Turnstile Access Control Systems

Turnstiles are one of the most common ways to control access to a space, to keep track of how many people enter a space, to provide security, to control crowds, and to prevent loss control.

Turnstiles, as many of us are very aware, are now used in a variety of spaces for a variety of reasons. Turnstiles are, for many, a part of daily life, especially in New York City where subways and many office buildings utilize them.

Turnstiles are mechanisms, which allow a business, location, or group to have control over who accesses a space, under what circumstances people enter, and when they are granted access. For example, in New York City, turnstiles are used in the subway system, and a Metrocard with full fare grants access. The most common turnstiles have an arm that is locked which unlocks when an access has been granted by a turnstile operator or through the presentation of a card, ticket, or badge.


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Turnstiles are designed to allow one person to cross through them at a time, and are commonly used in large public spaces such as public transportation, sporting events, airports, and amusement parks. The most common use for turnstiles is to restrict and allow access based on the presentation of credentials. Another common use for the turnstile is that it be used to count the number of people who access a certain unrestricted area, such as how many people use a certain thrill ride at an amusement park, or how many patrons attend a theatre performance. Less commonly, turnstiles are also used to maintain pedestrian traffic in a single direction.

Modern turnstiles are primarily mechanical, and therefore the arm of the turnstile only goes in one direction, keeping the flow of patrons moving forward. Many modern turnstiles are also electronic. Modern electronic turnstiles contain sensors that scan access point credentials such as cards, tickets, and badges. If an incorrect or insufficient access credential is swiped under a sensor, or an access credential is not present, access is not granted.

From full height versions to looped cross-arm models to traditional three-armed models, turnstiles are manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit varying needs of the spaces they are implemented in. Portable turnstiles have even been created for traveling or outdoor events. Turnstiles have been created to accommodate large and small spaces, and variations also exist depending on the level of security control expected of the turnstile. Larger, taller models grant more security control, where smaller versions provide less.

It is important to note that the American Disabilities Act requires that access control accommodations be provided for those with physical challenges. Some options for such accommodations include a variation of the turnstile with a drop arm as well as a turnstile that is almost like a revolving door in appearance and functionality, with large spaces and clear glass dividers rather than large metal arms more common to turnstiles.
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