A Physical Access Control System (PACS) grants access to employees and contractors who work at or visit a site by electronically authenticating their Personal Identity Verification (PIV) credentials or some other ID card such as a smart card. Although PACSs are Information Technology systems, they must be designed, deployed, and operated in cooperation with Physical Security teams to successfully meet agency mission needs.

Physical access system typically consist of one or multiple components such as gates, locked doors, mantraps, turnstiles, ID cards and a central controller unit.

When physical access is controlled by software, the chip on an access card and an electric lock grants access through software, which should be considered a logical access control. That being said, incorporating biometrics adds another layer to gain entry into a room. This is considered a physical access control. Identity authentication is based on a person’s physical characteristics. The most common physical access controls are used at hospitals, police stations, government offices, data centers, and any area that contains sensitive equipment and/or data.

Physical access is sometimes used in conjunction with logical access to control an individual’s ability to access one or more computer system resources such as a workstation, network, application, or database. A logical access control system requires validation of an individual’s identity through some mechanism such as a personal identification number (PIN), card, biometric, or other token. It has the capability to assign different access privileges to different persons depending on their roles and responsibilities in an organization.

The following table defines common PACS components:

Component Description
Access point Entrance point or physical barrier where an employee or contractor interacts with the PACS. Example access points include turnstiles, gates, and locking doors.
PIV credential Federal employees and contractors use Personal Identity Verification (PIV) credentials to physically access federal facilities and logically access federal information systems.
Credential reader and keypad The reader provides power to and reads data from a PIV credential. The reader also sends this data to a control panel to authenticate the PIV credential and request access authorization. Employees and contractors may need to enter a PIN into the keypad and add a biometric, depending on the facility’s security classification and risk levels.
Biometric reader Captures biometric data (for example, face, fingerprint or iris scan) and verifies it against the PIV credential’s biometric data.
Control panel Receives the credential data sent by the reader and verifies its presence in the credential holder data repository. It then makes an access decision and transmits authorization data to the access control server and access point.
Access control server Grants authorization to the employee or contractor requesting access (for example, presenting a PIV credential to a reader). It also registers and enrolls employees and contractors; enrolls and validates credentials; and logs system events.
holder data repository
Contains employee and contractor data and physical access privileges. Control panels use this authoritative data to validate credential data.
Auxiliary Systems Agencies may integrate the PACS with additional facility monitoring systems such as surveillance systems, fire alarm systems, and evacuation systems.

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Physical Access Control, Physical Access Control System, PACS, Access Control
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