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What is a Mantrap?

Jeff Hale
Jeff Hale

Mantraps are expensive to purchase and install, but their costs can be quite minimal compared to the potential damage caused by an unauthorized individual gaining access to your most valuable data.

There are some cases in which serious access control measures must be taken, such as the entrance into a secure or sanitized room or facility. In those cases, mantraps are a potential solution. While these access control systems require a hefty upfront investment, they can be used to ensure that no unauthorized access into an even more valuable facility occurs. This guide explains everything you need to know about mantraps.

What is a mantrap?

A mantrap is a physical security system consisting of an enclosed space between two sets of interlocking doors, where one door must close before the second door can be unlocked and opened. This highly secure system briefly traps an individual inside a small room so their identity can be verified through an additional layer of security, or to ensure they are not bringing any potential contaminants into a sterile environment or out of a hazardous materials laboratory.

Granting or denying access through the second locked door is often the responsibility of a stationed guard who can assist in verifying an individual’s credentials, or through automated security checks that utilize keycards, biometrics, passwords, and other single- or multi-factor authentication methods.

Mantraps can be expensive to purchase and often require a great deal of costly modification to an existing facility, but their costs can be quite minimal when compared to the potential damage caused by an unauthorized individual gaining access to your most valuable data or hardware.

According to IBM Security and the Ponemon Institute’s 2020 Cost of Data Breach Report, approximately 80% of data breaches involved the theft of customer's personally identifiable information. While this may sound like a cybersecurity issue, the report also notes that 10% of the breaches in their study were the result of a physical security compromise, with an average cost of $4.36 million per breach. Many, if not all, of these physical security data breaches could have been avoided with the use of a mantrap to limit access to secure hardware.

How do mantraps work in access control?

In terms of access control systems for businesses, a mantrap is implemented for the purpose of restricting the entry and exit to and from the most secure areas of a facility.

An authorized individual must first gain entry through the perimeter door, using any number of potential ID verification technologies, such as a pin code, fingerprint scanner, or smartphone. Once they pass through the door into the vestibule, the entry door must be closed and locked before the individual can attempt to bypass the second secured door using another method of ID verification. This is typically a more stringent authentication method than used at the perimeter door. With the exception of an emergency situation such as a fire or evacuation, there is no case in which both doors can be left open at the same time. This ensures that the regular passage in and out of a mantrap is slow and controlled.

The ways in which each door can be unlocked are among the biggest differentiators between mantrap systems. The most secure options will require an individual to use some form of multi-factor authentication to gain entry through the first door, where they might be viewed on camera or greeted by a security guard who will control their access to the second door. Other systems are fully automated.

Where are mantraps used?

Mantraps are more common than you may realize. You could expect to see a mantrap utilized in airlocks, clean rooms, research labs, data centers, military facilities, casinos, banks and other highly secure areas or sterile environments. They are typically used to protect highly valuable data or assets from theft or manipulation.

However, one of the most frequent and rudimentary applications of an access control vestibule can be found at your local dog park. Most dog park entrances feature two simple locking gates with an open space to ensure no animals can easily escape each time a new visitor attempts to enter the park. While the level of security and ID verification is relatively non-existent – you typically just need to have thumbs to open the gates – it works primarily on the same access control principle as the more highly complex systems. This type of access control system dates back to the Middle Ages, where a set of heavy portcullises gates was often used to keep a visitor trapped until their identity could be verified. From infectious disease laboratories to data centers and even dog parks, each of these access control systems can only function properly when used in conjunction with the appropriate security protocols.

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Benefits of mantraps

Mantraps are among the best ways to restrict movement in and out of any secure facility. While access cards can be cloned and passwords may be hacked, the added layer of security provided by these multi-layer systems can highly mitigate the risks of a break-in or unauthorized access. While it is conceivable that an unauthorized individual could breach the first door, doing so may prevent them from being able to unlock the second door, potentially trapping them inside until the proper authorities can escort them out. This level of security alongside the threat of being detained serves as a strong deterrent to any would-be thieves.

The authentication required to cross through the entire system can be used to create a comprehensive audit trail for personnel and guests, letting you know precisely who has gained entry and the exact moment they interacted with each of your security measures.

Mantraps can also be used in conjunction with any number of additional business security system features, such as metal detectors, multi-factor authentication, biometric scanners, stationed guards, video monitoring, pin numbers, environmental hazard detection, and even infrared beams or scales to ensure that only one person is entering the vestibule at a time.

TipTip:Check out companies like Isonas, Kisi, or Johnson Controls if you’re interested in security setups with physical checkpoints.

Drawbacks of mantraps

Mantraps are far from the most affordable smart security systems; in fact, they are very expensive to install and typically require heavy modifications to existing facilities. Purchasing the basic equipment can cost between $30,000 and $60,000 depending on the level of sophistication and locking mechanisms. And once installed, they can make it difficult to transport large equipment, remove waste or pass regular deliveries to the more secure areas of your facility.

To function at their most stringent level of access control, these systems also require full-time monitoring with a stationed guard which also increases their operating expenses greatly. If not designed, installed and managed properly, they may also present a significant safety risk to approved individuals inside your facility. It is especially important that this type of access control system is always up to fire code regulations with an exit that can unlock quickly in case of fire or other emergency evacuation scenarios. It is also critical that anyone with authorization through these systems is given the proper training to leave the premises safely and quickly in case of an emergency.

Without a stationed security guard or other scanning technology implemented, it could still be possible for multiple people to gain access by piggybacking or tailgating off an authorized individual’s set of credentials, whether the authorized individual has provided their credentials voluntarily or not. But with the proper staff and technology implemented, a one-person-only access control system is relatively easy to maintain.

Image Credit: Alextov / Getty Images
Jeff Hale
Jeff Hale
business.com Contributing Writer
Jeff Hale is a writer and editor based in San Diego with a background in business development and marketing. He has identified new market opportunities for Fortune 500 companies and developed communications strategies and digital branding for tech startups and small businesses. Jeff covers emerging technologies and business solutions with a focus on efficiency and growth. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, and an MBA from Chapman University.