Let's See Some ID

A photo identification system can improve school security and enhance administrative efficiency.

Schools are facing many difficult challenges. Heightened concerns about security have put stress on staff and students. Tight budgets have led to elementary and secondary classrooms of 30 or more students. Parents and community members hold school administrators to higher standards of efficiency and effectiveness.

A photo identification system can improve security in a school; increase efficiency by integrating programs for library materials, food service and door access; and boost school spirit.

Assessing needs

Before considering a school identification program, administrators first should assess the school's needs. For some schools, security is the primary goal. Photo ID badges can be used to visually identify students, staff and visitors, or for more sophisticated functions, such as accessing residence halls, facilities and equipment.

In addition, schools can use photo ID systems to automate several operations using one ID badge. With the proper technology, ID badges can speed library or equipment checkout; act as a pass to student activities such as plays, concerts, dances and sporting events; allow student access to computers and the Internet; or become coupon cards for use with area merchants.

With debit functions, students can use photo ID badges for vending machines, laundry facilities or cafeteria payments. Some systems can be linked to ATMs for money withdrawal. The more uses for a system, the more cost-effective it is for an institution.

How much technology?

Technology allows many security options for photo ID cards — from visual identification, to encoding student information in magnetic stripes or smart chips, to holographic logos that make fraudulent card duplication difficult.

Magnetic encoding can contain information about access levels, class schedules, grades, employment history and more. This information can be updated as needed. Bar codes often are used to contain confidential information. Digital signatures also can be added for comparison during a security check. Proximity cards containing an internal antenna provide greater security than cards with a magnetic stripe.

To protect a card even further, some schools use holographic images. Holographic overlaminates use either a generic holographic image or something that has been designed specifically for an individual school. Other features, such as microtext, UV printing and precision repeats can be added.

Creating the system

A photo ID system consists of four elements: a personal computer; identification software with design and database capabilities; a digital camera; and a card printer/encoder. For each element, schools have several options to consider:

  • Personal computer

    The primary consideration in selecting a computer is its compatibility with the software and printer, its processing speed and its memory. Most software runs on a Windows-based environment.

  • Software

    Try to balance ease of use with functionality and budget. School administrators should think about what they want the card to do, how they want it to look and how it will be used. Some software gives users the option of selecting predesigned templates or creating custom cards. Other software enables a camera to find a face and center the picture automatically.

    It is advantageous for the software to be integrated seamlessly with a school's technology systems. This will enable schools to maintain and access a central database with one ID card. By managing individual information, images and card designs through a central database, administrators can operate their systems more efficiently and securely.

  • Digital camera

    Don't skimp on quality to save money. Cameras are on the market for as little as $50, but they may not provide the quality desired. The camera should create as clear an image as possible. Pay attention to features such as pixel size, image resolution, auto zoom and auto focus.

    Some schools try to use existing equipment from their media departments. This may save money, but the camera may not be the ideal choice for creating high-quality photos, and may not be integrated easily with ID software and printers. Another option to consider is to ask the company that takes individual student photos to see if they can provide the photos they have already taken for use on ID cards.

  • Printer

    Select one that is easy to use so employees can operate it with minimal training. High-speed printers enable users to print cards in seconds while students, staff or visitors wait. They also allow schools to replace cards immediately. Some printers can encode information to magnetic stripe and smart cards at the same time the card is printed.

If cards feature student ID numbers, select a printer that can provide sequential numbering on the cards. Schools that want to include printed information and images on both sides of cards should look for printers that allow double-sided printing. Some printer models have security features that control access to the printer. Other printers feature physical locks on the card input hopper to protect blank card stock from being stolen.

Card printers with built-in laminators increase the durability of the card. Overlaminates also offer protection from ultraviolet rays.

Wright is director of marketing for Fargo Electronics, Eden Prairie, Minn.

NOTABLE

Technology allows many security options for photo ID cards — from visual identification, to encoding student information in magnetic stripes or smart chips, to holographic logos that make fraudulent card duplication difficult.

  • MAGNETIC ENCODING

    This can contain information about access levels, class schedules, grades, employment history and more. This information, which can be updated, also can include debit functions for stored-value cards.

  • BAR CODES

    These often are used to contain confidential information.

  • DIGITAL SIGNATURES

    These can be added for comparison during a security check.

  • PROXIMITY CARDS

    These cards contain an internal antenna and provide greater security than cards with a magnetic stripe, yet are affordable and widely used in access-control applications.

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