Data centers and other at-risk locations employ mantraps for access control to sensitive areas of the building

Mantraps in the Real World

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Data centers and other at-risk locations employ mantraps for access control to sensitive areas of the building

Real-world mantraps take a variety of forms. Generically speaking, a mantrap is a small room or vestibule with doors at either end. Depending on the application, these doors may or may not mechanically interlock. (“Interlocking” doors must be opened one at a time. It’s impossible to inadvertently or purposefully open both sets of doors at once.) And real-world mantraps may or may not actually “trap” individuals who fail authentication. (In fact, in many jurisdictions, doing so may be illegal.)

In most cases, an organization leaves the exterior doors unlocked, and has a staff member monitor the mantrap. Visitors freely enter and then present credentials or pass one or several verifications under monitoring. (Verifications might include a biometric identifier, PIN pad, key card, smartphone app, a brief check-in with the staffer, even body temperature or COVID/health screening.) The inner door stays locked until each visitor passes each layer of verification.

There are three basic variations of mantraps.

  • Air Lock Control – This system offers the perfect solution for minimum-security applications, such as a cleanroom environment, where all doors are normally unlocked until you enter the mantrap. Once inside, all other doors automatically lock, and you must use verification technology to exit.
  • Restricted Entry/Unrestricted Exit – This option provides a step up in security. This system secures exterior doors and keeps interior doors unlocked. You can use a valid access card to unlock an exterior door only if the interior doors are closed. When you unlock an exterior door, the interior doors lock. Once the exterior door is re-secured, interior doors unlock to give you access to the facility.
  • Restricted Entry and Exit – This variation, where all doors are always locked, provides the highest level of security. A typical system with two doors works as follows:

To enter a secure area, you swipe a keycard, enter a PIN, scan your fingerprint, or use some other method. Once the system authenticates your credentials, the door unlocks automatically, allowing you to enter the mantrap.

Once you’re inside, the first door to the mantrap locks, preventing other individuals from entering the vestibule. The most effective mantraps employ technologies that verify the presence of only one person. If the system detects more than one person, it denies access and signals an alert.

You then apply the necessary security credentials to the second door. When the system verifies these credentials, you can enter the secure area. Until this door is closed and locked once more, no one else can gain access to the mantrap.

Anti-Passback Technologies

To prevent an employee from lending his or her keycard to an unauthorized user, many card readers incorporate anti-passback features where access cards must be used in a specific sequence for the system to grant access.

To control access to and from a facility, for example, you would swipe your card to enter (“card in”) and swipe again to leave the building (“card-out”). Regional anti-passback systems establish additional rules for card readers within a specific area of a building. If you don’t enter a building through an authorized card reader entrance, for example, you won’t be granted access from any other card readers within the facility.

These systems often employ timed, soft, or hard anti-passback features. In a timed setup, the violator is blocked for a set period of time. Soft anti-passback admits the violator to the secure area, but it notifies a system operator. Hard anti-passback technologies completely deny access to the violator.

Where Are Mantraps Commonly Used?

If your facilities house mission-critical operations, highly proprietary research, or sensitive data, using mantraps for access control can help keep your buildings secure. They’re frequently used in airports, back-facing banking operations, healthcare facilities, research labs, and government installations. They also find widespread use in data centers to protect servers and sensitive digital information.

Is a Mantrap Right for My Facility?

So how do you decide if using a mantrap for access control is the answer? First, you need to balance security requirements with your budget constraints. Take the time to assess your threat profile and come up with a cost-effective solution to match – whether it’s a combination of perimeter security, access-control technologies, and mantraps, or a more scaled-down version. Chris Mackey, operations manager at Kriebel Security Inc. stated, “We’re [ . .  ] seeing increased interest in active security systems that can actually block or trap a robber, as opposed to passive ones, like cameras, that just record the activity.”

To avoid potential problems of misuse with card reader systems, a growing number of companies and organizations use biometric technologies to effectively control access to their facilities. These scanning devices make use of your unique physiological characteristics, such as your fingerprints, face shape, or vein patterns, to verify your identity. Since they are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate, they serve as an ideal way to make sure you are really you. Biometric technologies range from facial recognition and voice authentication to fingerprint and iris scans.

At what point do mantraps become a necessary add-on? It depends on the level of security you require. They make sense if you need to protect large amounts of sensitive data, and the risk of a physical breach is high. But, if you don’t have a track record of break-ins, and the threat level is lower, biometric technology by itself may be sufficient.

Important Mantrap Considerations

As you weigh your security options, keep the following in mind:

Cost & Complexity – Mantraps can cost between $30,000 and $60,000 each, depending on their level of sophistication. That doesn’t account for the potential cost of hiring guards to monitor the access process. Also, installation can be complex. Mantraps typically come in one or two pre-fabricated configurations, so if you want to add a mantrap to an existing facility, the installers will need to make several modifications to accommodate the system, including moving walls, enlarging entryways, and other structural changes.

Protecting Employees vs. Securing Access – Think about the purpose of the security measure. Mantraps are best suited for access control in back-facing, restricted areas. If you’re looking for a more front-facing solution, protecting your employees in high-traffic areas without sacrificing good customer service, a bulletproof barrier is a better option.

Maximizing Safety – What if someone gets caught in the mantrap during a power outage or fire? You need to consider fire code requirements and establish backup plans to avoid creating a safety hazard.

Ensuring One Person at a Time – Mantraps are designed to allow entry to only one person at a time and avoid the “piggybacking” or “tailgating” effect. This happens when someone slips into a secure area by following a person who has authorized access. But how do you make sure there is only one person in the mantrap at a time? You can hire a security guard to monitor the vestibule, but there’s a cost associated with securing these resources. Or, you can incorporate technologies that perform this task automatically.

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