Access Control in the COVID-19 Age: Changes You Weren’t Expecting. Here’s How to Navigate

By Chuck O’Leary, President of Open Options

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the security industry has changed dramatically in just a few short months. Integrators and security directors are faced with new challenges since the coronavirus has hit which requires them to think beyond just physical access security. They are beginning to break new ground by incorporating medical safety technologies into existing security systems. 

Protecting people’s physical safety and health is the highest priority going forward. How do we reopen businesses while helping to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus? What is the “new normal” and how do we implement it into everyday best practices?

The purpose of this article is to provide guidance in navigating through new expectations and to provide thoughtful insights and helpful advice on how to deal with the changes that are shaping a new normal for access control.

As the world prepares to normalize again, and companies of all sizes and all industries are able to reopen their doors to the public, organizations need to be ready for a shift in what will be expected as acceptable when it comes to safety and security. Health and hygiene, as you would expect in the age of COVID-19, are of prime importance.

How can you best prepare? How do we continue to secure the physical safety of people while incorporating new medical safety requirements, and still maintain strong cybersecurity rules?

1. Learning from Each Other

2. New Collaboration of Technologies & Requirements

3. Setting the Right Expectations

4. Frictionless is in Question

5. Changing Perceptions of the Door Reader

6. The Mask of Cybersecurity

7. The Role of an Open Platform

Rethinking access control is not a luxury in the age of COVID-19. It’s a necessity. Open Options is here to help bridge the gaps and bring all the pieces together. We believe the access control industry can come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.

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Training Was Never Like This

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and our customers look for ways to reopen their facilities safely Open Options training sessions have looked at a variety of new challenges and solutions. The ongoing training events, both online and in-person, have seen questions shift from normal installation and operating questions to the integration of medical devices, sanitization of facilities and mask requirement solutions. The Open Options training team shares snapshots of real-world, “new normal” scenarios and practical advice that have come out of these training sessions in this article.  

A recent Regional Essentials training class held by Open Options in Seattle (with appropriate social distancing and health protocols) highlighted a variety of options to meet the various needs of the customer. In one example, personnel are not allowed to enter an area of the building until the sanitization crew has thoroughly cleaned and sanitized that area. The class came up with the option to disable the general personnel time schedules until the sanitization lead had presented their badge at a specific reader. This would activate the time schedules associated with the organization’s other employees and permitted them to enter the area. The resolution required some additional programming in the DNA Fusion system but provided the customer with the peace of mind that their employees were accessing clean, sanitized areas.

One customer needed to suspend all personnel access to their facilities, except for critical staff. The solution came in the form of configuring the Override feature on doors and flagging the staff‘s card that required access to the buildings. Once the doors were placed in the Locked mode, only personnel with designated cards could obtain access to the facilities. This solution saved the customer numerous hours of cardholder configuration to limit access to the numerous buildings on campus.

The Open Options class also discussed the new integrated options from Splan (cloud-based visitor management software) to Wavelynx (card and reader solutions), as the Open Options training team looked for various options to accommodate the touchless access that so many customers are requesting.

“We implemented a number of these scenarios in class so that the students could plan out the solutions and configure their demo system to accomplish the task,” said Sherinda Barrow, Director of Education Services for Open Options. “The class enjoyed looking at the many options they could utilize to satisfy their customers’ needs.”

In another example, the customer needed to verify that all employees, contractors, and visitors had a mask on before entering the facility. They had posted a security employee at the entrance to temporarily unlock the door if the person was in compliance with the mandate. The challenge was determining the individuals that had access to the site from the visitors who did not have open access to the building. After some discussion, the resolution came in the form of a simple red and green LED that would notify the security staff of the person’s access. Once the cardholder presented their badge, the LED would turn green to signify the valid access request. If the LED turned red, the door was not released until confirmation of their visit had been established. This required some additional wiring however it was a quick solution for a real world issue.

Each of these unique scenarios demanded a different solution to accommodate the customers’ requirements during this critical time. One student remarked, “The Open Options platform is so robust I can meet my customer’s needs through the application.” The Open Options training team is committed to formatting the training classes to meet the audience's needs, even if that means stretching the class syllabus to accommodate all the topics.

If you would like to schedule a training session that focuses on your needs, please contact the Open Options training team.

Open Options’ Tech Support Team is Always Ready to “Engage”

A customer wanted to use one of Open Options newer integrations of the Engage IP doors but soon “hit a wall” when they were unable to add any additional gateways beyond 255. The fact that this is a common hard stop in technology didn’t make the customer feel better, as the project came to a complete halt. The customer picked up the phone and called Tech Support at Open Options. The flexibility and the streamlined response of Open Options made the difference.

After verifying the issue, Support Technician Jose Charco was able to get this issue over to the Development team, which created a fix that was quickly sent out to the dealer to implement on the customer site. The project was back in action. However, soon afterward, the installation hit another wall at 316 Engage gateways. The dealer called Open Options Tech Support again.

The Development team identified the new issue and again quickly released an updated driver to handle the higher gateway requirement. Yet, once the dealer had all the Engage gateways added, the dealer hit yet another issue: not being able to link all the doors in DNA Fusion. In response, the Tech Support team at Open Options took charge to solve the issue once and for all.

“Our Support team and Dev team were already concentrated on this site, so we quickly attacked the issue, as the whole team focused on getting them a resolution,” said Nicholas Robran, Vice President, Customer Support at Open Options. “This one took a bit longer to resolve, but it was eventually discovered that there was an issue with specific gateway models. Once Dev found that problem, we once again got out an additional updated driver to solve it.” 

Tech Support verified that they were able to add all the Engage gateways and link all the corresponding doors. The dealer was able to complete the project and get all the Engage Gateways online and the doors linked properly. The site was fully operational with the Engage IP Solution.

A key to the successful resolution for the customer was the excellent communication between the Support team and the Development team within Open Options – the same level of service that every customer receives from the maker of DNA Fusion. The final resolution in this case involved a few driver updates to handle the increased capacity on that feature. To ensure resolution, Tech Support followed up with the dealer multiple times after the last driver update was put in place. Once again, Open Options provided access that connects.

Training on How to Combine Access Control and Health Checks for the COVID-19 Era

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are instituting a new policy requiring that all employees, contractors, and visitors pass through a temperature checkpoint prior to granting them access into a building.  Training on how to link access control with medical technology, such as thermal scanners to take people’s temperature, is available from Open Options.

Adapting access control to protect people’s health is a novel challenge for security and IT personnel who manage access to buildings and campuses. Each health check needs to be directly linked to the access control system to activate the right card at the right time for the right person who does not have COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever.

For integrators and end-users who need training on how to design and manage this type of new set-up, Open Options’ Training department is now offering custom training sessions specifically to help customers adapt to coronavirus-related public health measures. Open Options provides best practices, insights, tips, and lessons learned.

At a recent Regional training class in Denver, CO, there were several discussions and scenarios centered around reopening schools and office buildings during this unprecedented time. Granting access to individuals that have successfully passed thermal scanners and temperature checks as well as wearing a mask, while denying access to those that fail to meet criteria were some of the main topics.  Several solutions including utilizing existing hardware and integrating new technologies such as medical devices with DNA Fusion were also discussed. The class was very interested in ways to secure the building while providing solutions to keep their customer’s healthy.

“Because the web-based trainings Open Options offers can often be broken into two sessions, we are able to make one of the sessions a situation based training, and we go through the numerous possibilities regarding various trigger and macro combinations that could be used for a temperature checkpoint, among other things,” said Brittany Tate, Technical Trainer at Open Options. “DNA Fusion is able to accommodate the changing needs of customers, given the major adjustments that are needed in order to open safely back up in a COVID-19 world.”

The training department recently conducted a training session on new coronavirus-related protocols for accessing a building, such as conducting a temperature check and verifying that the person is wearing a mask. After the session, one customer provided positive feedback about how the training enabled him to immediately implement what he had learned, boosting his confidence that the organization would be ready to re-open and follow appropriate guidelines to protect people’s health within buildings.

“The participant was so impressed that they added email notifications to inform managers when their employees didn't pass a temperature checkpoint, so they could follow up promptly,” added Tate. “The checkpoints were properly in place via DNA Fusion. The ease of the application and the fact that they had so many options regarding card-holders were huge high points. The customer also reported that the knowledge he got from the Open Options training was passed down to managers so that they could customize their stations using buttons to make DNA Fusion work at its best for them, too.” 

Contact the Training department at Open Options to inquire about the specialized training on COVID-19 and access control. We’ll get through this together.

Open Options Helps Customer with Global Expansion

A customer in the petrochemical industry was expanding globally and had a need for local support at their new sites in Scotland, Holland and Norway. At first, the customer was reluctant to ask Open Options to help identify local resources because they were unsure of the company’s international contacts, but when they did inquire, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that Open Options has a vast global integration network that can help a US-based company with offices in other countries.  

The sales team at Open Options were quick to understand the customer’s geographically distributed requirements and connect them with local support for all three locations. It would not have happened if the customer had not reached out to Open Options to ask the question about the global integration network that Open Options cultivates, vets and collaborates with.  

“As with many companies that expand outside the United States, our customer needed the ability to develop contacts at each of their international locations for install, integration and local support,” said Scot Sturges, Regional Sales Manager, Open Options. “Within a single day, we had the customer successfully engaged with trusted partners in all locations in Europe and in the UK.”   

Global expansion was new for this customer, and they did not have the time to spend weeks or months looking for trustworthy local support in different countries. They were accustomed to having the local Dealer for all of their access control needs at their headquarters in Houston, Texas. They wanted the same level of comfort as they expanded, now that they found themselves thinking globally, but still with the need to act locally.   

“The customer was thrilled that not only does Open Options support their needs from an enterprise software perspective, but we can also allocate resources from our global integrator network to assist with their global expansion,” added Sturges.   

This is access that connects… anytime, anywhere.   

Missing Data Link Prompts Professional Services to Uncover Access Control Problem

An integrator was seeking assistance with the conversion of an existing access control system, consisting of 12 different locations, 19 controllers, 170 doors and over 800 personnel records. The Professional Services team from Open Options was tasked with assisting in gathering as  much data as possible to build the system in-house before going on-site to install DNA Fusion and test the system. But they quickly identified a problem that was unknown to the customer. 

While looking over the data, the Open Options Professional Services team uncovered that there wasn't a direct link between the access levels and the personnel records. Without this information, users who had a card would not have access to any doors, as there would not be any access levels assigned to their cards.   

Michael Digby, Professional Services & Sales Engineer, Open Options, explained what needed to be done: “Import files had to be made for each door and time schedule along with adding that access level within DNA Fusion. Once that was done using OpenDX, the import files were processed, and any errors were corrected. These steps made sure the data being import was consistent and accurate. Once all the files were imported, another database was spun up and the import process repeated to ensure everything worked correctly.” 

The final step was to use a back-up tool to extract the data from specific tables, so they could be used manually to create the access levels and associate them to the correct door and time schedule. When all of the files were ready, they were zipped up and sent off to the Professional Services team member that was on site working with the integrator replacing the existing access control with Mercury panels. As each facility was brought online, they were able to import the data for that specific facility and test the system on the spot. 

“The Demo must go on!”

One of Open Options’ customers called in the midst of installing a demo for an end-user because they were having issues with getting the license to install correctly at the site. After working with the client for a few minutes online, it was determined that the license file was corrupt on the server they were trying to install it on. For this pre-sales situation, a top engineer from the Professional Services department of Open Options went immediately to work on the problem, as the clock was ticking on this on-site demo.

At this point, the Open Options engineer exited the install, removed the old license file and downloaded a new one. Then the customer was able to proceed with the install. As the customer experience comes first, the engineer remained on the line to make sure that DNA Fusion would start on the server.

However, there was another issue that kept DNA Fusion software from opening. The service account was not added in the services correctly. Quickly, Professional Services corrected it. As a result, the customer was relieved that it was resolved in a timely manner. The demo could go on.

“Our Professional Services team was able to connect with the technician and help ease his frustrations, and get his problem resolved,” said John Hubbard, National Sales Engineer, Professional Services at Open Options. “Because we were available to help him in a timely manner, he was able to show the potential end-user customer that the Open Options team was willing and able to help resolve any problems they ran into.”

This example demonstrates that Open Options Professional Services is a team of professionals ready to help with any issues that a dealer or an end-user may encounter.

Helpful Tips to Share from our One-on-One Training Sessions

Dealers and end-user customers attend separate classes to focus on their specific needs. Dealers need to know how to program and configure the system, while a system user is focused on the day-to-day operations of the software. It also allows each group to collaborate with other students that face the same challenges and issues. This allows them to learn from each other, hear each other’s questions and feedback, and spark some creative ideas. But when the Covid pandemic start, training sessions went to one-on-one sessions (hello, WebEx), the sharing of challenges, learnings, and insights have not been so easy to come by but the Open Options trainers provided some scenarios to get the students strategizing. With that, we thought we’d share with you a few things both dealers and end-users have been dealing with and learning in recent weeks.

Partial Lockdown - Tip #1

A dealer needed to know more about how to configure a partial lockdown with an email host based macro specifically for one of his upcoming projects with complex details. The training team at Open Options was able to sit down and talk about concepts including what they wanted to happen and when they wanted it to happen. Once that information had been identified, the scenario was setup and tested multiple times. The dealer left the session confident that he could accomplish the task.

Time Schedules and Holidays – Tip #2

Another dealer did not fully understand the concept of time schedules and holidays or how they were being affected at the controller level. A deeper understanding of how to use the holiday types in DNA Fusion in correlation with the time schedules was needed to help one of his customers who had businesses in multiple parts of the world. Open Options training was there for him with a solution to his issue.

Using Extra Options – Tip #3

The participant had been using DNA Fusion for about a year but never had formal training, which resulted in missing or incorrect concepts. The main disconnect was knowing what the extra options meant in the access levels and pulling information manually. Because the customer was self-taught, he was unaware of how to assign priorities to access levels or how to use various reports such as trace history or event history. Open Options was able to train him in a way that worked for him As a result, it allowed him to be more productive with the DNA Fusion system.

“Participants mentioned that they were shocked and impressed that they were receiving one-on-one sessions since they don't typically receive that kind of treatment with other companies,” said Brittany Tate, Technical Trainer at Open Options. “When one of the one-on-one dealer classes ended, the participant mentioned that he was in the process of being assigned to a project overseas and needed to make sure that he had a firm foundation on DNA Fusion before he left the training. He marveled at how the training was customized to his needs and gave him knowledge he would be able to use as soon as he touched down for his next project.”

Training is always here for you.

Saving Lives with Access Control during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The managers of a residential facility for people who are 55 years of age and up were concerned about the older population at risk to contract COVID-19, so they came up with a creative idea to use the access control system to help them identify who might be sick and immobilized by the virus. After a call to the Sales team at Open Options, help was on the way.

Open Options helped this DNA Fusion user set up the capability to generate a “non-use report” to flag in the system those residents who have not presented their credential at their apartment entrance within a pre-determined period of time. Seeking to be proactive, the managers of the residential community wanted to use this as an indicator possibly highlighting ill residents who would require assistance.

“The residential facility managers wanted to provide a value-added service for the mature resident population, while not being perceived as overly intrusive,” said Daniel Cosgrove, Sales Manager at Open Options. “We worked closely with our customer to develop the custom report, and we delivered it in short order.”

The Sales team at Open Options served as the quarterback to huddle up and activate the team. They connected Open Options Professional Services with the residential facility directly for input and feedback, and then organized the efforts of the Open Options development team to generate the custom report designed to highlight non-use of the card reader, which is installed at every door of every apartment to provide secure entry.

When the access control system detects that there has been no card reads by a resident during a pre-defined period of time, such as one day, then this is highlighted in an auto-generated report, followed soon afterward by a phone call to the resident to check on them and ensure their health and safety.

“This project to use access control to proactively, yet unobtrusively, identify and check on at-risk residents was a success, resulting in a satisfied customer,” added Cosgrove. “This was also a welcome relief for the dealer who had felt stuck until Open Options got involved.”