Access control at the gate



John Lund, Visy Oy, Tampere, Finland



The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers defines a system as “a collection of components organised to accomplish a specific function or set of functions” [IEEE STD 610.12]. With this in mind, a system plan at a port must outline and define the function (or set of functions) and goal(s) of the system. Two of the largest and sometimes most important systems at a port could arguably be the terminal operating system (TOS) and the gate or port access control system (PACS).

A common misconception is that an optical character recognition (OCR) system is the PACS. Nothing could be further from the truth. An OCR system is an optional subsystem of the modern PACS, it is not the core of the PACS. The core of the PACS is the database solution, for example access control software built on a commercial database platform.

Whether or not OCR is used and how it is used depends completely on the business process of the facility. Access control systems depend on a set of parameters and data collection systems such as RFID, OCR or biometrics. Given that the PACS is the system at the center gate operations, we must define the system functions   as described by the IEEE and ask the question, “Is OCR the right technology to achieve the function(s) of the system?”

Traditionally in many operations the PACS served as a subsystem designed primarily to supply information to the TOS. Simply supplying information was adequate because of the business process of the facility. This type of PACS might have included OCR for container and license plate recognition (LPR), RFID, and a perhaps a manual process.  Access permission to the port was based on LPR reads, RFID numbers, or another standard means. Information was sent directly to the TOS with one interface for each technology. Today, such a traditional approach to a PACS would be costly, inefficient, and probably ineffective for a port to serve their customers and stay ahead of competitors in the market.

Design and technology

The system design of a modern PACS is different from a traditional access control system in many ways. An international port has much different access control requirements than a bank or even a government building. A true PACS must be able to manage access and area control, parking permits and ID cards, employees of the port, terminals and restaurant staff, access to the customs area and the terminals, commercial traffic, public traffic, red carpet customers, trailers, trains, cars,  bicycles, pedestrians, ship crews, maintenance crews, taxis, and emergency vehicles and personnel (just to name a few).  Furthermore, at any given moment during the day or night, there are tens-of-millions of EUR’s of cargo and equipment on the premises and there can becompeting terminals with highly sensitive business  information located next to each other. Each port also has a variety of specific needs depending on ISPS code requirements and other local factors. Overall this makes the PACS one of the most complicated access control systems in the world.

Due to the significant growth seen in the industry over the last few years, rising concerns over security, and other business issues, a separate database for the PACS makes a lot of sense. The database platform must be reliable, flexible, and scaleable. Given such requirements, a well-known, commercial database is a good choice. The network must also be able to handle demanding requirements. TCP/IP is an appropriate selection.  The enduser benefit of a commercial database PACS communicating over TCP/IP is very clear: It is virtually impossible for even the world’s busiest ports to overload the system with traffic events and online users. That is, literally 1,000’s of traffic and access control events can be happening at the same with a virtually unlimited number of users in the system without queuing data streams adversely affecting port performance.

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