One-card access

When Thomas Jefferson was on-hand to introduce the first 123 students to the University of Virginia in March of 1825, one can be assured that he didn't hand those initial students ID cards. However, today, that is one of the rights of passage for new Cavaliers.

The University has worked with CBORD (a provider of campus and cashless card systems, food and nutrition service management software, nationwide student discount and off-campus commerce programs, housing and judicial process management software, and integrated security solutions) for years on providing students and staff with a one-card solution. The University of Virginia Identification (ID) Card had combined many features all on one card, including: identification, library use, building access, meal plans, student health facilities, recreational facilities access, athletic event admission, university transit, charge privileges at University Bookstore locations, access to Student Legal Services and Cavalier Advantage Access to University services.

This latter benefit is very popular. Cavalier Advantage is an account on the student, faculty or staff ID card. It is activated once funds have been deposited with the University and conveniently eliminates the need to carry money on campus. Cavalier Advantage works as a declining-balance account on the ID card - funds must be available in the account for its use. When purchases are made, the balance decreases.

However, with all these applications, note that there is no reference to residence hall security - access control. With the way things are in today's world, we needed to provide a cost-effective way to ensure that our students were safe in the residence halls, adding yet another application to our ID card.

We wanted a Grade 1 ANSI spec locking system with dual credentials - something the student had (their magnetic stripe ID card), plus something the student knew (a PIN) - to get into these halls and their rooms. The locks needed to be online and wireless so that we could create immediate lockdowns, yet eliminate the labor and hardware costs of hardwiring.

We reviewed several options but were most intrigued about what we heard was happening with a CBORD partner. Schlage was engineering a new series of combination locks and readers. It turns out that they were looking for beta sites and we accepted.

The locks were sturdy and met the ANSI standards. They provided the card plus PIN two-step solution that we wanted. The modularity of the locks has appeal. For instance, at some time in the future, we may turn to a contactless card, most likely smart credentials. It is the trend and there are some important Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considerations. Switching over is not a small undertaking when one considers there is a universe of 20,000 cardholders, nearly 1,400 access control points, and an active program to add additional access control points as funds become available. In fact, it's painful.

However, the modularity of the Schlage AD-Series removes some of the pain as one simply removes the magnetic stripe reader module and replaces it with the smart credentials reader. I have changed readers myself and the entire process takes less than five minutes, starting from the time you open the door to access the security screws which hold the lock together to the time you button up and leave.

With the 900 MHz solution, our entire access control system knows when someone is at the door. The lock/reader captures information such as request to exit, door position, and card data and immediately sends it to the host in real-time.

In the system, the lock/reader's Panel Interface Module (PIM) seamlessly integrates to CBORD access control panels via RS485 protocols, eliminating the need for any reader interface modules. The CBORD Squadron V1000RX multi-door controller is wired to the PIM400, which communicates wirelessly with up to 16 Schlage AD-400 wireless locks. The AD-Series unit is battery operated and the database is updated in real time. The student's card, once swiped, is read, sent to server and the server comes back with a pass or fail. If it's a pass, the door unlocks.

The PIM also helps provide another very important attribute. If the network connection is lost or the server is unavailable, the lock and the Squadron controller retain a local copy of the patron access assignments. As long as the Squadron and PIM retain power, patron access continues as determined by the most recent patron assignments downloaded to the Squadron master. In the event that power is lost to the PIM or Squadron master, the AD-400 lock can revert to a configurable "cache" mode, which limits access to the last 1000 cards presented and allowed access through the door.

Immediate Lockdown

Usually, with WiFi, access control, decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock 5-6 times per day vs. 5-6 times per hour with 900 MHz solutions - a 10-minute heartbeat. Access control decisions may also be managed within the locks (as is the case with offline locks) to minimize communication from the lock to the host and conserve batteries. However, such limited (non-online) connectivity with the host limits the locks' ability to receive urgent commands from the host. For instance, even with a 900 MHz platform, a direction to immediately lock down could be ignored for 10-plus minutes.

The lock's "wake up on radio" feature works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to ten seconds and responds. Thus, ten seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown of all our residence halls.

Beta Test Advantages

So far, we have been satisfied with our experience performing this beta test. As this is being written, the parts that are working are doing their jobs quite effectively. From our experience, we would advise other schools to be a beta test site for upcoming security products. It is a great way to get your "wants" injected into a product.

Some tips on doing this include choosing good partners, which we have with this opportunity. Don't hold back - the manufacturer really wants to hear your comments. Not only will the changes help your system, but the manufacturer will have a product attribute that is even more marketable. For instance, we have asked for several modifications, and some are under development. You typically can't get such "custom" work done any other way but in a beta test - plus, you do not pay for it.

Gary Conley is Facilities and Systems Engineer at the Office of Business Operations of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.