Unauthorized Access

Oct. 27, 2008
Case in Point: Controlling visitors at an Iowa school facility

In 1993, a man entered an elementary school undetected in Dubuque , Iowa , and hid in a girl's bathroom. In a matter of minutes, a young child was assaulted and the community broken. Stories like this one remind administrators of their immense responsibility to the children who depend on them to ensure their safety.

Schools across the United States are beginning to pay stricter attention to specific at-risk areas that may play a part in an unwanted visitor gaining access to a building, classroom or bathroom facility.

In Dubuque , Principal Don Sisler of Wahlert Catholic High School had discussed potential security implementations at the school for years. In 2005, the more than 220,000 square-foot school underwent a renovation that split the structure into two wings, one which would house Wahlert Catholic High School , the other the new Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School .

Although Sisler feels fortunate that the school has to date been exempt from any kind of violence, he believes the time to incorporate stricter measures provided itself with the new construction. “It was a good time, an obvious time,” he says.

The first area of focus was unauthorized access. Managing access control and being able to identify visitors was a key component to the new security plan, Sisler says. “We wanted more direct control over who entered the building, [to provide] a more secure environment.”

The school chose security integrator Comelec Services of Dubuque, which provided a 23-year veteran of the Dubuque Police Department, Mike Rettenmeier, as account manager. Prior to joining the company, Rettenmeier was responsible for evaluating school and business security challenges on behalf of the police department. He put together a multi-tier plan for the school that identified immediate security needs and secondary needs that could be phased in as the school's budget allowed.

Access control came in the form of proximity card readers at the entrance of the high school and Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School . “Prior to renovation, [a visitor] could get into any area without passing an office,” Sisler says.

Rettenmeier's plan included locked doors throughout the new building with the exception of the entry doors for an hour before the start of school. At a specified time, those doors locked and could be accessed only through card access using the CardAccess System from Continental Instruments, featuring CA3000 Multi-User software. Cards were provided to staff, each with a specific code that identified the user.

In addition to the proximity cards, staff and students were trained on standard operating procedures. “Technology can take you halfway there,” Rettenmeier says. “You must have students and teachers follow a standard operating procedure, which helps in maximizing the desired effect of a security program.”

Rettenmeier has seen a piece of duct tape placed over a door lock undo $40,000 in security equipment simply because someone did not want to walk around to enter in the proper door.

The entrances of Wahlert High School and Mazzuchelli consist of an outside door, vestibule and inside locked door. Within the vestibule, Rettenmeier equipped it with Aiphone intercoms for visitors to announce themselves. With the push of a button, the office staff can communicate and then release the door lock to allow entrance. Both entrances are visible from the school offices, making a CCTV camera not critical.

Three Panasonic dome cameras were installed outside the building to survey the entrance perimeter and four were installed for surveillance in the parking lot. Cameras are activated with motion and all are integrated into Capture's 16 Channel DVR which stores images for one month.

“The first goal is to prevent and deter [unwanted] activity,” Rettenmeier says. “Should something happen, [the equipment] is good enough to provide photographic evidence.”

In addition to card readers and CCTV cameras, Rettenmeier also integrated NAPCO's Burglary Intrusion Equipment (Gemini Alarm Panel P9600) which houses the control panel that monitors motion detectors, glass break sensors, sirens, fire alarms and door contacts. Proximity cards can also activate the alarm through the control panel.

If entrances need to be locked down or the timer access changed due to inclement weather, the multi-user software allows administrators to access the CA3000 software from multiple locations in both buildings to facilitate the change.

Not surprisingly, the added security has drawn strong support from parents, especially given stories like Columbine and Virginia Tech that have permeated the news and created a greater focus on school safety.

School Access & Visitor Control

* Establish one main entrance and put up signage identifying it as the main entrance.

* Create a visitor sign-in, sign-out and escort procedure.

* Reduce the number of doors which may be opened from the outside.

* Secure custodial entrances and delivery doors during and after school hours.

* Require all school doors to be closed and secured from the outside while cleaning personnel and after-hours staff work inside the building during evening and night hours.

* Train all school staff, including support personnel, to greet and challenge strangers.

* Train students not to open doors to strangers, other students, or even adults they may know.

* Educate parents about access control strategies and the importance of them following the rules.

* Establish a routine maintenance and timely repair program for the doors.

* Use magnetic locks on doors so they close more easily.

* Consider use of a camera, intercom, and buzzer at the school main entrance, especially at elementary schools.

* Many schools, especially high schools and other larger facilities, use surveillance cameras to monitor and record entrance points.

Source: National School Safety and Security Services