Bullet Proof Doors vs. ‘Man Trap’

Businesses are increasingly drawn to the fully automated “man-trap” as the perfect bullet proof security solution: Forced-entry rated bullet proof doors that automatically lock out the ill-intentioned, but let staff and legitimate customers pass through unhindered. But is it worth the money?


The man trap tends to be designed like an an air lock: a visitor enters through exterior doors, passing into a secured vestibule with locked bullet proof doors at the other end. The visitor is then scanned for weapons, and if he or she comes up clean, the interior bullet proof doors open automatically. Those who fail the scan cannot pass into the facility–or are even trapped by automatically-locking exterior doors.

Most interest in man traps–outside of the minds of Hollywood action-film screenwriters–comes from retail banking. This is a customer-service driven industry: It’s vital that staff communicate with customers seamlessly, since many transactions are sensitive, and rapport is vital to selling clients lines of credit and financial services (where retail banks make the bulk of their money). Anything that puts distance between the customer and the staff–including bullet proof glass and imposing walls–chills these interactions and cuts into the bank’s earnings. Thus the attractiveness of the automated man trap, which keeps out dangerous criminals without the intimidating hassle of guards, bullet-proof teller windows, intercoms, and cash drawers.


While the concept of the man trap is ideal, many problems arise in implementation. Man traps are complicated interdependent systems that aren’t easily broken down into customizable sub-units. They only come in one or two pre-fabricated configurations, so if an existing building needs to add a man trap, the installers are almost certainly going to have to move walls, enlarge entryways, and otherwise modify the facility to accommodate the new hardware while staying within building codes, handicap-accessibility guidelines, and so forth. Subsequently, these very expensive systems (generally $30,000 to $60,000 each) bring with them a cluster of added costs. If a building has multiple entrances, each either needs its own man trap, or must be sealed off.

Once installed, man traps need frequent servicing: They rely on the complex integration of software and hardware systems, including metal detectors, microcomputers, and the relays controlling the bullet proof doors. These systems need to be calibrated on a regular basis. And even then, false-positives are annoyingly common: A metal detector doesn’t know the difference between a gun, a knife, a tape measure, and a laptop or smart phone–in other words, it’s just as likely to lock out an independent business person (the lifeblood of Main Street branches) as it is to thwart a criminal. The only way to add intelligent filtering to such a system is to staff the “automatic” man trap with a trained security guard–exactly the sort of unwelcoming hurdle (and additional expense) the bank was trying to avoid. In the end, many banks grow so frustrated with their main traps that they end up tearing them out altogether.


Total Security Solutions vice president Jim Richards acknowledges how frustrating the man trap can be. “These look good on paper, the concept is great. But when you look at making an investment of $60,000, and at the end of the day you’re still going to have a security guard run this thing, plus a yearly maintenance expense and the expense of the guard, it’s disappointing. The up front cost alone is significantly more than traditional bullet proof doors. With doors and a well-trained, experienced guard the customer feels safe, the employees feel safe, and you don’t have all these additional costs.”

ballistic door


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