Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Moving Forward with Access Control

Access Control on campus

PHOTO © KADMY

Controlling access to campus facilities has long been a challenge as managers seek a balance between two vastly different goals. Providing easy access to students, faculty and staff is always a primary consideration. But then, so is security. Fortunately, efforts to meet these contradictory objectives are being bolstered by the increasing effectiveness of sophisticated access controls. Even smaller institutions and those with limited budgets are seeing workable options in areas ranging from card access to surveillance.

At the same time, providing adequate security while continuing to support an open learning environment requires a multilayered approach.

“For colleges and universities the challenge is compounded since they have to manage security across multiple buildings, campuses and sports facilities,” says Julie Brown, institutional market leader for Tyco Integrated Security. “All this must be done while dealing with a diverse group of stakeholders including students, faculty, staff and the larger community.”

She notes that while it has become common practice for schools of all sizes to combine perimeter access control with video and intercom, campus leaders should also consider leveraging remote management capabilities.

“In today’s increasingly connected world, security professionals and administrators need the ability to manage their security systems while on the go, using any web-enabled device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop,” she says. “Having the ability to control systems while on-campus, but away from their desks, enables campus leaders to improve productivity, while enhancing security measures conveniently and affordably.”

Planning Strategically

Paul Donahue, president and CEO of Centerra Group, says that effective access control for any institution starts with a strategic plan on just how open leaders want to the campus to be. “The greater the opening, the more difficult the challenge,” he says.

He points out that without an effective and defined administrative and student strategy, the real work of secured access control can’t be undertaken.

“Like any investment, access control has an ROI, but a safe landing is predicated on a safe approach,” Donahue says.

He notes that card access, badging, identification and surveillance might all have a place in any security system, along with other possible components.

“The system should be scalable so as to grow as the college or university or environment grows,” he says, adding that wireless solutions are a growing and cost-effective option that can also be integrated into existing facility management software.

“Security has to be seen as a positive and necessary element for any college and university today,” he says. “All of these components are equally necessary in ensuring parents know that their children’s safety and security are important to the school.”

At the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, card access controls have recently been implemented in all major academic and residential buildings. Security cameras have also been upgraded to IP cameras that are all network-based.

Todd Badham, director of security, sees the trend moving away from traditional swipe cards and toward proximity cards, key fobs or smartphone apps and, in some cases, wireless systems.

“Depending on the system a small institution is using, changing to proximity cards or key fobs may or may not be financially feasible,” he says. “Incorporating access control in new construction is fairly straight forward. Retrofitting old buildings can be more difficult and expensive, especially if the look of the old doors and hardware is important to the institution.”

Badham says that at his institution, an ongoing commitment is maintaining a consistent “look and feel,” and that upgrades have been made accordingly.

“We are a smaller institution and I feel we have tackled it with positive results,” he says. “I created a campus standard and we moved forward strategically, doing the residence halls first. Last summer we finished with all the major academic buildings.”

Upgrading Systems

Currently, most colleges and universities currently use campus magstripe cards or low-frequency (125 kHz) cards, often known as proximity cards, according to Brett St. Pierre, director of business development, education solutions with HID Global.

“While these cards have clearly been popular choices in the past, they simply do not provide the level of security or adaptability needed to protect campuses as security threats continue to evolve,” he says.

He advocates the adoption of high frequency, contactless smart card technology that uses mutual authentication and cryptographic protection mechanisms with secret keys, along with a secure messaging protocol delivered on a trust-based platform. With the latest platforms, it’s also possible to move the card experience to smartphones with all the convenience that portability brings.

“Even smaller institutions can successfully tackle an upgrade to improved security and broader capabilities,” St. Pierre says. He notes that some campuses have immediate concerns that prompt accelerated adoption, while others can’t afford to do everything at once. Fortunately, when multi-technology readers became available they offered the ability to read a current card technology as well as a future smart card technology.

“This enables colleges and universities to choose a multi-year upgrade path, starting the migration by deploying combination readers for new buildings or combination cards for incoming freshmen,” he says. “Either way, campuses that start with multi-technology readers are preparing for the future and will end up with a complete migration over time.”

Brown says that while city campuses have historically had more confined and rigid security environments, heightened concerns for security have also prompted more open campuses to lock down buildings.

“We are seeing an increase in turnstile access control solutions,” she says. “They not only stop ‘piggybacking,’ a common issue in dorm buildings, but also cut down on costs and staffing resources needed.”

Another popular effort to improve access control, according to Brown, is the use of wireless card readers for interior doors.

“While main perimeter doors will be hardwired, affordable wireless card readers make securing individual dorm rooms simpler,” she says. “They are easy to manage since cards can be quickly disabled if a student moves or loses the card.”

A plus is that readers may pay for themselves after a year or two as the need for re-keying doors diminishes. Wireless card readers can also be used for labs or computer rooms to support after-hours access for students.

In planning and carrying out upgrades, the value of keeping all parties informed should not be overlooked.

“Two-way communication between all stakeholders is key to maintaining a secure learning environment as well as identifying future problem areas,” Brown says. She recommends that campus leaders solicit input and listen to the recommendations of security personnel, students and staff.

Do Your Research

“It’s also important to go off-campus and meet with neighborhood groups and businesses, like stores and banks, as often as possible,” she adds. “You may find that the problems they’re experiencing might affect your campus security as well.” Brown points out that open communication is also important for increased collaboration between traditionally “siloed” departments such as security, facility management and IT.

“While planning for facilities updates or new construction is scheduled years ahead of time, security officials are sometimes the last to be notified,” she says. “Instead, they should be brought into conversations early to help with planning and budgeting.”

It’s also best to avoid disconnects between the technical IT department and the security strategies of the security departments, many of which may be managed by former law enforcement agents. Brown says that an experienced integrator can help navigate both departments and help facilitate more streamlined collaboration.

Badham advocates a value-added emphasis.

“Consider the importance of a good system,” he says. “Don’t be discouraged by high pricing, and approach strategically. New construction projects are a great time to get started.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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