. Other locks, such as electric deadbolts, or specialty locks for the application will also need to incorporate a handle, or a means to retract the bolt from within the secured area, without relying on the control panel.

Why can I not depend on the Access Control Panel in the case of a fire?

A pull station that is wired into the control panel, or even the request to Exit motion detector or button all have the same effect of unlocking the door. With the way traditional access control systems are wired, with all wiring home run to an electrical room, the emergency unlocking equipment should never be wired back to the panel. If a fire starts on one side of the building, and it happens to be the electrical room that the access control equipment resides in, the equipment may malfunction or not function at all, keeping the door locked. With the newer approach of single door access controllers that are mounted above the door, this may not seem as much of a problem. However, the equipment powering these controllers is most likely still in the same electrical room. If power is lost, the controller may not have a backup battery within its enclosure, again causing the door to stay locked in some or most scenarios.

Electromagnetic Locks during Emergencies

An electromagnetic lock is quite different from the traditional door strike that most access solutions use. All exterior doors should be protected by a magnetic lock as they cannot be picked like door strike can. Electromagnetic locks, as the name suggests, lock by having a metal plate and a magnet. These locks are usually not wired to unlock with a handle, requiring either a motion detector or button to exit the door. As the lock has to stay energized (needs electricity to stay locked), the power needs to be shut off to allow someone to exit.

Electromagnetic locks are often driven by a separate power supply, instead of the power that the access controller provides. Their power draw is too much for most panels to handle. In the case of a fire or emergency power has to be cut off to the actual lock. If, however, the fire cuts off the access to the control panel on the other side of the building, and the power supply is mounted elsewhere, the flow of electricity will not be cut to the lock, and the door will remain locked. A pull station should be located beside the door, in the secured area to allow the door to be unlocked manually. This pull station should be wired into the lock and not the control panel, to ensure the safety of all occupants. That way, if power will not turn off, the pull station will interrupt the flow of electricity regardless.

The Building’s Fire Alarm System

Most commercial buildings have fire panels installed. These fire panels are attached to multiple sensors across the building to allow for early notification of a fire or toxic gas event. For fire safety, the access control system should be connected to the building’s fire panel. Most access control systems are not wired to the fire alarm system. Should the system go into alarm, the electromagnetic locks will not unlock, unless a pull station for door release is located by the door. This, again, can result in multiple casualties, because of the doors not releasing. In the case of a fire, doors protected with an electromagnetic lock should always release. High-security indoor areas should be protected with locks that will allow easy egress without the lock having to be unlocked. All of these items are considerations to keep in mind when upgrading an existing system or designing a new system.

Protecting the Pull Station

Now, the question may arise, what happens if someone pulls the pull station even if there is no emergency. The door will still unlock, as it is designed to do exactly that. The pull station will, however, be very similar to a fire alarm pull station, which is rarely even pulled as a prank in public buildings. The chances of an employee or resident pulling a pull station are usually slim. We do offer casings to protect pull station from tampering and unauthorized access, it is however rarely required.

Educating Access Control Users and Building Owners

Education is a major aspect of a new or existing access control system. The pull stations for door release are blue, which may seem odd to some. Even if all the emergency equipment is present, it can still cause problems if people are unaware of how to use it. Hiring packages or new building checklists should include major security and safety functions to ensure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. Most building owners are also unaware of the issues an access control system can cause in the case of an emergency, if installed improperly. Education is a significant part of our services and solutions and we encourage you to ask questions every step of the way.

Get in Touch

Are you wondering whether your current access control system is properly installed or are you looking for a new access control system? We can help you discover and fix any possible deficiencies on your existing access control system. We can also design a new system that will fulfill all possible requirements for safety and security. Call us today at 1-844-230-2730 or email us at [email protected].

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