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Salto examines changes in hotel security.

Salto Systems : 08 August, 2007  (Technical Article)
Dean Pendlebury of Salto Systems UK looks at the changing trends in hotel security technology.
The world of security is fast moving, nowhere more so than in the hotel and hospitality industry where advances in technology have seen the launch of new products capable of enhancing guest safety while deterring the threat of hotel crime. Dean Pendlebury, who heads up Salto Systems UK, looks at how hotel security is changing and how access control manufacturers are responding to develop systems to keep pace with the industries ever more complex requirements.

Hotels probably have one of the toughest security tasks of all. During the day visitors of all types arrive at a hotel; staff arriving for work, guests checking in and checking out, delivery people, maintenance people and, very often, non-residents coming in to use bars, restaurants, conference rooms, business services and sporting facilities.

Beside these welcome arrivals however, hotels, as with any site that brings together large numbers of people with high value goods and belongings, are often a magnet for another sort of visitor, one whose presence costs the industry millions of pounds each year - the professional thief. Combating theft therefore is the biggest security threat faced by hotels.

So to counter this, the two main issues of most interest to hotels when considering improving security are usually key control and the prevention of card cloning.

Key control is important because most hotels want to ensure the security of their guest bedrooms, guest belongings in shared areas such as changing rooms, protect guest room areas from people walking around the hotel, secure conference rooms, stores areas, external entrances and car parking areas.

Not many hotels still use old fashioned mechanical keys and locks; typically those that do are
un-modernised properties operating at the lower end of the market, but if they do they are cumbersome to control, time consuming and expensive to replace if key security is breached, and impossible to show any audit of which keys opened which doors, when. Not only that, but there is one particular 'Achilles heel' with mechanical keys, they are very easy to copy with no questions asked in any high street key cutting bar. This can lead to potential security problems and even serious liability issues.

So forget keys and use electronic ID cards or tags instead! While much safer and key control becomes easier your problems are not over. Many hoteliers worry about 'cloning' or the copying of a card and they are right to do so. Magnetic stripe cards are now commonly regarded as not being secure enough for today's access needs (which is why have bank credit cards have switched from mag stripe to chip cards). Hand held copiers for magnetic stripe cards can be purchased over the Internet and the cards themselves can be easily cloned. And, not only can they be cloned but they can even have the data tampered with to amend which room the card can access! In addition, such cards also wear out quicker and so have a high built in replacement cost. Magnetic stripe cards also suffer from stability of the data contained on the magnetic strip (for instance if you put the card next to a mobile phone it can affect it), so guests can suffer from non access to their rooms and face a long walk back (with their bags) to reception. So what's the solution?

One obvious option is access control in its traditional hardwired form but this is only a practical answer for a very small number of doors, or a new build with a high budget for the security, as the complexity of installation and sheer volume of wiring usually make it a prohibitively expensive option. As an alternative therefore hotels are demanding a realistic solution that can cope with as many doors as possible (guest rooms and back of house doors) but they want it at affordable prices as their number one priority, security issues aside, is and will always remain - costs and profit.

This means the current trend is to move away from magnetic stripe cards towards high frequency RFID (13.56Mhz) proximity cards that are compatible with the latest standards such as ISO14443A&B and ISO15693 and technologies such as Mifare, DESfire, Legic, HID iClass or Picopass for maximum security and flexibility. Prox cards are more secure, allow for secure data encryption, fast data transmission and easy multi-application as the cards can be split-up into multiple sectors which can than can be used for different applications i.e. access control, cashless payment, vending, point of sale (POS) etc. They are easy for the guest to use at the bedroom door as there is no confusion about which way around the card goes and being contactless the cards are more robust and have a longer life.

In fact many hotels are now using the card as a loyalty card that can be used to program any guest room door at any of the hotels in the chain. Actually, because the prox technology allows for the ID carrier to be in many formats (watch, fob, fake coin or any other 'themed form' it is spicing up the way the guest views the 'card'. And in addition, prox readers on the door locks themselves are sealed readers so they are not so open to tampering and vandalism as with magnetic stripe readers.

So what are the special features hotels should look for in a good access control system?

Well one of the main objectives of a good access control system should always be to reduce the time needed to manage it, without the loss of functionality, flexibility, control and security.

To achieve this most hotels will need a central access management software system that can control access activities from several different places around the hotel, with all the access doors being either on-line or stand alone. The software should also have a user friendly GUI (graphical user interface) enabling it to interface with common hotel front desk management (PMS) systems, while at the same time reducing the management time that needs to be dedicated to it.

But stand alone hotel bedroom management systems or commercial access control systems are either too basic or unmanageable in a hotel environment. Hotels want their system to form part of an overall integrated 'security' package, capable of integrating with their intruder detection and energy management systems. Capable of one card control and use across the guest areas, the conference facility, the fitness centre, the golf club, the casino - whatever it is that many hotels are linked to, and of course to include staff 'back of house' areas where security and staff wellbeing is paramount.

For instance with the much greater awareness of green issues and talk of 'saving the planet' the new Part L energy efficiency requirements means hotels have to look at ways to reduce the high use of energy in both new build as well as existing premises. They now have to take seriously the energy saver units that are available for installation in rooms. An intelligent energy saver device actually reads the card chip and so only operates when the guest or maid has valid rights to switch one or both of the relays. The relays then control circuits and devices such as the heating/air conditioning, the TV, the plug sockets, the lights etc in the room. As the guest's card has to be removed to lock the bedroom door, the power is guaranteed to be switched off when no one is in the room.

Cheap ES units whilst low cost can be a waste of money due to the fact that any piece of card, a business card for example, can be inserted into them to turn everything on and left there - completely negating the energy saving purpose of the device! Higher specification and thus quality ES devices can also be hooked up to be on line, thus providing information to the front desk whether the guest is in or out of their room and also, notifying when a room has been cleaned, thus allowing for faster notification of available cleaned rooms.

So now stand alone also means networked. Hybrid technologies such as SVN (Salto Virtual Network) uses the concept of distributed intelligence, where through use of highly secure read/write credentials and on-line 'hot spots', such a system allows hotels to make all the changes they want while eliminating the need to physically walk around the building updating locks with a hand held programmer.

Such software can manage up to 64,000 users and up to 64,000 doors in a single system, allowing for multi site control across a WAN and provides 90% of what users get from a wired on-line system at the cost of a stand alone system, allowing them to manage their access control and guest check in requirements in a secure and comfortable way.

It eliminates the need to replace locks when key security is breached due to the loss or theft of keys and can seamlessly allow keys and locks to be updated, restricted or deleted remotely. This means reception less check in is now a reality with central booking and local site programming.

Having made the decision to upgrade their access control, most hotels have learned quickly and are now making increasingly complex demands of their security systems, ensuring manufacturers have to keep innovating to deliver the products the market now regards as the benchmark standard.

For instance the multi-application demand is increasing and card systems have to be secure and encrypted. The communications have to be protected (for example by 3DES on Salto on-line systems) and software wise some hotels are also now demanding MS SQL database compatibility. But most of all the control systems fitted to doors have to provide both secure and comfortable access for their users, whether that is of the lift, the guest room, the entrance, the conference room, the car park, the leisure facility or the storage locker.

Specialist electronic access control manufacturers active in the hotel and hospitality market have already detected these demands. They are responding with product innovations that will make it difficult for traditional guest room lock companies to come up with comparable electronic locking solutions and most of these lock manufacturers are still lagging behind in electronic, networking and software development.

It is only by listening to what hotels want and by adding more features and benefits that manufacturers can strive to make their systems even better adapted to suit their customer's needs. Simple to use, integrated and yet powerful, are common demands, but they are being met.

A good example of this is that within the next few years we will see the implementation of mobile phones using NFC (Near Field Communication) technology within the hotel environment. NFC will allow a hotel guest to book a room and gain access rights to that room via their mobile phone. The phone will be remotely programmed and billed at the same time. This will then enable the guest to arrive at the hotel with pre-programmed access to a room, a locker, use of the gym, swimming pool etc using their mobile phone as you would a conventional 'key' card now. At Salto our door locks are already NFC compatible and the future is built in. We are ready for these and other developments to grow and evolve and we're looking forward to the many changes that lay in store for hotel security.
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