Access control – museum and heritage sites

Access control – museum and heritage sites

Museums and heritage sites in the region have a number of roles to play – not only are they there to preserve items and artefacts of historical interest, they also exist to serve their communities by offering spaces that engage and invite comment and discussion. But in order to do this effectively they must be safe spaces and also places where items of often irreplaceable value are kept secure

The devastation in recent years of significant heritage sites such as Palmyra Syria has highlighted the vulnerability of places of cultural and historic importance, especially to the ravages of war. Not only that, art theft and illicit trade in items of cultural interest and value is on the rise, according to INTERPOL.

In 2018 it reported more than 8,500 offences worldwide, with some 91,000 cultural objects stolen and almost 223,000 objects seized by law enforcement agencies.

In September this year more than 90 national and international experts from 23 countries in Europe, the Middle East and United States met in Wiesbaden in Germany at the European Working Meeting on Art Crime and Illicit trafficking in Stolen Cultural Property.

Hosted at the headquarters of the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA), meeting was also attended by representatives from the Council of the European Union, EUROPOL, ICCROM, OSCE, UNESCO, UNITAD, UNODC, WCO and the Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council (UN SC).

BKA’s Stefan Michel (criminal director, Department of Serious and Organised Crime) highlighted the importance of addressing the continuing looting of cultural goods in crisis regions, participants discussed the involvement of terrorist groups in the looting and smuggling of cultural items, especially from conflict zones.

The organisation provides the only international police database containing information on stolen works of art. Corrado Catesi, coordinator of INTERPOL’s Works of Art unit, explained that no country was immune to cultural theft and trade: “Our collective focus must be to protect heritage from exploitation and destruction. Establishing specialised police units with an operational stolen works of art database should be at the heart of an effective national strategy.”

According to a recent report in Insurance Journal ( it’s estimated that a mere 1.5% of cases see the art recovered and the criminal prosecuted.

Behind the scenes of any museum or heritage site, there wages an ongoing battle to protect these treasured items from irretrievable loss or destruction. Thankfully, continuous advances in technology are now making it easier and more efficient for cultural institutions to protect their assets.

Access control specialist Asa Abloy have long been working with cultural institutions such as The British Museum on access control and security. Lisa O’Flynn, market development manager at Abloy UK, says new advances in locking technology can help museums to strike the right balance between a great visitor experience and robust security.

“Robust museum security is a fine balancing task; items must be open yet secure, exposed but guarded. They must be both impregnable but feel within easy reach. There must be a harmony that both protects the exhibits and encourages visitor interaction to heighten appreciation.”

She adds that this must all be achieved while ensuring that security is discreet, provides value for money and meets building regulations and insurance stipulations.

“The traditional mix of security systems, physical barriers, CCTV/video, motion sensors and human guards should be standard, but physical access control is an essential tool to elevate any museum’s security to the next level. To maintain stringent levels of security, only authorised people should be granted access to the secure areas and exhibits – and only at specified times – using a system that identifies which member of the team went where, and when.”

Modern, electronic access control has the functionality and flexibility to achieve this. Traditional panel-based alarm systems or mechanical lock-and-key systems cannot accomplish this – at least, not without placing a huge admin burden on security staff.

Abloy has a 110-year legacy of providing security solutions to some of the world’s greatest museums, including the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Vassa Museum in Stockholm. In fact, more than 50,000 Abloy locks guard at once point guarded the contents of the British Museum.

Its own solution, says Flyn combines the best parts of the electronic and mechanical world. Based on a rotating disc cylinder, the patented PROTEC2 CLIQ ensures mechanical locking and electronic CLIQ technology enables the flexible management of keys, access rights and audit trails.

It enables system managers to delete access permissions on lost and stolen keys, thereby eliminating any potential security threat, and the system produces instant audit trails for all the keys in use. “It is also wireless and easy to install, and doesn’t disrupt the physical or historical appearance of a building interior or exterior,” says Flynn.

“With a multi-layered system, effective access control can play a key role in minimising risk – whether in a heritage property with historic architecture to maintain, or in a modern building where contemporary security blends in easily,”

The purpose of museum security is not to close its doors, but to make sure they remain open to visitors in a responsible manner. Thanks to these advancements in locking and security technologies, museums are now being protected in increasingly innovative and effective ways.

Box out

Design Museum case study

Abloy UK supplied the Design Museum in Kensington, London, with over 56 PROTEC2 CLIQ® electromechanical cylinders to protect its high value assets and exhibits. The CLIQ® software was installed in the control room and the cylinders secured doors, only allowing access to areas personnel were authorised to enter. This gave the flexibility to change access without jeopardising security.

Auckland Museum case study

Auckland War Memorial Museum – one of New Zealand’s iconic landmarks and finest heritage buildings – turned to Abloy for a more secure, modern door and display case locking system. The wireless capability of the PROTEC2 CLIQ® locks provided convenient access control for the museum’s existing doors without any need to run power to them, maintaining the character of the heritage doors and avoiding the expense and risk of damage running wires.

Main photo caption:

Marina Milella [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]