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Access Control

Barcode Reader: Hands Free, Hassle Free

A barcode reader is installed at M. E. Thompson Bridge to Jekyll Island, Georgia, the U.S., enabling year-round islanders and daily commuters to avoid the traffic crush altogether. Let’s take a look at how a barcode system performs a gatekeeper duty as well as a variety of purposes.

By Carmen Manly


Jekyll Island is one of the greatest assets of Georgia, the U.S., drawing 1.5 million annual visitors to its shore.  (Photo by Barcode Automation, Inc.)


Like loggerhead sea turtles looking for safe haven, visitors flock annually to Jekyll Island off the eastern coast of Georgia, the U.S., seeking rest and recuperation along miles of sand dunes and sparkling ocean shores.  Each year, beachcombers, birders, surfers and sun worshipers continue to arrive in significant numbers.  While nearby, protected sea turtles continue to swim ashore to lay their eggs, following an age-old rhythm dating back millions of years.

Publicly owned since the 1950s, the barrier island is administered by the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JIA) on behalf of the State.  They report some 1.4 million visitors arrive each year, many driving across the Downing Musgrove Causway and M.E. Thompson Bridge, the primary connector between the mainland and the island.  Visitors stop to pay a US$3 fee at the collection station before entering the park.  But, thanks to a BA-200 Barcode Reader, by Barcode Automation, Inc. (BAI), of Winter Springs, Florida, the U.S., installed in 1999, year-round islanders and daily commuters avoid the traffic crush altogether, by purchasing an annual US$35 barcode decal with unlimited trips.  The system automatically processes the identification code from a small barcode decal attached to the car window, allowing motorists to drive through “hands free” without stopping.  This results in smooth travel and reduced congestion on the bridge.  Furthermore, the fees collected go toward the island’s sensitive natural resources like the crucial nesting grounds for the sea turtles, according to park literature.




Archival records indicate the island was originally populated by the Guale Indians, then explored by the Spanish, colonized by British Gen. James Oglethorpe and sold to a French planter named Christophe du Bignon in the late 1700s.  Eventually, a du Bignon descendant sold the Island in 1886 to a group of powerful northern industrialists.  Adopting the Jekyll Island Club name, they included Joseph Pulitzer, J.P. Morgan and William K. Vanderbilt.  In 1888, the “club” commissioned a Queen Anne-style, 60-room clubhouse.  Soon, internationally prominent business leaders began to arrive for the Winter Season aboard fancy yachts.  As their numbers swelled, some members spread into the marshy interior and built grand Victorian “cottages”  The stock market crash of 1929, followed by World War II, led to a national economic crisis that proved to be the demise of the “club”  In 1947, the remaining members struggling to stem the islands demise agreed to sell for US$675,000, to the State of Georgia.  Gov. M. E. Thompson had searched for state park site such as Jekyll Island.

Over time, investments were made and renovations took place beginning with the Jekyll Island clubhouse and the outdated island roadways.  In 1954, the causeway and drawbridge connected the island to the public.  The “cottages” where also restored to their original grandeur and are open for viewing.  In 1995, because of ecological concerns and recognizing the sustaining value and attraction of the marshlands and coastal ecosystem, state legislation limited development of the island to 35 percent, leaving 65 percent undeveloped.  Today, Jekyll Island is one of Georgia’s greatest assets drawing 1.5 million annual visitors to its shore, according to the JIA.




The current M. E. Thompson Bridge, where the barcode gatekeeper is located, replaced the original lift span drawbridge.  One major advantage that Lisa Barber, gate supervisor at the island’s collection station, observes is that the barcode system helps to reduce traffic congestion over the bridge, particularly during peak hours and holidays, as compared to the manual collection lane.  “The barcode system was put in for easier access for the people who live in the area, to get them off the bridge and on the island without being held up behind traffic,” she said.  “Annual users do not have to stop, so traffic flows smoothly.”

Also, the barcode reader reduces cash handling and personnel cost.  The system can grant access for up to 100,000 vehicles with automatic time and date reporting.  And, at just a few dollars per decal, it proves less expensive to replace than costlier (and often interference plagued) RF-ID tags.

Bar code technology was first developed in the 1970s for the supermarket industry.  Laser scanners later allowed the bar code to be read at a slight distance from the head of the device by using technology like the visible laser diode scanners.  Subsequently, implementation of bar codes quickly spread beyond retail to other industries, including access security.

Barcode readers for vehicle access control were first pioneered over 15 years ago, but in the early years met with limited success.  Then in 1997, Barcode Automation, Inc. introduced the BA-200.  Soon the device developed a reputation for long term reliability and easy maintenance.  The modular components were sealed in a sleek NEMA 4 standard box, weathering well in all climatic conditions.  The barcode reader quickly became the security administrators’ choice for vehicle access control at Floridian resorts, private communities, university campuses, industry and military installation.

While barcode readers work well as a transit control, it is its ability to maintain the integrity of a security system that has proven worthy for vehicle access control in the post-9/11 era.  Once a decal is attached to the side of a vehicle window, it cannot be lost, stolen or loaned to anyone, as is frequently the case with a hand-held device.  Furthermore, the unit is designed to read only special retro-reflective material and will ignore photocopies.  At BAI, they also offer 56 different color combinations to choose from, which works well for color-coded parking areas, making an unauthorized vehicle standout. 

Derek Layton, community and parking director at Georgia’s Emory University residential campus, said since their BA-200 system was installed at their residential parking decks, it proved a highly effective gatekeeper.  “Since we have strict rules concerning how the decals are placed on a car window, swapping is not possible,” he said.  “Decals also make patrolling the decks much easier and more efficient because security officers can identify unauthorized cars quickly.”




Barcode readers also have integrated well with monitoring and surveillance equipment.  Recent trends show a growing preference by facility managers toward layered network devices.  The BA-200 readily communicates with computer software systems and other access control equipment such as security panels, telephone entry systems via a standard 26 bit Wiegand output, or RS232 computer interface, rendering a seamless access control.  The BAI barcode readers enhance what we are able to offer through our system,” said William Fitzgerald, chairman of Baywood Technologies.  The firm specializes in the development and implementation of software applications and has installed readers in Florida, including at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station requiring specific military application.  “We have found that the readers have proven to be well suited for high traffic entrances and can activate a variety of access control and surveillance devices,” he said.

At NAS Jacksonville Gary White, physical security officer is impressed with the reader’s integration capability and said, “The installation was simple and the reader integrated easily with our computer system.  The readers are quick to respond, and work well for us.”

One of the advantages to a barcode system is increased traffic flow since vehicles are read automatically and can move through the gate as quickly as it can cycle.  Another is the capability of collecting data.  At Birmingham International Airport, the barcode readers maintain order and count commercial taxis at the queuing lanes.

“The system will allow us to go to a per-trip-basis for all vendors if we so choose,” said Chris Yarboro, parking and ground transportation coordinator at the airport.  “There have been no complaints about the system, and everyone seems to appreciate its capabilities.  It is a wonderful curbside management tool.”

Maintaining privacy leading from an entryway into private community, the issue is about eliminating the rumble of tires without compromising the quality setting.  John Lieber, founder of Complete Access Control in Florida has installed barcode readers at various private communities.  Many of those installations were done to replace other access control systems.  “The barcode reader gives a better control over who has access to the property,” he said.

Rain or fog will not affect barcode readers until it is impossible to physically see across the reading distance.  Once installed, regular maintenance on the equipment consists of cleaning the optics and reader window. 

With 1.5-million visitors crossing the causeway annually at Jekyll Island, security is not a concern.  But the opportunity to generate fee income at the bridge not only helps recoup some of the maintenance expenses needed for road repairs, but also creates the opportunity to contribute to the nature conservancy.  Barber says the system serves many purposes in a cost-effective manner.


Carmen Manly is Public Relations Manager of Barcode Automation, Inc. (


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