Magazine article University Business

A Sense of Security: Colleges and Universities Get Serious about Building Access Control

Magazine article University Business

A Sense of Security: Colleges and Universities Get Serious about Building Access Control

Article excerpt

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DURING HIS 17-YEAR STINT AS DIRECTOR of Duke University's key card program, Lowell Adkins remembers responding to a system problem at a residence hall one Saturday morning. Students who were living there saw him standing outside the entrance door and offered to let him in without question. If students would open the door for a complete stranger, he thought, then security dearly wasn't a high priority for them. It would be left to administrators to improve safety conditions involving access control.

Administrators everywhere face similar situations. After the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the shootings at Virginia Tech and Delaware State University this past year, surveys show that campus safety and security is parents' number one concern. New technologies--and some new twists on older methods--are helping security officers ensure that building access is granted only to those who should have it.

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"[The Virginia Tech tragedy] refocused senior administrators on security," says Adkins, who is now executive director of the National Association of Campus Card Users.

Perhaps the answer lies in the cards--key cards, that is. Card systems consultant Robert C. Huber says that a card system enabling an authorized administrator to conduct a quick lockdown in case of an emergency, instead of tracking down the supervisor to do so, would benefit colleges and universities. He has found that campus officials "are looking for an easy card system function to shut down all doors and disable all cards temporarily."

In determining the best method for access control, here are examples of how higher ed institutions are getting a stronger grip on building security.

Card Access

After a series of assault-related incidents on the Duke campus during Adkins' time there, administrators stepped up security measures. A task force with key players from departments such as security and facilities was charged with making the campus safer. "When you get senior leadership saying [to form a plan], people go do it," says Adkins.

One aspect of the resulting plan involved expanding the use of magnetic stripe card readers on exterior doors of academic buildings. Back then, the argument was that installing more readers would mean expensive drilling through thick concrete walls for a wired system to reach every part of the campus, Adkins explains.

Nowadays, there is another solution: going wireless.

Wireless card access offers a low-cost alternative to traditional hard-wired systems (where cable needs to be pulled from a secured opening to a building access panel/controller), and it can be adapted to work with systems already in place.

Jeff Koziol, regional director of the education market with Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, says that security officers can indicate which cards can provide various openings within the buildings, even defining what times and days certain individuals can be granted access at different openings. An access control software database distributes this information to the appropriate building panels, which are programmed to determine who should get access.

This method eliminates the need for exterior cables and wires, reducing labor time and costs during installation. A large portion of labor involved in a "hard-wired" access opening is pulling the cable from the door being controlled to the data closet, where the building access panel may be located, Koziol explains. Accessing drop ceilings to hide the cable, or installing surface-mounted conduit in corners in order to run the cable, is also time consuming. Wireless card reader technology turns these problems into nonissues.

Koziol notes that with hard-wired access installations, one never knows what the installer will find as cable is being pulled from point A to point B. Many older buildings contain asbestos products that would be disturbed as installers access drop ceilings to pull cable. …

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