Campus Security: Not Your Average Challenge

Providing adequate security for college and university campuses is a much more difficult task than it is for other types of facilities, such as business buildings. While most businesses run during normal business hours, students come and go freely on a...


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
More than 4,500 students are enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is located in Daytona Beach, Fla. The school is specifically for those interested in a career in aerospace, aviation, engineering and other related fields.
The school originally relied only on a hard key system, which is still used in some of the 30 campus facilities, and upon the services of roaming guards. Tim Martin, life safety systems officer, said the solution was moderately effective, but although a safety officer unlocked and locked the doors in the morning and at the end of the day, there was no guarantee the door would be locked if faculty left the room in the course of normal activities. Now, the school has had more than half of the buildings wired for access control, with an emphasis on computer labs and dormitories.
Embry-Riddle implemented its access control installations in 1996, using the Blackboard: Transaction System - Unix Edition. It is supported from the Phoenix Campus of Blackboard Inc., which manufactures the integrated software system and the 33 standalone readers that are installed in various facilities across the campus.
The readers range from the Sentry Security Reader for access control, Midi- and Maxi-Wedge readers for point-of-sale purchases (such as the cafeteria), vending swipe readers, as well as readers for laundry, account management and copy machines.
The main purpose for the installation was to provide additional safety measures for students in the dormitories, and to afford a more reliable tracking system for building access in order to protect high-value equipment. The installation also allowed the roaming guard patrol to spend more time on the campus and less time inside the buildings.
Each standalone reader is programmable to allow people in and out by name and card number. All of the systems are hardwired, with the exception of a special setup on the catwalk that connects the classrooms to the flight simulator bay within the flight simulator building. The catwalk has two entrances and two exits, which are controlled on both sides of the doors by card readers. Each door has a three-second timer programmed into the system, along with an "open door" signal.
In addition to access control, the "Eagle" magstripe cards are programmed to accommodate a debit card system. Students register their cards online, then deposit money onto their account. The cards can then be used to pay for meals, vending machines, washers and dryers and bookstore purchases. They also function as library cards. Students can check their balances online using a password.
Blackboard provides the card stock and the DataCardTM video imaging solution to the school as well. The school then creates the student photo ID and imprints the student number for student verification. "It is easy to use and I can use it from anywhere, including by laptop," said Martin. "If there is a bad lightning storm, I can fix the problems from any phone line anywhere." Martin said that the system is user friendly and that Blackboard provides great technical support and yearly training. "In the future," said Martin, "I'd like to see a standalone unit that is battery operated, so we don't have to hard-wire it, and we can still use our current cards and programming."

Joanne Harris is a writer and photographer for such magazines as ST&D, Control Engineering and PC104 Embedded Solutions. She has more than eight years' experience in marketing, PR and advertising for the aerospace, security, industrial automation and telecommunications industries. She can be reached at punkinmark@mindspring.com.