Protecting Schools with Advanced Access Control Systems

How to understand the needs of your school and secure it with advanced technology


Today, locks and keys alone aren't enough to keep a school's perimeter secure against unwanted or uncontrolled visitors. From problems with non-custodial parents in a grade school to unauthorized residence hall guests on a college campus, controlling access with greater certainty is the first line of defense to keep a facility secure.

Schools and colleges of all types and sizes are becoming more aware of the security risks posed by unauthorized access and are taking proactive steps to prevent a broad range of potentially threatening or dangerous incidents.

In the K-12 field alone, each of the more than 100,000 public and private schools may have between eight and 20 doors that require perimeter security.

Multiple-building college campuses present a more complex situation, with different types of buildings requiring different levels of security.

Not All Security Needs Are Equal
Not every door has to be a controlled entrance, nor is it always necessary to have 100 percent, 24-hour positive control. The doors to a grade school or middle school may be open during the time students are arriving and then locked down during the school day, as well as after hours. Effective access controls and a monitored main entrance provide the required security during school hours, while some form of electronic access control and a secure credential system allow after-hours access for authorized individuals. Other doors can remain locked unless monitored by a teacher or staff member as part of an activity.

A college or university is more likely to use access controls in specialized areas, such as laboratories, computer facilities, libraries and athletic facilities than for general academic buildings, at least during hours of operation. Residence halls and other housing facilities are another area where higher security may be required. Matching the available security options with each specific application is easier with a decision-making framework.

Sorting out the Security Levels
One way to reduce the complexity of security decisions is to organize the key elements into levels that form a Security Pyramid (See illustration #1).

The base of the pyramid, Level 1 (Mechanical Access/Egress Control), represents the fundamental mechanical locking system that restricts free access or egress through an opening. It includes keyed locks and other mechanical products. At this level, security is focused mainly on protection from threats such as theft or vandalism and on providing a physical barrier to intruders, However, if any part of this mechanical base is weak, the higher levels of a system's security can be compromised. It also provides the physical latching needed to secure an opening so it meets fire safety codes.

At Level 2 (Electronic Access Control and Key Management), standalone, programmable, battery-powered locks are networked through software to provide audit trail capability and time-based scheduling for restricting access. Patent-restricted keyways provide the key control that is necessary for high security. This is particularly true for sophisticated electronic systems, which generally still have a mechanical key override. With a patented keyway, a school's administration or university's security department controls the key blanks as well as the key cutting equipment. To minimize security breaches from key misuse, these keys should be tightly controlled, assigned to as few people as possible, and audited regularly.

Level 3 (Networked Access Control and Biometrics) incorporates biometric products that can verify hand geometry, fingerprints or facial characteristics to ensure that only persons who actually are authorized can gain access to a particular door. In a network they may be combined with various sensing and monitoring products placed around the opening or integrated into the latching and locking mechanism to detect, deter and delay an intruder and also signal that a breach has occurred. While not yet widespread, some schools are using biometric access control to eliminate the need to issue cards or keys to teaching or administrative staff members for after-hours access.

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