Protecting The Perimeter

Schools and universities have many options to prevent security threats and dangerous incidents.

Locks and keys aren't enough to keep a school secure from unwanted visitors. Controlling access with greater certainty is a school's first line of defense in keeping a facility secure.

Schools and colleges are taking steps to prevent the security risks posed by unauthorized access. In the K-12 field, a school facility may have eight to 20 doors that require perimeter security. Multiple-building colleges have a variety of building types that require different levels of security.

Not every door has to be a controlled entrance, nor is it always necessary to have 100 percent, 24-hour control. The doors to a grade school may be open while students are arriving and then locked during the school day, as well as after hours. Effective access control and a monitored main entrance provide the required security during school hours; some form of electronic access control and a secure credential system can provide after-hours access for authorized individuals. Other doors can remain locked unless monitored by a teacher or staff member.

A college or university is more likely to use access control in specialized areas such as laboratories, computer facilities, libraries and athletic facilities. Residence halls and other housing facilities are another area where higher security may be required.

Sorting out security levels

One way to simplify security decisions is to organize the key elements into levels that form a security pyramid.

The base of the pyramid, Level 1 (Mechanical Access/Egress Control), represents the fundamental mechanical locking system that restricts free access or egress. It includes keyed locks and other mechanical products. At this level, security is focused mainly on protection from threats such as theft or vandalism and on providing a physical barrier to intruders. If any part of this mechanical base is weak, it can compromise the higher levels of a system's security.

At Level 2 (Electronic Access Control and Key Management), standalone, programmable, battery-powered locks are networked through software to provide audit-trail capability and time-based scheduling for restricting access. Patent-restricted keyways provide the key control that is necessary for high security. This is particularly true for sophisticated electronic systems, which generally have a mechanical key override. With a patented keyway, a school's administration or university's security department controls the key blanks as well as the key-cutting equipment. To minimize security breaches from key misuse, a school should control these keys carefully, assign them to as few people as possible, and audit their use regularly.

Level 3 (Networked Access Control and Biometrics) incorporates biometric products that can verify hand geometry, fingerprints or face characteristics to ensure that only authorized persons can gain access. In a network, they may be combined with various sensing and monitoring products placed around the opening or integrated into the latching and locking mechanism to detect, deter and delay an intruder and also signal that a breach has occurred. Although not yet widely used, some schools have biometric access control to reduce the need to issue cards or keys.

Level 4 (Facility Integration) covers all the previous levels plus additional areas managed by software solutions, such as time-and-attendance systems, personnel scheduling systems and data-capture techniques. These can reduce the need for security staff or monitors, provide audit trails to resolve problems, speed response time if a problem occurs, minimize maintenance, and make it possible to create a central command and control area.

Online access-control systems have become common on college and university campuses, and school districts are beginning to move in the same direction. Integrated access-control systems that incorporate online access control, CCTV/DVR, alarm monitoring and badging are in use in schools at all levels.

Security solutions

Open key systems offer little real protection. Duplicates can be made easily, and lax key control can create security problems. Restricted key systems offer somewhat greater security. However, unless the keyway is patent-protected, a “Do Not Duplicate” stamp on a key provides little real protection. With a patented keyway, anyone other than the manufacturer who makes key blanks available violates federal patent laws. These keys can be restricted further when the manufacturer agrees not to sell a specific patented key configuration to anyone else within a defined geographic area.

Many variations of electronic locking are available. Each can provide different combinations of security and convenience. Schools that desire more control options than are available with mechanical key systems can use magnetic stripe or proximity cards. Electronic locks that are used with these credentials often have the ability to restrict access to certain individuals during specific hours or days, or for limited periods of time. Some also incorporate audit-trail recording that can be helpful in investigating incidents of theft or vandalism.

Although these locks may be hard-wired into a network, the same results can be obtained with standalone computer-managed (CM) locks, which are networked by using a personal digital assistant to download data from a computer. This eliminates the cost and problems associated with hard-wiring, especially in existing buildings. Battery-powered CM locks typically operate for more than a year on standard commercial batteries.

Biometrics ensure identity

Incorporating biometric devices into the system ensures that the person being allowed entry is actually the authorized person. Nothing else ties a person specifically to a credential. However, a biometric device is only as good as its reliability. A false reject can be just as much of a problem as a false acceptance.

Hand-geometry systems use the size and shape of the hand and fingers to verify identity. Length, width, thickness and surface area of the fingers and hand are measured and analyzed, and the unique features are stored in a template, which is used for subsequent verification. According to Frost & Sullivan's World Biometric Report 2002, hand geometry continues to be the dominant biometric technology for access control and time-and-attendance applications. It is especially suited for handling large volumes of transactions where a high degree of reliability is required.

Fingerprint readers use the unique pattern created by the ridges and valleys of the fingerprint characteristics for identification much as law enforcement agencies have for decades, but they automate the process and integrate fingerprint capture and associated algorithms for template creation into their terminals. Fingerprint recognition works best when applied to smaller populations.

Biometrics may offer more security than most educational facilities need, but remember that card access systems, PIN numbers, keys or other credentials cannot provide total control because they can be lost, stolen, borrowed, copied or otherwise compromised. Also, research shows that people who pose a security threat typically will follow the path of least resistance and choose the easiest targets.

If a school's budget will not accommodate the full access-control system it needs, a system with modular capabilities will make it easier to increase a facility's level of security and move it up the security pyramid. If the products available in a proposed system allow it to be upgraded without replacing the existing equipment, cost savings will accrue in hardware, installation, troubleshooting and possibly maintenance.

Identify the weakest link

No matter how sophisticated an access-control system, it is no better than its weakest link. All the electronics in the world won't stop an intruder if the lock on a door doesn't latch properly. The higher the level of security required for an area or a school, the more important it is to have the strong support of the levels beneath it.

Improving security can start with a security and safety needs assessment by a qualified security consulting firm. This assessment focuses on the school's door openings, key controls, credentials, links with time-and-attendance and personnel scheduling, and other risks inherent with the overall access-control system.

A facility's final choices must comply with local building codes, fire codes and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. These factors may add to the complexity but must be considered as part of the solution. A professional security consultant can help schools achieve the highest level of security and ensure that the facility complies with regulations.

Sidebar: Cases in point

At the new Clackamas High School in North Clackamas, Ore., computerization and electronic credentials are used where needed, but simpler solutions also are applied. Every exterior exit is wired so it can be “dogged down” (retracted) electrically from one of two central office locations.

If an emergency lockdown situation occurs, all doors can be locked at once, while the exit devices still allow safe egress for those inside. Interior classroom doors are equipped with a lock cylinder on the inside so the door can be locked without the teacher having to go into the corridor.

All building entrances at Clackamas High School have proximity card readers that allow authorized individuals to enter. Cards can be issued to allow access only to the gym, auditorium or cafeteria for scheduled community activities. The cards activate exit devices with electric latch retraction or electric strikes to allow entry during specified times.

Some K-12 schools are moving into biometrics for certain applications. Robert C. Byrd High School, Clarksburg, W.Va., has installed a hand reader to control access to its critical mechanical room, the heart of the school's physical plant. Custodians and other authorized school personnel now must swipe their identification badge and scan their hand to enter the room. A high school in Idaho has installed a hand reader to control after-hours access to its main entrance. The school is so pleased with the results that it plans to add two more readers.

Colleges have a broader variety of applications. Everything from mechanical keying to electronic locking to biometrics may be required.

Pace University, Pleasantville, N.Y., has improved access control and reduced the need to rekey hundreds of door locks at its seven locations in Manhattan and the Westchester County area by converting to computer-managed (CM) standalone locks. Previously, several different mechanical key systems were in use, and it was all but impossible to control access effectively. Some of the campuses also include student housing and have about 5,000 to 6,000 doors of various types. Frequent re-keying was necessary, and updating was time-consuming. Now, the CM access-control system provides flexible control without the need for hard-wiring each door location. Students use ID cards for access, and the CM locks make it easy to compensate for lost cards.

To accommodate its continuing growth, California State University — Dominguez Hills, Carson, selected a CM access-control system with the flexibility to allow different credentials and parameters. With a high percentage of evening students, the school's class and study hours are more varied, and the faculty members need to be able to lock and unlock doors themselves. Electronic locking with the computer-managed system provides the desired flexibility.

Vigue is vice president, IR Education Solutions, for IR Security & Safety, Carmel, Ind.

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