Sponsored Roundtable: Access Control on Campus

Aug. 12, 2021
As many campuses across North America are poised to reopen for the first time in months in the fall semester, backlogged access control projects are coming to the forefront (sponsored by dormakaba USA)
As many campuses across North America are poised to reopen for the first time in months in the fall semester, backlogged access control projects are coming to the forefront, with integrators and end-users scrambling to make sure everything is ready for the first classes.

This exclusive technology roundtable sponsored by dormakaba takes a closer look at the technologies and the trends that are influencing all stakeholders in campus access control.

The Panel:

  • Stephen Fisher, Convergint’s Business Development Manager for SLED Public Sector Team in the Western United States 
  • Jeremy Robin, Star Asset Security’s DFW Branch General Manager
  • Ben Smith, dormakaba’s Senior Manager of Vertical Markets Government & Education

Who are the key end-user stakeholders that should be focused on working with when it comes to campus access control?

Fisher: The K-12 environment varies in this regard depending on size, urban/rural geography, and the level of connected community; however, in most cases, we focus on these highly engaged stakeholders and influencers:

• Security director and/or district police chief: This includes response, investigations, law enforcement coordination/collaboration and ensuring industry best practice is adhered to when benchmarking other districts and developing programs of their own.

• CIO/CTO/IT Director: Today’s solutions not only reside on a district’s networks for operation, communication and reporting (live and forensically after the fact), they also serve as open doors to threat actors in today’s cyber arena. These stakeholders are integral in conversations about storage, speed, integration, interoperability, device management, password management, network configuration and risk associated with other district systems and the infrastructure necessary to ensure optimal performance across all enterprise solutions. Often, these stakeholders also bring much needed influence and capital to the solution recommendations.

• Facilities/Operations Director: They often have intimate knowledge – having been through the doors, on the rooftops, and having fixed much of the hardware, especially with doors and access control.

• Purchasing Director/Procurement Manager/Buyers: As with any investment in the public domain, being good stewards of funded projects by way of Bond, Tax or Capital Improvement (as well as Operational costs) requires a compliant and transparent process to choose partners and solutions. Working closely with these stakeholders to leverage Cooperative Purchasing vehicles, ensure specifications are written to the District standards, and to efficiently acquire solutions is a large part of the process.

Smith: Larger K-12 school districts have either a Security Department or local law enforcement that provides the security function for the district. In these cases, the Security Director and designated security department personnel are the key stakeholders for an access control system and how that system interacts and integrates with other systems on the premises. Other districts designate security systems management as part of the Facilities Department, which means District Facility Directors. District wide access control systems can be a large investment, funded by taxpayers in public systems. In addition to those mentioned by Stephen above, School Board approval and exploration of ways to fund is a critical part of implementing a system.

Robin: In the past, campus access control went through facilities leaders, but that has all changed. Today, these decisions can take a long time and we find it best for all involved to talk with as many stakeholders as possible (as mentioned above) right from the beginning.

What are the most important aspects of campus lockdown from a security integration perspective?

Robin: First, identify doors that don’t close. If there are doors that aren’t capable of closing, then we determine how to best monitor contact. For example, cafeteria doors are often not kept closed. They may be damaged, or they may be held open purposely due to deliveries or to resolve backflow air flow. In a lockdown scenario, one door ajar is a breakdown in the wall of security for the building. Second, determine if all buildings are networked. If they are, that will take us down one solutions path. If they are not, we can work around that, but may recommend a different solution path.

Fisher: The most important aspect of a lockdown is to minimize accessibility to rooms/buildings on campus, and secondarily, to be able to do so quickly and on an enterprise level, and tertiary, to be able to do so as part of a mass notification strategy. When developing a Strategic Master Plan for a district, also consider the human element of lockdowns including people flow, building floorplans, and the logic associated with students/staff when faced with the kind of events that demand lockdown protocol.

Smith: Campus lockdowns must be easily initiated by authorized personnel, quickly activated, and in accordance with all fire and life safety codes. The lockdown system should have the ability to customize lockdown areas, alert law enforcement, and integrate with mass notification systems. Understanding the budget in correlation with the needs of a district is important to configure the right application.

What role do wireless, and keyless technologies play in a typical campus access control installation?

Fisher: Wireless and keyless technologies offer multiple advantages, including lower cost of entry to access control, remote management of systems and lessened security maintenance. For antiquated or historical buildings, it allows for installation without running the required infrastructure to operate access control solutions. In addition, it enables integrators to add access control to an otherwise already installed system – for door additions that maybe were not thought of originally. From a keyless standpoint, today’s access control solutions are designed for credentials (cards, fobs, etc.), codes, biometrics – and often a dual authentication solution with more than one of them. Keyless allows for more cost effective ‘changes’ to the door, no need to re-key multiple doors or entire systems when a master-level key is lost or stolen, and the ability to add/delete users quickly from your systems.

Robin: Wireless and keyless technologies can be used to control a lot of different things, and opportunities (for integration) are incredible. We look at all doors in terms of usage to determine where it makes sense to add wireless locks. We don’t typically choose to use a battery-operated lock on a high-use door. Classroom doors, for example, are not locked and unlocked as often as a primary entrance or delivery door.

Smith: Because of its affordability, wireless technology allows schools to implement access control and lockdown to many more doors than hardwired technology. The expense of having each classroom door hardwired into an access control system is not something most school districts can entertain; however, wireless readers and lockdown systems reduce the individual door cost significantly enough to enable districts to include the classroom doors in the budget. Wireless systems also provide scalability, whether adding into an existing system or as part of a new system.

How do campus access control systems work with other preparedness systems such as fire & life safety and emergency communications technologies?

Smith: Access control software and panels are commonly configured to either interface or integrate with fire, notification, surveillance, HVAC, and emergency illumination systems. Fire systems will, at a minimum, interact with applicable access control doors to release for egress or lock down for fire and smoke containment. Access control systems can integrate with notification systems as a simple input/output to trigger actions or, pending the capabilities of a system, be integrated to have highly configurable and customized actions.

Fisher: Mass notification and the integration of these solutions is an important part of the design, management, operation, and defined processes associated with coordinated and seamless event response. In the case of access control events integrated to other preparedness systems, it is vital to have defined escalation, open architecture, and well documented processes that have been tested, practiced and are functional 24/7/365 – such as lockdowns, opening up, directing flow, intelligibility for public address and even connectedness to first responders.

Robin: The great thing today is that most schools, depending on platform chosen, have unlimited integrations available to them that can pull everything together for situational awareness across a large property. For example, the fire panel can report in through access control system or intrusions can be reported there as well. We can also layer in analytics that will alert officials to abnormalities on camera – examples include someone who is carrying big black bags, a cluster of five people together for an extended period of time, aggression detection or elevated noise levels, or a large vehicle that has been parked in the same spot for a long period of time.

How have mobile credentials changed the campus security paradigm?

Robin: In private school arena, we see more mobile credentials for faculty and staff, while public schools have more slowly adapted mobile due to cost and infrastructure. The bottom line is that people – particularly younger staff – don’t lose their phones; whereas lost badges create a potential vulnerability. Mobile was expensive at first, but now it is much more cost efficient. Integration of mobile remains highly individualized for K-12 schools. School leadership are often among the first to use mobile credentials.

Fisher: Mobile credentials have been part of the access control conversation now for years; however, we have seen little groundswell of adoption across the K-12 market. The idea makes sense and the logic behind ‘you always have your phone with you’ has weight, but we have yet to see this on large scale.

Smith: The transition from physical card to mobile credentials is beginning to take place in the higher education market, as both faculty and student credentialling has been in place for many years. In K-12, it is incumbent on manufacturers and security integrators to design and implement mobile credential reader technologies that are affordable for public school districts and meet all the applicable data security requirements. 

Learn more about dormakaba’s school security solutions at http://dormakaba.us/edu.