Protect U

Small and large colleges look for upgraded security solutions that won’t break the bank

Ah, college days. The thought conjures up images of ivy-covered buildings, serene students walking leisurely between classes, and administrators looking down from lofty towers with satisfaction. In reality, the college campus is a much more anxious environment. Today's colleges face increasing challenges, from swelling enrollment and budget cuts to security threats that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

More Students, More Money

Higher-education enrollment has increased over the past several years. This has been particularly true for many small colleges, due to the dramatic rise in university tuition coupled with fewer career opportunities for high-school graduates. Students are flocking to college campuses to learn business and computer skills that will help them compete in a networked society. This means colleges must invest in an ever-changing matrix of terminals, servers and software. Security funding competes with these investments, as well as with building maintenance, fire/life safety, and legislative compliance. All this at a time when security threats are on the rise.

The Threat of Domestic Terrorism

In addition to protecting assets and real estate from theft and vandalism, colleges face a new danger: domestic terrorism. Consider De Anza college's close call in January 2001. Twenty-year-old Al Joseph DeGuzman, a student at the northern California college, was arrested for stockpiling homemade weapons, with which he intended to go on a killing spree at the school. Fortunately, an alert drug store photo clerk saw pictures of his arsenal coming through the processing machine and notified police, likely preventing mayhem on a massive scale.

At the spring 2005 meeting of Research Security Administrators (a California forum of security professionals from commerce, industry and government), speakers argued that domestic terrorism may pose a greater threat than attacks from outside our borders.

Small and large universities are exploring different solutions to protect their facilities, employees and students, without breaking the bank.

The Access Problem in Small Colleges

Smaller colleges depend on traditional locks, keys and stand-alone alarm systems for their physical security. This fragmented approach is difficult to manage and costly when keys are lost or stolen. Stand-alone alarm systems connected to several central station vendors add to the complexity and compromise. Today, small colleges recognize the need for more sophisticated and flexible approaches to security.

The campus key system is the first line of defense, and the most vulnerable. Many small colleges have found their key management systems out of control, with many keys unaccounted for. Thomas Keller, consultant and system designer for TEECOM Design Group Inc. in Oakland, CA, said this situation is more than just an inconvenience. “Unreported key losses by temporary or terminated employees are a major problem. College administrators admit that most thefts are the result of entry by key,” he said.

Daily campus activities are time-structured, and mechanical key systems are inflexible. It is impractical to call the security department to unlock a door for a staff member or student on demand.

College security administrators and consultants agree that the first step to upgrading campus security is to install a rigidly enforced key system. This usually means re-keying an entire campus. Instead, many smaller schools have found that computer-managed stand-alone locks give them the flexibility of networked access control without the cost of installing the cable and hardware necessary for a networked system.

Intelligence with a Lower Price Tag

Intelligent locks first appeared in the hotel industry to increase security while reducing re-keying costs. These locks electronically prevented guests from using their key or card to gain access to a room after a new guest had checked in, and they maintained a record of access events. Equipped with a broad menu of access control functions and battery operated locking hardware, these locks quickly found applications on college campuses.

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