Electronic Security Is a Team Effort at Brigham Young University
- By Dorothy Wright
- February 1st, 1999
Who controls a college or university card access system: the campus security/police department, facilities management or individual departments? It’s an issue that is often up for debate. Not so at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, where a team approach has been used in the decision-making, planning and phased implementation of a new electronic security system.
Indeed, at BYU, teamwork is "a hallmark of the success" of the project thus far. According to Lt. Arnold Lemmon, head of the university police department, "Everyone is singing out of the same hymn book."
BYU was established in 1875 as Brigham Young Academy by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today, BYU has about 29,000 students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 100 foreign countries; a total campus population of 32,000; and about 400 facilities.
Two Years of Planning
In late 1996, BYU began the pilot phase of implementing a card access system - after two years of planning and evaluation. The decision to investigate a card access system was driven foremost the university’s commitment to providing a secure environment, boosted by the heightened awareness of the security issue among parents and prospective students as a result of the federal Campus Security Act.
The result of a campus security survey conducted by the university police department also got people’s attention. "We went into one of our computer science buildings and audited who was in that building after hours," Lemmon explains. "We learned that 50 percent of the people using the computer labs after hours were not affiliated with our university. That was a real red flag."
A project team was formed, comprising Lemmon, a representative of the purchasing department, and the head of the physical facilities department’s electrical engineering services. The university’s vice presidents of finance and student life also were involved. "We had to sell them first," Lemmon says. "Once we did, they were excited. We took them on a site survey, and we kept them involved. Another key to success was that we had their endorsement of the need, type of system and management of it."
A budget of $35,000 was provided to hire a security consultant with university experience, which Lemmon says was a good investment. "He spent a year helping us put together the RFP. He validated what we thought we wanted, put us in the right direction and shepherded us through the RFP process. He helped us save a lot of money."
A System Is Selected to Pilot
It took another year to evaluate the bids. Based on its research, the project team selected the Software House C-CURE System 1 Plus from Sensormatic Electronics Corp. The system comprises the following:
- Digital Equipment’s Microvax computer as its host platform;
- an individual workstation in each building that uses Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system;
- card readers using magnetic stripe card technology;
- Sensormatic Software House advanced processing controller panels, each of which controls up to eight doors using information downloaded by the host computer; and
- two C-Cure Ultrastations, one in university police headquarters and the other in the electrical engineering offices, enabling administration of the card system and providing reports on access at all entry points.
For the pilot phase, the project team selected seven buildings that represent a variety of security situations: the Ezra Taft Benson Building, location of BYU’s chemical engineering department; the Ernest K. Wilkinson Center, student union; the Howard W. Hunter Law Library; the Museum of Art; the Harvey Fletcher Building, which houses electronic media services; the John A. Widtsoe Building, where a level-four biohazard center is access controlled; and the Harold B. Lee Library, where a rare document and book room section is controlled. Residence halls initially were to be included, but the housing department elected to maintain its existing keyless system to control access into most residence halls because it had been in place many years, according to housing director Julie Franklin.
Building Users in Control
The pilot phase installed a workstation in each building and about 30 card readers. The BYU police department monitors the system at its central dispatch office. The physical facilities department’s electrical engineering unit manages the software and hardware. They jointly manage the overall system, including repairs, upgrades and installation in new buildings.
Each building’s users have sole responsibility for determining who has access into their facilities. "We knew going into this that a real key to success would be giving people a say about who can come and go in their buildings," Lemmon says.
From the workstation assigned to each building, an authorized person can make additions or deletions or other changes to access control cards. Each card can be coded to place time, date and location restrictions on individual card holders. Building users also use the system to lock and unlock doors automatically at specific times.
Involvement Improves Security
Allowing each building’s occupants to be involved in the management of the system also improves security, Lemmon contends. "Now they are aware of what’s going on in their building," he says. "When we first brought it online in the Benson Building, we just let the system run for three or four weeks, and the dean and department chair were astounded at the amount of people who were coming in after hours."
Lemmon estimates that 40,000 cards have been distributed on campus. While only about 1,000 persons regularly come into contact with the card access system at this point in the implementation, the cards also can be used for ID, checking books out of the library, book billing and food service.
As of the end of 1998, the cost of the project at BYU was approximately $300,000. In phase two, the university will convert security devices currently piggybacked on its fire alarm system to the new security system and also convert another system in the art museum to the new system. In each successive phase, another six or seven buildings will be added to the system, which uses the university’s Ethernet backbone.
Lemmon says the project team is "still learning." For example, originally each building was to have two card readers so that after-hours access could be limited to two doors no matter what the building size. "It never dawned on us that it would be hard for custodial services to have to take all the trash out one door and go all the way around the building to the dumpster," he says. "So we installed a reader for custodians’ access and egress at loading dock areas."
Lemmon says the project also drove the change from a distributed database for student and worker ID to a centralized database, including a plan to purchase a new card production system.
"Another thing we didn’t think about -- but we’re right online -- is year 2000 compliance," he said. The university’s deadline for year 2000 compliance was December 14, 1998.
Lemmon attributes some of the 30 percent decline in crime on campus to the new system, and some to implementation about six years ago of a civilian security operation -- 100 trained, uniformed student employees who are under the supervision of BYU police department’s sworn officers -- although BYU police have not conducted a formal study to prove cause and effect.
Dorothy Wright is a writer from Ardmore, Pa., with experience in higher education issues.