The key to credential management for higher education campuses

Sept. 15, 2021
Costs, risks associated with lost or stolen credentials can be significant for colleges and universities

Facility management and security teams at colleges and universities across the country are responsible for ensuring that classrooms, student housing and administrative buildings throughout the campus remain safe on a daily basis. In most cases, that means making sure that hundreds of thousands of doors and entrances are securely locked and only accessible with designated access credentials, such as a key or a card, for every public or private door. From large assembly halls, faculty and administrative offices to IT/science labs, containing hazardous materials and expensive equipment and technology, security teams know that one misplaced key or credential can be a potentially high-security risk situation if not handled immediately and properly.

Consider, a few years ago, when a mid-size college in Virginia with a student population of 6,500 experienced a misplaced master key for some vital student buildings. The unfortunate situation, which affected student living quarters, included individual student dorm rooms, sorority houses, as well as exterior residence hall entrances, resulted in the need for 3,000 cores to be replaced. When the master key was not recovered immediately, school officials had to act quickly to minimize the inconvenience and ensure students remained safe, all while the cores, in this case, were being changed and new keys issued. The price tag for the replacement project totaled $560,000: $400,000 to re-core all doors and $160,000 to install 20 electronically controlled master key storage boxes.

In addition to the monetary expenses that can exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars just to re-core even a few buildings, the consequences of losing a master key can also take a toll on many other levels: the heightened security risk to the entire campus population, the downtime that can disturb workflow and the potential loss of productivity. Finally, one of the greatest compliance risks colleges and universities face are the legal and reputational implications resulting from improper control over critical access credentials (master, sub-master, residential life keys, etc.) and the potential harm to a student and/or campus employee resulting from a lost credential.

Like with any campus-wide security program, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What might work for a small college with 1,500 students, for example, will not work for a large university that is charged with keeping tens of thousands of students safe and, in turn, that many dorm rooms and classrooms. The main goal for any college or university facility management team is to have a holistic credential management solution that works for their campus – and to be confident that when those credentials are both in use and not – they are secure.

Are Your Keys Safely Stored?

Keeping track of specific keys or other credentials that are usually about two inches in length can be a daily challenge. With a variety of hooks and locking options available, credential cabinets now allow for easy and sensible management. Most often, campuses have simple metal boxes accessed through an external key cylinder with rows of hooks and keys inside. Facility team members can remove the specific key that is needed, at any point. These cabinets can also be as high-end as having specific credentials to access the key with audit trail capabilities that are monitored online so managers know who has the key and when. These cabinets are especially beneficial to keep tabs on credentials that access labs or other rooms with highly expensive equipment and technology. In addition to having a cabinet, it is recommended to have a separate, designated cabinet for master keys or credentials that allows only a select number of users access.

Access control cards are easier to monitor and can be programmed to only work on specific doors or between specific times during the day. However, cards can be misplaced as easily as keys, and even though a card can be remotely monitored, it can still be improperly used between the time it was misplaced and the time an individual reports it was lost.

How do you Keep Credentials Safe When in Use?

There are solutions today that can help locate a lost key using Wi-Fi and online location services. Although this could help recover a lost credential, it requires more remote monitoring and other cellular services. Campuses are advised to put emphasis on solutions that will help credentials not be misplaced or lost in the first place, including focusing on ways to address and resolve human error associated with this. It could be as easy as a janitor leaving his keys on top of the vending machine while grabbing an afternoon drink and walking away. This simple and unintentional mistake could cost a school or university a lot of money.

There are now credential management solutions that keep track of master keys and cards electronically to avoid being lost; almost as if a digital tether is between the individual and credential. First, the credential hooks onto a device that clips into a belt. To connect the credentials, the user simply presses a button to ensure the credential is connected to the unit. Second, if an officer or guard breaches the radius, say 20 feet of the solution, and leaves the key or card behind, an alarm will sound and/or vibration will occur. This allows for the user to retrace their steps to recover the master credential, saving money and keeping cards and keys in the right hands.

When combined, all provide a fully comprehensive security solution that not only stores and manages credentials but allows those credentials – when removed from the cabinet – to eliminate the possibility of being misplaced.

Is Your Facility Prepared?

Every facility manager needs to organize and deploy a proactive credential management security plan. Too many times, colleges and universities think they don’t need a credential management system because it has never happened to them.  Likewise, some feel the costs associated with making a change are prohibitive. In the case of the college in Virginia, which had a hefty, unbudgeted bill of $560,000, it would have been a lot less expensive to prevent a master credential loss than to pay for the repercussions of losing one. Having a holistic access credential management solution in place ensures facility managers can maintain control. Even one lost master key is too many.

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Codelocks Inc.

Dec. 1, 2016