Surge Protection Solutions for Housing Complex Access Control

Managing rental housing, such as apartment buildings, townhouse complexes, and similar medium- to high-density residential housing facilities presents many challenges. Managers in these positions must deal with all of the everyday management issues of a complex business, including building maintenance, repairs, provision of utilities such as heat, electricity, water, and trash collection, collecting the rent, scheduling move-ins and move-outs, and much more.

At the same time, these managers must also deal with concerns about resident and visitor safety and security, theft, vandalism, and fraudulent injury claims. While none of these are ideal scenarios, they are unfortunately part of today’s world and can strike anywhere, at any time.

Surge protection for residential access systems

Access Control Systems Pay Dividends

To help address these safety and security risks, many residential complexes are investing in and installing measures such as video surveillance and access control security systems. Video surveillance can capture a record of an incident that can provide enormous value during investigation and prosecution. Access control systems are gaining popularity in housing complexes because they provide real-time deterrence for unlawful activities, and because they can provide powerful functionality, accountability and data for housing complex managers that cannot be provided by traditional key-based control systems.

For example, in the past, when a tenant moved out of an apartment, no one could really be sure whether all the keys, including any copies that may have been made, had been returned – for the apartment itself, and for any outer perimeter locations such as entrance gates, parking areas, and so forth. With an electronic access control system, management can merely halt access to any credentials associated with the departing tenant.

Moreover, an electronic access control system can improve management and accountability for utility and employee areas, as well as for shared common spaces such as exercise rooms, swimming pools, rooftops and lounge areas. The system can not only control who enters such areas in real time, but also provide an auditable record of access that can be used for management, billing, and other follow-up activities. With all these benefits, it’s no wonder that access control systems are being implemented in a growing number of residential settings, and managers of these facilities are quickly learning to depend on them.

Access Control Systems Need Protection from Electrical Surges

Because of this growing dependence, it is important to note that these access control systems are sensitive electronic devices. The elements of the system are usually connected with category-type network cables and are located in both interior and uncontrolled outdoor locations, depending on the housing facility design. This sensitivity and interconnectivity makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of power surges, which can quietly and invisibly cause damage until the entire system fails, requiring urgent action to bring it back into operation.

Example: In one recent situation, an apartment complex in Tampa reached out to a new system integrator for help. The complex was a fairly large facility, with more than 100 rental apartments, and they were considered a premium offering with above-average rents and plenty of amenities to attract desirable tenants. They had installed a sophisticated access control system as part of their safety and security plan and were looking forward to gaining long-term benefits from this investment.

Unfortunately, their original integrator/installer did not include surge protection as part of the system, despite the sizeable total investment of nearly $200,000. When an electrical surge event occurred shortly thereafter, they had to repair a number of access control panels and access gates at a total cost of $40,000, along with disruption to their operations and inconvenience to their tenants. Within a few months of the first incident, there was a second surge event that again required system repairs – along with more disruption and an increasing sense of irritation from the tenants.

Blaming the situation on the original installing contractor, the managers of the housing complex reached out to a new contractor for help. The new contractor assessed the situation and made the necessary repairs at a cost of another $20,000. As part of the assessment, the new contractor correctly informed the managers that they should have installed surge protection, which would have protected the equipment and minimized repair costs and time. They proposed installing new surge protection to cover the entire system, which would cost $15,000, but the apartment complex managers declined.

Only six days later, another surge event caused $30,000 worth of damage to the control boards and gate controllers. This time, management made the right choice and installed surge protection to minimize the damage and disruption going forward.

Surge Protection Solutions for Access Control

Why did the housing complex managers decline to install surge protection, even after two damaging surge events?

For any unprotected electronic security system, including access control, the chances are good that it will incur some damage during its lifetime from power surges and spikes. Not every system will fail due to surge events, but every unprotected system has an increased chance of failure versus fully protected systems. For an essential safety and security system such as access control, which has the potential to mitigate serious liability claims or provide vital criminal evidence, the small additional price for protection should be no barrier. The cost of providing surge protection is typically less than the sales tax on the system.

According to best practices, every sensitive electronic system should have surge protection at its supplied power connection, in addition to the surge protection that is installed at the building power entry point. This is important because damaging power surges can be created inside the building perimeter from inductive load switching, (by HVAC systems, for example) in addition to coming in through the building power connections.

Best practices for protecting sensitive electronic systems also include surge protection at both ends of all connected network equipment, as the network cabling provides a conductive path for electrical power surges. This is vital for cabling paths that run to exterior areas for access control readers, gate control panels, electronic locks, or any other networked electronics or sensors.

Even in areas with little or no lightning activity, exterior electronic equipment is vulnerable to the effects of wind, rain and static electricity. Any device that is powered has the potential to create an electrical fault or short circuit that can transmit damaging power surges to the network cabling.

Applicable solutions for these challenges include rackmount surge protectors for interior network rooms, as well as single channel protectors for use at the remote networked equipment. There are even special models that are built for connections exposed to extreme weather conditions. Surge protectors for networked cabling are designed to minimize signal losses while passing high-speed digital network traffic.

The Bottom Line

Residential housing complexes have a growing dependence on electronic access control systems to help protect their residents, visitors, and staff. Surge protection solutions can protect every entry point from the power surges that can damage these systems and decrease their reliability and useful lives. With a simple installation process, and very modest cost, including surge protection with new systems and adding them to existing unprotected systems should be an easy decision for every residential property owner.

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