The Professor Says Safety First

Statistics indicate that less than half of all schools control access to their buildings or grounds. Of the schools claiming to control access, most of those probably do not use electronic access control systems. Yet, electronic access control can provide extremely flexible and concise security management for a school or district. The type of access control system you recommend depends on the particular application in the school and your client's budget. Whatever the amount of money your school client is spending, however, your choice of systems should also be based upon the features, customer/tech support offered by the vendor, and expandability of the system. For some applications one of the new stand-alone access control systems can prove to be the right answer. Since they require no wiring, these systems provide many of the features of multiple door hardwired systems including a selection of access credentials, real time clocks enabling the programming of scheduled system operation, and system activity logs and card databases. Also, because they are not wired, stand-alones cannot support such functions as security monitoring, remote door release, and fail-safe life safety system interfaces. Multidoor access control systems are driven by software engines. They normally run on a desktop PC. Therefore, these systems can be configured to consistently maintain a higher level of facility control than discrete systems, and do it more economically. Another innovation to the conventional access control system is biometrics. This sector of the access control market is predicted to find larger markets as the biometrics technology evolves, computer processing power continues to strengthen, and hardware costs decrease. In other words, biometrics can become a feasible access control tool for more jobs because it works and is cost effective. Fingerprint recognition systems in particular show great promise as the most popular right now. One of the primary functions of access control is, obviously, to control access. The access control system uses a terminal of some type, installed equipment adjacent to a door through which you want to restrict passage. How the system determines who is authorized to gain access is one of the important system features. The access control credential (the encoded card) is a versatile multipurpose item. Currently, they are seen in many schools since even children can accept and use them. The number of options available for identification technology continues to grow. Which technology to use has a lot to do with the perceived level of threat to the facility and the individuals inside the facility, the value of the assets within the structure, the nature of the typical system user (employees, students, guests) and the level of security desired. Getting Educated Chronologically Now for a little history lesson: the earliest form of electronic access control utilized a keypad. The individual wishing access entered a memorized code, such as 1-2-3-4. Although this method is cost effective because it does not require cards or other credentials, these systems sometimes utilize a single common code which everyone uses and therefore could be passed along, thereby destroying it's propriety. The next development is: a system that would allow P.I.N.'s (personal identification numbers), where each person, or member of a group, had a unique code, so that their movement through the system could be tracked. Memorized codes were considered a big advantage because they helped reduce the need to rekey doors. By not having to distribute keys, (just codes), if there was a suspicion that the code had been shared, a new code was issued, the old one deleted, and security on the door was restored. But, because memorized codes could easily be shared, an additional qualifier was required. ???Early encoded cards were limited in that they all had the same encoding and they were relatively easy to counterfeit. Also, without unique encoding, they could provide only limited tracking capabilities. A card can be shared just like a memorized code, or even worse, a card could be stolen. Because all cards were identical, if one were misplaced or stolen, the integrity of the system was compromised, and a whole new set of cards had to be issued. This was almost as costly and inconvenient as rekeying, the thing that electronic access control was ostensibly supposed to eliminate (the need to rekey). Moving up a grade: by requiring both a P.I.N. (personal identification number) as well as a uniquely encoded card, a much more versatile system with a higher sustainable level of security was achieved. Codes and cards can be individually added and deleted from the system without jeopardizing the other cards or codes in the system, and individual card and codeholder's movement through the doors on the system could be tracked, and their movements controlled (restricted) electronically. There are many card encoding technologies currently used including: magnetic stripe, bar code and Weigand. Another technology, proximity, is rapidly taking over the entry credential market even as newer smart card technology is just beginning to be introduced. Proximity cards are sometimes referred to as hands-free, because it is not necessary to insert the credential in a reader. Sometimes another type of credential, the wireless RF, is confused with proximity technology because they function the same in some ways. A wireless RF credential is rather different technologically from a proximity credential. Proximity cards are passive (no batteries) and proximity cards must be brought into the range (proximity) of the reader in order to be activated and the door to open. Wireless RF entry credentials usually have a replaceable battery, are activated by pressing a button, and will transmit over a greater distance (such as from in your car), which is a definite advantage for many applications. In addition, wireless RF devices usually offer the ability to be programmed to control more than one thing. The latest models are actually two way devices, providing status indications right in the palm of your hand. ???Wireless RF credentials utilize highly secure encrypted transmission technology and algorithms. The trend is to make cards multifunctional. The same card may be used to gain access, withdraw cash from an ATM, pay for a meal in the commissary, and serve as a wearable Photo ID. Therefore, the future promises the growing use of smart cards which not only contain microprocessors, but also multiple technologies. They not only enable use for access and a variety of other transactions, but also maintain an updated record of activity and transactions right on the card itself. Although there are many scenarios where a traditional access credential is a benefit, a credential can still be stolen or misappropriated, and this is where biometrics, which do not use a credential, offers a better solution. Most of the nonmilitary nonproprietary applications for biometrics are those where the biometric device will be used in conjunction with a card reader or keypad for enhanced security. Benefits of Integration By integrating related functions and peripherals modern access control systems allow: more comprehensive security; a more cost effective installation; faster responses to problems or a crisis; less manpower needed; the monitoring of doors and other areas of the facility; the control of access into the facility; doors from a central location to be locked and unlocked; the coordination of CCTV surveillance equipment; security violations and service issues to be pinpointed so that staff can take effective action; and maintenance of cardholder records and generation of reports and data, invaluable in evaluating the overall security posture of a site as well as providing information useful in identifying and prosecuting violators. Clearly, from the standpoint of student safety, and the integrity of the building, it is of paramount importance that only individuals authorized to be in the facility be permitted access; that movement within the facility be restricted and controlled; and that management be able to do it when such access is available. It is equally important to prevent students from leaving the school without authorization. The modern access control system can be deployed to provide the degree of control and surveillance schools in our culture demand. Access controls can also be implemented to interface with fire detection and other life safety equipment, and also provide enhanced security communications for the facility. Perhaps, the most obvious safety system found in a school is the fire alarm, and the highest priority in school fire safety is that doors open to permit unrestricted egress from the building should a fire occur. So, it is not surprising when breaches of security involving unlocked doors are attributed to being in the interest of students' safety. ???No doubt, life safety is the highest priority and life safety cannot be sacrificed for greater security. But dealers are learning there is more involved with life safety than simply safe egress; and school security is more than preventing week end vandalism or horseplay in the parking lot. Without adequate security, entire buildings can be sabotaged. Anyone can wander the halls unchallenged. School staff is never really in control and there is perpetual potential for a disaster. A properly designed access control system can help immensely toward creating the safe, secure environments that schools should be.