Access Control & Identity: Got a Problem?

Jan. 16, 2013
Wireless locking systems are great problem solvers at schools

There are many reasons to leverage wireless access control for your next project. The following university scenarios provide some innovative ideas.

Wireless locks are a natural fit for networked access control systems and they also make the most sense for replacement and expansion. There is an immense cost savings in both labor and time when you install wireless systems. For on-campus security personnel, wireless locking systems also provide an opportunity to solve problems—widespread, sprawling facilities; thick walls; new flexibilities; innovative designs; portability and lockdown considerations—that might once have been impossible or impractical to specify with a hardwired system.

In many cases, cost alone is reason enough to promote wireless access control.  For William Conk, housing manager for the University of New Hampshire, the decision to go wireless was quite simple. He looked at the economics. Conk figures he saves over $50,000 on a 40-door installation versus a wired alternative. That’s one reason why he now looks at wireless on every project.

One state over, wireless is used for a completely different reason. The uptown campus of the University of Albany is said to be the second largest concrete structure in the United States, after the Pentagon. When the university sought to upgrade and expand its magnetic stripe-based locking system, its thick concrete walls made it cost prohibitive to hardwire the campus after the fact. After investigating many options, the university ultimately chose to go the wireless route.

That’s because wireless access control doesn’t need line of sight. As a result, signals are able to penetrate concrete or cinder block walls, plasterboard walls, brick walls and many other non-metallic materials for simplified system designs and specifications. Wireless systems also work on wood and metal doors, both exterior and interior, as well as glass, monitored and scheduled doors, gates, elevators and in portable solutions.

Facilities spread across 800 acres

Since 1998, Mount Holyoke has partnered with Heartland Payment Systems (Princeton, N.J.) for a one-card campus solution. Although the student numbers are small, the quintessentially New England campus covers a disperse 800 acres. The hardwired system was becoming a logistics nightmare.

According to Doug Vanderpoel, director of Auxiliary Services for Mount Holyoke, “The college uses the student cards for vending machines, to do laundry and obtain meals. We even have a dozen off-campus merchants that will honor the card. They are also used to access all 20 residence halls, which are scattered throughout our grounds. That was our problem.”

Wired locks were becoming too big of a problem. Vanderpoel related how it was a real balancing act to coordinate the numerous trades people needed to install wired locks for their access control system.

“You need an electrician to install the conduit for the wire,” said Vanderpoel. “Then, a communications person pulls the wire while a carpenter must hang the door, a locksmith mounts the lock and the low-voltage technician connects everything. But, that’s not the end of it. If a door is not hung properly, the carpenter must come out again. To do the job, the wire must be cut and so on. Our staff has enough to do without going through that over and over again.”

One solution was to implement standalone locks at the doors. However, that idea was dismissed.

“We had done that in the past but we had real issues as far as updating the doors in a timely manner,” Vanderpoel explained. “We wanted to use card access on the doors. There had to be a way to let students access their dorms with their student identification card. The good news is that we already knew how and were actually using the right solution.”

The flexibility of using wireless access control locks was leveraged by Colorado Mesa University (Grand Junction, Colo.). When renovating its oldest classroom building, the university had to move its offices to temporary buildings. To secure the temporary offices, Locksmith Preston C. Ellis used Schlage AD 400 wireless locks to simplify installation. Once the renovation was complete, he used the locks on other buildings.

            Wireless access control is also being used at Colorado Mesa’s Hamilton Recreation Center and El Pomar Natatorium. Here they solved a different problem. When the natatorium was built, conduits were not installed for access control and, like at the University of New Hampshire, the amount of concrete made it impossible to add them later. Instead, wireless access devices and trim were easy to install without wiring.

            Mississippi State got creative with the use of wireless technology campus wide.

“I use wireless everywhere on campus,” stated Richard Tollison, manager of Telecom Data Services for Mississippi State University. “That’s the only way I install access control anymore.”

Like most security and IT administrators, Tollison started off slow, installing wireless access locks on a dozen or so hard-to-wire doors. But, then, he also installed a handful of wireless portable readers at their baseball stadium so students could bypass the ticket box and go directly to the bleachers. Now he’s so confident in wireless access technology that he’s installing it on every door needing access control. That includes brand new construction, not just retrofit and difficult-to-wire applications.

Increased security plus fast lockdown

According to Gary Conley, University of Virginia, Facilities & Systems Engineer, Office of Business Operations, in Charlottesville, Va.:, “We wanted a Grade 1 ANSI spec locking system with dual credentials—something the student had, their magnetic stripe ID card, plus something the student knew, a personal identification number (PIN)—to get into these halls and their rooms. The locks needed to be online and wireless so that we could create immediate lockdowns, yet eliminate the labor and hardware costs of hardwiring.

“With the 900 MHz solution, our entire access control system knows when someone is at the door. The lock/reader captures information such as request to exit, door position and card data and immediately sends it to the host in real-time.”

In the system, the lock/reader’s PIM (Panel Interface Module) seamlessly integrates to CBORD access control panels via RS485 protocols, eliminating the need for any reader interface modules. The CBORD Squadron V1000RX multi-door controller is wired to the PIM400, which communicates wirelessly with up to 16 Schlage AD-400 wireless locks. The AD-Series unit is battery operated and the database is updated in real time. The student’s card, once swiped, is read, sent to server and the server comes back with a pass or fail. If it’s a pass, the door unlocks.

The PIM also helps provide another very important attribute. If the network connection is lost or the server is unavailable, the lock and the Squadron controller retain a local copy of the patron access assignments. As long as the Squadron and PIM retain power, patron access continues as determined by the most recent patron assignments downloaded to the Squadron master. In the event that power is lost to the PIM or Squadron master, the AD-400 lock can revert to a configurable “cache” mode, which limits access to the last 1000 cards presented and allowed access through the door.

According to Conley, immediate lockdown cannot be a heartbeat away.

“This issue is major with wireless access control,” emphasized Conley. “Usually, with WiFi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock five to six times per day versus five to six times per hour with 900 MHz solutions, a 10-minute heartbeat. Access control decisions may also be managed within the locks (as is the case with offline locks) to minimize communication from the lock to the host and conserve batteries. However, such limited (non-online) connectivity with the host limits the locks’ ability to receive urgent commands from the host. For instance, even with a 900 MHz platform, a direction to immediately lock down could be ignored for 10-plus minutes.

“With the AD-Series, a new Schlage-patent-pending ‘wake up on radio’ feature works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat,” Conley continued. “Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to 10 seconds and responds. Thus, 10 seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown of all our residence halls.”

            Wireless access control provides ways to provide your customers with networked access control in situations where hardwiring is virtually impossible or extremely costly. Not only will you provide your customers with a solution but, with the money saved by eliminating trenching and pulling wire, you will be able to cover more doors for your customer at the same cost.