Keyless is the Key

June 8, 2012
New locks are central to dormitory security on the Princeton campus

When you think of Princeton University, your mind probably conjures a beautiful, old campus bustling with leaders in the world of academia and research. Certainly, you wouldn’t think of a fortress – and that’s just how Life Safety and Security Manager Paul Midura would have it.

“It’s an open campus, so we don’t have gates. People can walk on campus any time, unlike some urban campuses…at the same time, we realize that we have to put prudent security measures in place that could address an unsafe situation,” Midura says. “If you ever saw the campus, it is a beautiful place, so we have a university architect that approves all technology aesthetically. That’s important here — we put security priorities first, with an artistic touch.”

So how do you create a secure, access-controlled campus that doesn’t feel like a fortress? You place aesthetically pleasing technology in an open and inviting way…which has been the key concept for a variety of security upgrades on the Princeton campus; and, as a bonus, you make students’ lives easier by eliminating a big brass key from their keychain.

Securing the Perimeter
Midura and the Life Safety and Security team have helped create a secure campus housing environment using a strategically layered approach. It starts at the perimeter and filters down to the dorm room doors themselves. “The students are our most valuable asset, so, certainly the security of the students is the most important thing here,” Midura says. “That’s why we have robust, state-of-the-art monitored access controls on all the perimeter doors of the dormitories. The second layer is keyless locks on the dorm room doors. The broadcast towers on campus are another supporting mechanism.”

If students are the most valuable asset on campus, then their security starts where they live, in the campus dormitories. All perimeter doors are controlled by card access using HID iClass readers, which are monitored using the C-Cure security management system from Software House. All monitoring duties are performed by the university’s Department of Public Safety, which includes the campus police and is headed by executive director Paul Ominsky. In the Department’s command center, staff constantly monitors the perimeter card access systems, the intrusion systems and the fire systems across the campus.

“All perimeter doors of most buildings on campus and certainly the dorms are kept locked all the time,” Midura says. “We have about 1,000 card readers and about 2,000 monitoring points across campus.”

“We have numerous buildings that have C-Cure on the perimeter,” Midura continues. “There are some other buildings that we are still putting card access on as funding or need arises, but we have already identified all of our higher-risk buildings that we needed the ability to lock down and monitor.”

The card readers — along with a surveillance system within high-security buildings using Axis cameras and the Nextiva video management system from Verint — were installed by Corporate Security Systems (CSS), a systems integrator.

Also on the perimeter of dorm buildings and throughout campus, new emergency communications and mass notification towers from Talk-a-Phone are being installed this summer. “[The towers] allow us the ability to call any individual building or individual tower and make any announcement, such as a severe weather alert, a gunman or any emergency on campus.”

The One-Card Approach
Princeton has moved to a one-card system on campus, so students can use their “Tiger Card” – a smart card with a photo of the student — as a credential. “It’s a one-card approach for everything — that card is their entrance to the perimeter using the HID card readers, it is how they get meals on their meal plan, it gives library access, and there is also memory on the card to operate individual room locks.”

The Tiger Cards have also been future-proofed for eventual expansion of its use. “We left enough memory to accommodate any extra changes down the line,” Midura explains.

The result of moving to one card also spelled the end of the students’ “big brass key,” as Midura calls it. While completely eliminating keys on campus is not the goal of these security upgrades, it was still a pleasant side-effect for the students, who have one fewer item to carry, and of course, to lose. “I think the students value their ID more than they value a key,” says Life Safety & Security Systems Administrator Keith Tuccillo. “The cost of losing a brass key – the lock change and all the associated costs that go with that – also goes away with the keys gone and the cards in play.”

Inside the Dorms
So the students no longer need brass keys to gain access to the front door of the dormitory, but what about when they get to their room door inside the building? That’s where a new complement of 3,200 keyless locks from Salto Systems come into play.

The locks were built on spec for Princeton over a 15-month process – which ended up driving a whole new product line for the supplier. “Princeton did their due diligence in the selection of a lock,” says Salto senior vice president of commercial sales Mike Mahon. “I have never seen it so thorough.”

Because of the one-card system, Midura and the security team insisted that Salto come up with a keyless lock that could not only read a card via proximity technology, but that also included a built-in keypad for dual validation. “Salto was able to make us a touchpad where the students have to enter a PIN and they have to use the prox card,” Midura says. “That way, if a credential is dropped, nobody else can use it to get in the door, which was one of the most important considerations.”

The massive project involves replacing every dorm room lock with 3,200 of the keyless keypad locks. It is being performed over the course of this summer by Hogan Security, an affiliated Salto dealer and external locksmith for the university.

The locks will not communicate with the Software House system to preserve the privacy of the students – ie., security and campus police will not monitor their comings and goings from individual dorm rooms. However, although they are offline, the locks can still be automatically locked down or unlocked according to a certain schedule or emergency situation. Additionally, the locks can wirelessly report back to the university settings such as battery status or deliver an audit trail of the lock’s recent usage.

Inside the dorms and other buildings, Princeton has also recently overhauled its fire alarms with a new system from SimplexGrinnell that enables common area voice alerts and other mass notification capabilities coupled with the Talk-a-Phone emergency communications towers.

Princeton’s Access Control Future
It will take a summer’s worth of effort to deploy the keyless locks in all the Princeton dormitories, along with the emergency communications towers. However, earlier this year Princeton implemented a pilot project targeting 90-plus students’ dorm room doors that got rave reveiws.

“All the feedback that we received has been positive,” Tuccillo says. “One of the biggest remarks is they are glad they don’t have to carry their key around. I think the students appreciate that they don’t have to spend the money for a lock change if they lose their key – it’s only a matter of reprogramming the card.”

Despite the fact that the locks have yet to be used by the majority of the student body, Midura can see a future where the locks can be found in on more doors. “The keyless locks can be implemented as a third layer of protection,” Midura says. “A lot of the rooms in academic and administrative buildings where we used to have keys — such as a lab, or IT rooms and mechanical rooms — are going to move to these keyless locks.”

Paul Rothman is managing editor of Security Technology Executive magazine. Follow him on twitter: @STEmagazine.

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