Success Stories: Security Is in the Cards for Cobb County Schools

From a test that began as a maintenance initiative a few years ago, Cobb County School District (CCSD) of Georgia has upgraded access at its elementary schools to a card access control system that simplifies access management and reduces maintenance costs.

CCSD, in the suburbs of Atlanta, is the second-largest school system in Georgia, serving more than 106,000 students in 114 schools. Until a few years ago, access to all schools was controlled only by mechanical keys. According to James H. Carlson, the district’s executive director of maintenance services, “The keys were marked ‘Do Not Duplicate,’ but there were thousands of them out there. Each school was responsible for managing its own keys, so it was hard to know who had them.”

In order to determine whether electronic access control was feasible, the CCSD Maintenance Services ran a pilot test at one elementary school, installing card readers and electric latch retraction exit devices at the five most-used entrances, including the main doors, bus entrance and exit doors and playground doors. All other exterior doors were locked and monitored.

The initial installation proved to be a success, prompting a system expansion. Thanks to a special-option sales tax that provided funding, the program was expanded from the original maintenance initiative to encompass all the elementary schools in the District. At each school, the process began with an inspection of every door.

“We visited other school systems and universities and realized that the doors, frames, closers and hardware all have to be in perfect condition for an access control system to work,” Carlson says. “We made a determination of what was needed to bring every door up to standard and be sure it would close securely. In some cases, we replaced wood doors with metal doors.”

Once this was completed, proximity card readers and electric latch exit devices were installed to control major entrances. The system unlocks and relocks controlled doors according to schedule during school hours. The system can be programmed to eliminate the automatic opening for holidays, etc.

The doors are equipped with Von Duprin EL 99 electric latch retraction exit devices from Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, which are activated to unlock the doors by the card reader. Power is carried from the frame to the door via an EPT power transfer. In some cases, existing exit devices were upgraded to electric latch retraction operation.

Card access makes it easier to issue and delete credentials than issuing new keys or getting them returned. In addition, cards can be programmed to operate for a limited time to control access for contractors or other needs.

Monitoring plays an important role in ensuring door security. “We needed to monitor the door to be sure it is closed and the latch to be sure it is latched,” Carlson says. “We could have the door closed and the latch taped, or the latch in the locked position with the door blocked open, so we monitor both functions. If either is faulty, an alert is sent. to the school office, and if nobody responds quickly, public safety is notified.

Double doors were upgraded to include key-removable, lockable mullions that allow the center post in the doorway to be removed to provide space for moving large items.

Future plans may include a similar approach at the dsitrict’s 25 middle schools.

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