In this article we will investigate the important but difficult task of upgrading and enhancing access control systems on existing campuses, along with the associated challenges. While there are numerous other security and safety systems required for overall campus operations, including surveillance, emergency blue phones, duress buttons, etc., this discussion will focus solely on issues related to access control upgrades.
Academic buildings have unique hours of operations and uses. They tend to have open hours of operations for large portions of the day and provide limited student and faculty access at other times of day. The multiple functions within these buildings include large group activities, small group activities and independent study and research. There are a growing series of issues relating to campus safety which may be addressed through effective access control. This discussion could be expanded to campus residential buildings by taking into account their unique demands including high door count, accidental lockouts and potentially difficult retrofit conditions.
A proven approach to addressing these types of projects includes documenting current access control policies, procedures, and standards; determining the threats to be addressed; identifying how access control strategies can meet these objectives; and defining the modifications to the systems, policies, and procedures required to accomplish these goals. Successful projects must take into account the capital expense and operational requirements related to the existing and anticipated new systems. Impacts such as staffing have long-term budgetary implications, and must be taken into account.
Early planning activities should include the identification of existing access control systems, existing IDs and credentials, the quantity and types of readers already installed on the campus, and the capacity and age of the existing access control equipment. While magnetic stripe cards and readers tend to be dated and do not offer many of the currently available enhancements for security and student residential life, existing investments in these technologies may require an approach that supports the existing credentials and readers while providing new technologies and the migration strategy.
The term “credential” refers to the object that a person uses to identify themselves to a security system. Typical credentials include photo IDs, cards with a magnetic stripe, proximity cards or smartcards. Historically, cards with magnetic stripes have been the predominant credential on campuses. Initially, the requirement for magnetic stripe credentials came from early campus parking control systems and library systems. As additional applications arose, specifically food-service and student chargeback for laundry etc., the magnetic stripe reader systems were expanded. Newer technologies including proximity and smartcards have emerged as the leading desirable credentials, based on enhanced security, ease-of-use, and system reliability. When considering an access control system enhancement, it is important to coordinate the objectives, strategies and solutions with the existing and emerging technologies. In one recent project, it made sense for the client to replace existing magnetic stripe readers with smart card readers during the project so that the faculty and students could receive updated smartcards for use throughout the campus. In another recent project, the institution elected to install combination smartcards/magnetic stripe readers to allow existing and new credentials to function. The selection of reader type and credential type should be taken into account both logistically and financially, during the planning portion of the project.
Once access control strategies have been identified, they should be reviewed in light of the existing conditions, systems, and integration requirements. The physical aspects of the access control systems need careful review and documentation. Specific items to be reviewed included, existing devices and lock sets, door ages and conditions, potential historical requirements, acceptable wiring pathways, door frames/styles, and associated physical building attributes.
A successful project strategy may include developing a database of the existing conditions, with project objectives and associated anticipated costs. This information allows the confirmation of the capital expense and operating expense implications of the project prior to implementation. After the project has received initial approval, detailed inspections of each door, anticipated cable pathways, and location for common equipment should be conducted. Based on these assessments, detailed project documents (drawings and specifications) can be developed. Specific attention is required at doors that are configured or need to be configured for accessibility.
To ensure the ability to implement associated and complementary security upgrades such as surveillance and duress buttons, the selection of main equipment should include review of potential integration into an overall campus security management environment. The involvement of public safety personnel, campus police, local police, and fire, is important to ensure that policies and procedures are selected and implemented as part of an overall campus security plan. For example, it is important to determine whether campus police and/or local police, have access credentials that allow them to enter buildings, and whether these credentials are issued on a ship basis, or are available at central locations.
A thoughtful and well planned access control system is the cornerstone of a good campus safety plan.
Michael Kerwin, RCDD, CCS, DCCA is a principal at Vanderweil Engineers, Boston.