Unauthorized Access

Case in Point: Controlling visitors at an Iowa school facility


In 1993, a man entered an elementary school undetected in Dubuque , Iowa , and hid in a girl's bathroom. In a matter of minutes, a young child was assaulted and the community broken. Stories like this one remind administrators of their immense responsibility to the children who depend on them to ensure their safety.

Schools across the United States are beginning to pay stricter attention to specific at-risk areas that may play a part in an unwanted visitor gaining access to a building, classroom or bathroom facility.

In Dubuque , Principal Don Sisler of Wahlert Catholic High School had discussed potential security implementations at the school for years. In 2005, the more than 220,000 square-foot school underwent a renovation that split the structure into two wings, one which would house Wahlert Catholic High School , the other the new Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School .

Although Sisler feels fortunate that the school has to date been exempt from any kind of violence, he believes the time to incorporate stricter measures provided itself with the new construction. “It was a good time, an obvious time,” he says.

The first area of focus was unauthorized access. Managing access control and being able to identify visitors was a key component to the new security plan, Sisler says. “We wanted more direct control over who entered the building, [to provide] a more secure environment.”

The school chose security integrator Comelec Services of Dubuque, which provided a 23-year veteran of the Dubuque Police Department, Mike Rettenmeier, as account manager. Prior to joining the company, Rettenmeier was responsible for evaluating school and business security challenges on behalf of the police department. He put together a multi-tier plan for the school that identified immediate security needs and secondary needs that could be phased in as the school's budget allowed.

Access control came in the form of proximity card readers at the entrance of the high school and Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School . “Prior to renovation, [a visitor] could get into any area without passing an office,” Sisler says.

Rettenmeier's plan included locked doors throughout the new building with the exception of the entry doors for an hour before the start of school. At a specified time, those doors locked and could be accessed only through card access using the CardAccess System from Continental Instruments, featuring CA3000 Multi-User software. Cards were provided to staff, each with a specific code that identified the user.

In addition to the proximity cards, staff and students were trained on standard operating procedures. “Technology can take you halfway there,” Rettenmeier says. “You must have students and teachers follow a standard operating procedure, which helps in maximizing the desired effect of a security program.”

Rettenmeier has seen a piece of duct tape placed over a door lock undo $40,000 in security equipment simply because someone did not want to walk around to enter in the proper door.

The entrances of Wahlert High School and Mazzuchelli consist of an outside door, vestibule and inside locked door. Within the vestibule, Rettenmeier equipped it with Aiphone intercoms for visitors to announce themselves. With the push of a button, the office staff can communicate and then release the door lock to allow entrance. Both entrances are visible from the school offices, making a CCTV camera not critical.

Three Panasonic dome cameras were installed outside the building to survey the entrance perimeter and four were installed for surveillance in the parking lot. Cameras are activated with motion and all are integrated into Capture's 16 Channel DVR which stores images for one month.

“The first goal is to prevent and deter [unwanted] activity,” Rettenmeier says. “Should something happen, [the equipment] is good enough to provide photographic evidence.”

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