Campus Alert: Smart Cards Enhance Security
- By Rhonda Morin
- July 1st, 2008
Read any admissions’ brochure or attend an event at a college or university, and you’ll likely learn about its link to the community. Many campus grounds are easily accessed; fences are low or nonexistent, there are few security checkpoints, and oftentimes the public is free to come and go. Yet, more campuses are introducing new security measures that limit access to buildings, particularly residential halls.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) has a history of being an open campus; they even have a slogan called the “Wisconsin idea.” Its premise is that UW-Madison serves the needs of all the state’s citizens. “We are one in the same,” according to Susan Riseling, chief of the University police.
Balancing the security needs of the campus with the daily flow of 66,000 people who enter and exit some 330 buildings on its mile-long campus is a challenge. Prior to 2001, UW-Madison had seven different access control systems. There was no way for the police department to access the buildings remotely. Realizing updates were necessary, but funds were tight, the University devised a color-coded priority list and then began to introduce a centrally controlled card-access system. The priority list is labeled red, blue, and green, and designates critical to less-critical areas.
The University has research facilities, such as places where primates are housed; these buildings are coded as red. An example of a blue area is UW-Madison’s nuclear reactor building, and green is assigned to its residential halls. The color system can change depending on circumstances. Its nine-story Camp Randall football stadium is green when its empty, but red on game day.
Riseling said the card access system now allows for changing the schedule of locking or opening doors. Because her staff can monitor areas from a central location, cameras can hone in on a locale and officers can be dispatched if there is a problem. When the Badgers play at the football stadium, the tickets are access controlled. The barcode on the tickets is unique and will alert entrance workers if a ticket has been duplicated. Security officials can also remotely lock and unlock the stadium.
Smart Buildings Equals More Work
Securing a campus, particularly when an intruder is on the loose, is not as simple as locking buildings. “People think you push a button and the whole place is locked. That might not be desirable. If people are running for cover, do you want to lock them out?” said Riseling. Sometimes cordoning off one building or sending out an emergency text message may guard against an incident.
Today there are more than 55,000 users on the Centralized Card Access Systems (CCAS) that range from students, staff, and faculty to vendors and contractors. When major renovations are done or new buildings are constructed, the structures are outfitted in CCAS, a product of Tour Andover Controls.
Now that about a quarter of the buildings on the UW-Madison campus are monitored by access control, shouldn’t fewer officers be needed? Riseling is quick to add that that conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Now the system screams at you; the buildings are smart now. We know when the heat it off or a door is propped open or if a secured area is compromised. Now you need a squadron of people to deal with these smart buildings,” she said. Dispatchers currently monitor 3,000 alarms in addition to the access control system.
“The workload has gone astronomically through the roof,” she said, adding that UW-Madison needs to increase resources for the dispatchers but, as a result, the dispatchers will send out more officers to resolve problems. “Technology,” Riseling said, “can actually add to our workload.”
Cards and Doors
Just as technology can increase the security burden, so can the layout of a campus. Emory University, located 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, has 300 buildings, numerous centers for advanced study, and a host of affiliated institutions. Though 90 percent of the buildings are within a five-minute radius, its primate field station is one hour away, and there are clinics located in the city’s shopping centers that are part of Emory.
“We do not want to respond to every nuisance alarm that goes off on campus because we would have to hire 10 to 12 people to respond just to alarms,” said Vickie Evans, supervisor of the security system shop at Emory.
The University’s access control system is evolving, and by 2010 the institution’s goal is to be a one-card system. Emory has its own police department on campus. Officers sometimes carry up to four different cards to get into buildings. The security systems master plan for 2015 includes exterior access control for all new buildings and closed circuit televisions for exterior doors, said Evans.
“Our message to people now is that [the cards] are not about convenience, they are about safety and security,” she said.
At present, the University has placed its access control focus on residential halls, which are locked at all times. Some doors are card accessed, while others are still fitted with key locks. All new buildings, however, are being outfitted with DualPROX readers — steel units that are attached to walls and are used to identify cards.
Evans estimates that about 40 percent of the residence halls are accessible by cards. The cards have an antenna embedded in them, as well as a magnetic strip. In addition to getting into their residences and academic buildings, students use the cards for any point-of-sale items like the copy machine, food courts, and shopping areas.
The institution has also updated its door hardware. For double-door areas, the standards include a pull handle on one door and no exterior hardware on the adjacent door. This makes chaining or jamming a broom through the handles much more difficult. Rim-mounted exit devices are also part of the University’s hardware standards.
“We have ramped up our efforts as a result of the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois [shootings],” said Evans. Emory University added these door-hardware standards to all new construction and plans to retrofit all old doors. “It’s a very expensive proposition to do, but we realize it needed to be done.”
In an effort to beef up its emergency alert systems, Emory launched a cell phone and e-mail notification system two years ago. If there is a tornado warning, for example, the University’s police department can send text messages or e-mails to subscribers while sounding a campuswide siren and an outdoor-alert warning. Evans said the cell service is popular, with 90 percent of students subscribing to it, as well as many faculty and staff.
Keys Get Lost
A vendor who lost a set of keys was the reason Union College introduced a card-access system to its campus. The college, with an enrollment of 2,128 full-time undergraduates, is located on 100 acres in Schenectady, NY. In 2000, a vendor had been given a set of keys to access several buildings on campus. The person lost the keys, and the college spent “tens of thousands of dollars” replacing the locks on the doors, said Chris Hayen, assistant director campus public safety. To make matters worse, shortly after changing the locks, another vendor lost the keys a second time.
Union College’s residential halls are now all accessed by cards, as are many of its academic buildings. The cards have a dual purpose — security and purchase power. The card comes equipped with a barcode so that students can sign out library books, as well as a magnetic strip with an International Standards Organization (ISO) number — similar to credit cards. The ISO is a randomly generated number that is easy to change when the card is lost. The number points to the student’s identification number and she/he is charged for purchases. The cards can be used at off-campus restaurants, laundry facilities, and dining halls, or swiped to purchase hockey tickets.
On the security side, public safety now has the ability to turn a person’s card off or open buildings at a touch of a button. If a perpetrator is on campus and is using a card, public safety can quickly deny access to the person, said Hayen.
Union College, with 105 buildings, is much smaller than Emory or UW-Madison, and has afforded the cost of updating 65 of its main campus buildings with card access. The rest of its structures are residence halls located on the streets nearby campus, or academic and administrative offices. The plan is to retrofit the offices with card access. The college also has 30 cameras on campus that mostly monitor the grounds and a few located in hallways near technology areas.
Like UW-Madison, Union and the city of Schenectady are a close-knit community with open access to the campus’ grounds, but now with limited access to its buildings. “The townspeople come to our events and our football games. The College fixes up houses for people,” said Hayen.
Keeping the grounds and some facilities open to the public is a priority at these three campuses. Balancing the safety and security of the students, faculty, and staff with the commitment to the local community is the challenge that campuses face today. Card-access systems appear to be the current trend by allowing for remotely controlled lock and unlock options as well as individual access.
Rhonda Morin is a writer based in Oregon. She's the former editor of a New England college publication,
Thomas Magazine, and an associate editor for a national computer trade publication. Rhonda can be contacted at 503/206-4298 or firstname.lastname@example.org.