Query the Access Control Expert: Serving Schools

Oct. 27, 2008
Special Challenges

Q: Schools offer special challenges for security professionals in both the conditions faced on the site as well as the selling processes involved. What unique requirements are involved in serving the school and university market in regard to access control?

A: The important market differentiations are between the public schools, private schools and universities. Within the school districts, requirements will differ between the lower grades and the middle-high schools. In the universities, there will be differentiations between state and private institutions, and within the institution between the colleges that are part of the university, branch locations of the state universities; facilities management, and housing agencies.

There are established regulations which govern fire alarm systems, but when it comes to all the other systems, although life safety codes exist, they are subject to interpretation by the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction). In some jurisdictions there may be contentions between AHJs and often older school structures have been grandfathered in, making code enforcement and implementation of some technologies difficult and expensive.

Convergence of security technologies has also had a significant role in securing schools. Decision making is falling to school administrators who feel the pressure from the public to operate safer. Today, they seek network solutions.

In regard to access control, lockdown is a major issue. If you lock down so no one can get in, how do emergency responders enter the building? If you secure the site from entry but maintain free egress, how do you prevent someone inside form opening the door to let someone in? And who will make the decision that a lockdown must occur, and how is the lockdown to be initiated?

Locking down individual classrooms is a popular topic in school security and it makes a lot of sense. Ironically, the classic classroom lock is controlled by a key inserted into the outside of the lock, meaning that the teacher has to open the classroom door in order to lock it. Not good. The lock industry has thus come forward with several new products which allow the teacher to lock the door from within the classroom.

Relating to credentials for schools, Legacy card populations vs. Multipurpose credentials comes up a lot. In some situations I've been requested to implement access controls which could accept legacy magnetic stripe cards. In an industry that has switched over to proximity credentials, many schools view the cost of reissuing Photo-IDs prohibitive and have insisted on preserving the magstripe technologies.

In other situations, we've been faced with situations where multipurpose credentials have been adopted by the bookstore and cafeteria, and suppliers from the food service automation market. The most effective solution is the multi-technology credential which permits the single credential to function in food service, common area access, dorm entry and even parking control, with each subsystem and database managed by professionals in that particular domain.

A useful tool to assess a school's vulnerabilities is online at the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (www.edfacilities.org) which has a checklist of items that you can use during the site survey.

Security Dealer Technical Editor Tim O'Leary is a 35-year veteran of the security industry and a 15-year contributor to the magazine. O'Leary's background encompasses having been a security consultant since 1986 and an independent security company owner/operator, in addition to his research and evaluation of new technologies and products introduced to the physical and electronic security fields. He is a member of the VBFAA (Virginia Burglar and Fire Alarm Association); certified for Electronic Security Technician and Sales by the VADCJS ( Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services); and, has served as a judge for the SIA New Product Showcase. Send your integration questions to [email protected].