Ins and Outs of Campus Access

Know which issues to consider when choosing an access-control system.

The first step in properly specifying the right type of ingress and egress to apply at each door in an access-control system is determining why controlled access is needed at a specific location. Is it a matter of privacy, such as protecting personnel files? Is it a safety issue, such as access to and quick egress from a boiler room? Is it theft or vandalism problems in labs?

Access control simply is controlling who can go where, and when. Will there be many people or just a few? What kinds of doors are present? Does your school need audits and time features that allow access only at certain hours and on specified days? Will many people be coming at once?

Answering these questions flushes out details for selecting the appropriate ingress and egress solution.

Controlling the who

To control people, they need to be identified. Issuing a key gives the bearer authorization to enter the door with the matching lock.

Instead of keys, which can have significant management costs, administrators might consider numerical codes that work with electronic keypad locks. Codes can be added and deleted easily from these locks, eliminating the high costs associated with re-keying. These locks are reasonably priced. Including installation, the cost of securing an opening is $600 to $700.

However, people can forget or share codes. Too often, people write down passwords and codes, and they can be easy to see and to steal.

For greater security, access may be limited to something the user holds that is difficult to duplicate, such as magnetic stripe cards and proximity fobs. A quick swipe or presentation to the reader gives a cardholder access.

However, an authorized credential does not necessarily mean the holder is the authorized user. Lost or stolen credentials are active until deleted from the system and can be used by an individual with harmful intentions.

For even higher security, one might consider a linked-access arrangement where an authorized user must hold the appropriate credential and know the appropriate code linked with that credential. This application is similar to bank ATM cards.

Another type of access control is a biometric, which looks for an unalterable personal attribute. These systems have no credentials or codes to administer, and biometric characteristics can't be shared, stolen, lost or left behind.

Once a school determines how to identify the “who,” it needs to control the “who.” A system can provide momentary access to individuals. In some places, a school might want to keep doors unlocked at some times and locked at other times. Perhaps a campus wants a pass-through mode that allows deans and certain professors to come and go as they please. For temporary personnel, a school may want to set up a one-time use. In higher security applications, a school may want to use two credentials in tandem, such as a card and a biometric.

Controlling the where

Think of all the openings on a campus. Different openings need different levels of security, some not so obvious at first glance. Labs probably need a higher degree of security. And don't lose sight of the need for exit devices or panic bars. Egress control is as important as access control.

Should access control be an online system or an offline, standalone operation? Does the school's budget allow for online, hardwired systems? Such investments are at their lowest when a facility is being built. Software-managed offline systems provide most of the benefits of an online system at a fraction of the material and installation cost. A campus may have a blend of systems, where perimeters are managed by online systems and internal openings are managed by offline systems.

If a door is used frequently, schools should consider magnetic locking systems that can handle constant locking and unlocking.

Controlling the when

Different people need access at different times. Perhaps students can be admitted between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., and nighttime maintenance workers gain access between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. Professors may be allowed to come and go at any time except on Sundays and holidays.

The system used should have an override function. For instance, a school might want access on the Sunday of a parents' weekend.

Other considerations:

  • Are other access-control systems already installed? Will complementary systems work together?

  • Is the product UL-listed? In most cases, this is a must.

  • Does electronic hardware meet ANSI/BHMA Grade 1 requirements?

  • Does the product adhere to Federal Communications Commission regulations where applicable?

  • How many users will the system monitor? Flow is important, and people will complain if they have to stand in line.

  • Does the school need to audit or monitor events that occur at the controlled openings? If so, a system must provide information on who was there and when.

  • Don't forget about architectural finishes and levers. Upgrading electronic access control doesn't mean having to compromise on aesthetics.

  • If standalone, battery-powered products are to be used, what are the number of daily cycles expected at each opening? Can the unit handle the duty cycle, or will frequent battery changing be required?

  • If your school selects a hardwired access-control system, can users still get out in an emergency when there is no power?

Regarding software

Most access-control systems are governed by management software. The features and benefits of the particular software are as important as the hardware.

Software must be secure from access by unauthorized operators. It must be password-protected. It also must be flexible enough to manage the various user groups on a campus. It must be user-friendly and easy to learn. It should be Windows-based to be compatible with most other software. The software also must provide a management hierarchy, enabling others to manage certain elements, such as a professor adding or eliminating a student's access.

NOTABLE

Some issues to consider when choosing an access-control system:

  • WHY

    Will there be many people or just a few? Does your school need audits and time features? Will many people be coming at once?

  • WHO

    What type of system will work best for your users? Will the school have temporary personnel?

  • WHERE

    Are there labs or other high-security areas on campus? Should access control be an online or offline operation?

  • WHEN

    How many users will the system monitor? Does the school need to audit or monitor events that occur at the controlled openings?

Koziol is Marketing Director, Software Managed Systems at IR Security & Safety's Electronic Access Control Division (EACD).

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