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Security is a rising concern in the world today. From hackers accessing valuable information to intruders threatening the safety of people and property, companies are recognizing the need for better security. This article highlights the advantages of using a turnstile rather than a door, including improved security, effective integration with the facility’s access control system and increased operational flexibility.

Securing Entry with Turnstiles

Security is a rising concern in the world today. From hackers accessing valuable information to intruders threatening the safety of people and property, companies are recognizing the need for better security. To improve the physical security of buildings and facilities, one of the best options is often the use of turnstiles to control employee and visitor access.

Benefits of Turnstiles over Doors

Above: A typical 2 lane SU5000 installation

The following highlights the advantages of using a turnstile rather than a door, including improved security, effective integration with the facility’s access control system and increased operational flexibility.

  1. Improved Security

Turnstiles provide superior access control by both detecting and deterring unauthorized entries.

When entering a facility, often the first point of entry is through a door. A common solution to secure the facility is to add a card or biometric reader and electric locks to the door. While a reader and lock requires a valid credential to unlock the door, it cannot control how long the door is open or how many people enter. Unauthorized individuals can follow authorized personnel through the secured door, resulting in a common security issue referred to as “tailgating”. Additionally, a door cannot isolate the direction of authorized passage. For instance, if a door is activated for entry, it will not be able to prevent exiting at the same time while it is open.

Unlike doors, turnstiles can limit the number of people who can enter or exit on each presented credential and control the direction of passage. In order to enter through a turnstile, a person must first present a valid credential. This signals the barriers to unlock and allow one person to pass before immediately relocking. Some turnstiles have enhanced detection features to recognize and notify of instances such as tailgating, loitering and forced passage. An unauthorized entry attempt will trigger an alarm, notify the user and alert the control center of the conflict.

  1. Access Control Integration

Turnstiles easily integrate with a building’s access control system.


The access control system allows turnstiles to work in conjunction with doors, cameras and other security equipment to ensure only specific cleared individuals are using the entry. It can provide useful information such as the specific identity, time and location of each person who entered and exited the facility. The system displays live data used by management to track visitors, pinpoint alarm locations and identify potential security threats.

When a user presents a credential, the access control system communicates with the turnstile whether or not the credential is valid and if passage is allowed. Once a passage occurs, the turnstile immediately communicates back to the access control system that the passage has occurred. When presented with invalid credentials, the access control system signals the turnstile to notify the user that their credential was not accepted. When an alarm activates at the turnstile, the turnstile and access control system can function in unison to alert security, turn on nearby cameras and lock down the appropriate turnstiles and secondary doors.

  1. Operational Flexibility

Turnstiles enhance facility operations by streamlining the entry process.

Turnstiles accommodate a wide array of credential readers, allowing facilities the option of using virtually any type of media to authorize entry, including barcodes, magnetic stripe, proximity cards (RFID/NFC) or biometrics. Readers installed with the turnstiles allow users to present their own credentials to gain entry. The self-validation function lessens the burden on receptionists and security guards, allowing them to focus on their primary job functions instead of having to verify credentials.

Turnstiles can operate in a single direction or bi-directionally. Passage modes are independent for each direction and include free pass, controlled passage or locked down. Free pass mode allows entry without authorization – often used when users are not required to card out to exit. Controlled passage requires a valid credential before permitting entry. Locked down mode remains locked and does not allow entry, even when presented with a valid credential.

Management can schedule specific modes to activate at certain times of the day to meet operational requirements. For example, more turnstiles may be set as entry-only during morning hours when employees are arriving to work, then switched to exit-only in the afternoon when employees are leaving. Turnstiles can also be locked down at night and on weekends when the facility is closed. Turnstile modes are typically set through the access control system or, for more advanced turnstiles, controlled remotely using an application on the facility’s network.

Additional Considerations

Emergencies and Power Outages

Power outages will cause loss of turnstile function unless backed up by an alternate power source. The access control system can also remove power as part of the facility’s emergency response protocol.

Depending on configuration, turnstiles default to either fail-safe or fail-secure (sometimes called fail-lock) upon loss of power. Fail-safe means the turnstile unlocks or opens and remains unlocked or open when unpowered, allowing users to freely exit without authorization. Fail-secure means the turnstile remains locked when unpowered, disallowing any entry or exit through that entrance. The typical configuration is fail-secure in the entrance direction and fail-safe in the exit direction. This prevents anyone from entering to maintain security, but allows personnel inside to exit the facility.

ADA Compliance

Another important consideration is meeting ADA requirements to accommodate handicapped users. Some turnstiles, such as optical turnstiles, offer the option of a wider, ADA compliant passage width to accommodate wheelchairs. For turnstiles without this option, a security gate with an ADA compliant width can be installed next to the turnstile. Either solution allows facilities to maintain security while providing access for disabled users and deliveries.

Installation and Maintenance

The layout, size, number of users and traffic patterns of the installation area determine the number of turnstiles necessary. In smaller areas, one or two turnstiles may suffice; however, high-traffic areas may require a larger number of turnstiles to accommodate the needs of the facility. Multi-lane configurations can incorporate any number of standard and ADA width lanes, as well as pedestrian security gates. In addition to turnstiles and gates, modular barriers or fencing may be necessary to fill in any remaining space between the turnstiles and other fixed objects.

Contractors and installers should be aware that not all turnstiles are created equal. Generally, manufacturers use durable materials, such as stainless steel and acrylics that require little maintenance and withstand prolonged use. However, quality and specific features can differ greatly between manufacturers. Depending on the manufacturer, turnstiles may ship fully assembled and ready to install, or may require substantial assembly on site. Knowing this information beforehand can save time and resources during the installation process.

Additional considerations include confirming where the turnstiles are built, shipped from, and the support resources available from the factory or authorized dealer network. A reseller (unlike a manufacturer) may not have the resources to support the installer or end user after the sale. A knowledgeable partner will be able to help clients choose the correct equipment and ensure pre-installation requirements (such as anchoring, power and communication conduits, etc.) are met.

Choosing the Right Turnstile for Your Application

Turnstiles fall into three primary categories: opticals, full height and waist high. Depending on the specific application, a different type of turnstile may be preferred. Choosing the right turnstile requires consideration of different factors, including whether it is for indoor or outdoor use, the desired level of security, budget, features needed and aesthetic preferences.

The following provides a brief description, typical applications and pros and cons of each type of turnstile.


SU5000 optical turnstile

Optical turnstiles consist of two cabinets set apart to create a passage lane. Optical turnstiles use sensors to detect and track a person through the turnstile. Optical turnstiles can operate with or without barriers, although when used for security purposes they usually come with some type of motorized barrier. Barrier-free optical turnstiles only “sense” unauthorized passage and are generally used for passive security or where an attendant is always present.

Optical turnstiles are ideal for situations where speed of entry and aesthetics are important, such as in corporate lobbies, multi-tenant buildings, university recreation centers and modern health clubs. Typical applications include main lobby access, employee entrances and elevator bank access.


  • Aesthetically pleasing appearance for upscale and corporate settings
  • Provides bi-directional access control
  • Available with various types and heights of barriers
  • Tailgating, loitering and anti-pass back detection
  • Accommodates handicapped users


  • Indoor only use
  • Higher cost than more traditional mechanical alternatives
  • Barrier-free options provide lower level security

Case Study: Auburn University Chooses Alvarado SU5000 Optical Turnstiles

Auburn University incorporated barrier optical turnstiles to control access into their new $72 million, 240,000 square-foot Recreation & Wellness Center.

After a frustrating experience with another turnstile manufacturer, Auburn replaced the originally installed equipment with SU5000 optical turnstiles and an SW1000 tandem motorized gate. The optical turnstiles blend well with the recreation center’s environment and provide reliable access control.

The university installed five SU5000 optical turnstiles: three for entry and two for exit. Users present ID cards at designated entry-only turnstiles to enter the facility. To exit, users pass through designated exit turnstiles, which open automatically as users leave. The tandem motorized gate has a wide 72” passage width that allows large equipment to be moved in and out of the facility and supports the mass entry of large tour groups.

Read full case study …

Full height

MST full height turnstile

Full height turnstiles consist of rotating barriers that extend from the floor to top of the turnstile, creating a full height barrier that looks similar to a revolving door. Full height turnstiles can come as a single unit or as a tandem unit, which combines two turnstiles within a smaller footprint.

Full height turnstiles are best suited for situations that require higher levels of security, especially in unmanned locations. Common users are military bases, nuclear and energy facilities, distribution warehouses and manufacturing facilities. For perimeter control, fence line security and parking lot access there is no better option than a full height turnstile.


  • Rugged build for maximum security
  • Provides bi-directional access control
  • Suitable for outdoor use
  • Mid-range cost


  • Large size
  • Obstructive appearance
  • Requires a door or gate for handicapped users

Case Study: FedEx Continues to Choose Alvarado Full Height Turnstiles

FedEx Ground specifies full height turnstiles, full height gates and custom-fabricated barriers to increase security around the perimeter fence line of each of its facilities. The product package is designed specifically for FedEx Ground facilities to provide reliable access control within the company’s budget. There are over 280 installations around the world.

The full height turnstiles use exclusive technology that provides controlled rotation that eliminates jarring stops, reducing wear on all moving parts and extending the life of the turnstile. Every gate and full height barrier ships fully assembled. Turnstiles ship in five pre-assembled parts for easy installation, saving valuable time and money.

Read full case study …

Waist high

EDC-BN waist high turnstile

Waist high turnstiles consist of a tripod barrier arm installed at waist height that rotates to allow entry. Sturdy construction and mechanics allow waist high turnstiles to last for decades, even under extreme use.

Waist high turnstiles are frequently used in public access locations, such as theme parks and stadiums, to manage the large crowds of people entering the facility. Other common uses include lobby areas, warehouses, manufacturing facilities and employee cafeterias. Typical applications include employee access control and visitor management.


  • Highly durable
  • Provides bi-directional access control
  • Generally suitable for indoor or outdoor use
  • More economical


  • Easy to climb over or under the barrier arm
  • Requires a door or gate for handicapped users


When considering options to improve the physical security at a facility, turnstiles should be at the top of the list. Turnstiles improve security and integrate easily with facility access control and visitor management systems. With multiple types, features and options, turnstiles easily meet requirements and enhance the security of today’s modern business facilities.

Turnstiles and Building Codes:

Before specifying, purchasing and installing turnstiles, consult federal, state and local building codes to ensure the installation meets access requirements. Requirements may differ between jurisdictions.

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