Finding a Better Way to Lock the Doors

A great majority of college and university decision makers say that their access control systems for campus residence halls, classroom buildings, and administrative buildings are not very effective, according to a recent study commissioned by Carmel, IN-based Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies.

The study, Effective Management of Safe & Secure Openings & Identities, compiles responses from more than 1,300 students and decision makers from 980 two-year and four-year, public and private colleges and universities.

Only 18 percent of the decision makers, drawn from campus safety, one-card, IT, housing, and other departments interested in security, say their facilities have very effective access control systems.

Forty-nine percent say their systems are somewhat effective, nine percent label their systems somewhat ineffective, and one percent say access control on their campus is ineffective. The remaining 23 percent couldn’t say whether their systems were effective or ineffective.

“Those findings jibe with my experience,” says Paul Timm, PSP, president of RETA Security, Inc. a Lemont, IL-based security consultant specializing in education and a member of the ASIS International School Safety and Security Council. “While the exterior doors of campus residence halls are typically locked, the rooms, as well as other campus buildings, remain open during the day.”

Survey participants listed four major concerns about campus access control:
The unacceptable length of time necessary to notify officials when a problem arises with the access control system.
Inability to lockdown a campus immediately when an emergency occurs.
Lack of knowledge about who is inside a building in an emergency.
  • Failure of students to comply with access control policies and procedures — in particular, the problem of tailgating or piggybacking through controlled entrances.
Electronic Access Control
An electronic access control system, of course, can address three of the concerns. It will alarm when a door is forced or propped open and help identify who is in a building and who is not. Tailgating will likely remain problematic. Students — 
people in general, as a matter of fact — 
think it rude not to hold a door open for others.

Networked electronic access control systems also enable instant lockdowns during emergencies, while allowing campus safety officers to lock the exterior doors of buildings across a large campus at night automatically — without sidetracking patrolling officers.

Electronic access control has other benefits, too. It replaces keys with cards. When someone loses a card, security simply issues a new one and reprograms the existing lock.

Given the benefits of electronic access control over locks and keys, some campuses are beginning to install electronic systems, usually starting with the residence halls. As the changeover proceeds, campus administrators and police and security officials should begin to gain confidence in campus access control systems.

“Start with a commitment from top decision makers,” Timm says. “If you don’t have that commitment, the process can be frustrating. Other items on the school’s agenda will get in the way.”

Funding Challenges
Funding expensive electronic access control systems can, of course, pose problems.

Miami University in Oxford, OH, (see sidebar on page 31) is funding its recently installed system as part of a long-range master plan for university housing. 
“Over the next 20 years, we plan to renovate every residence hall on campus and to build several new halls,” says Larry Fink, assistant vice president for housing and auxiliaries with the University. “That plan has been funded and door access is part of it.”

Another strategy aims to complete small projects year-by-year. “Invest in pilots,” advises Timm. “Start with exterior doors on the residence halls. Any gains that you make will improve access control.”

One large university has developed an interesting angle on the project-by-project strategy. Many of the residence halls on this campus feature common areas used by all residents and sleeping rooms for individual students. The sleeping rooms have key locks but other doors have electronic access control locks.

“Our rule of thumb in housing is to put two access controlled doors,” says that university’s security manager. “We started with the exterior doors — the perimeter — 
and now we’re adding the doors to the stairwells.”

In residence halls with three- and four-bedroom suites, the access control system operates the exterior doors and the front door to the suites.

It’s a classic strategy of creating rings of security moving from the perimeter to the interior, and the university is paying for it piece by piece. “We’ll probably add 300 doors to the system this year,” says the security manager.

Enhancing Safety 
With Audit Reports
“There is no doubt that schools must move to electronic access control,” Timm says. “It’s too expensive to re-key buildings every few years, and it will enhance security, not only by providing better locks but also with additional features that you should learn to use — audit reports, for instance.”

Timm says it is important to review audit reports kept by access control systems. “Look for exceptions,” he says. “Is a particular card being used so often that it stands out? The owner is probably passing it around.
“Suppose someone’s card allows 
access to a building only after 9:00 a.m.? Why does the audit report show the 
card consistently being tried at 8:45 a.m.? Why does that individual want to get 
in early?”

Consistently analyzed, access control system audit reports can help to identify developing security problems and prevent them. 

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