Smarter Than a Key

Electronic access-control systems are helping colleges and universities establish and maintain a safe environment on their campuses.

Every year, the tennis courts at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., had to be resurfaced. It wasn't the tennis rallies wearing out the courts, it was the "alternative" uses - the impromptu hockey games and skateboarding exhibitions - that did the damage.

But now, the university's tennis facilities are lasting a lot longer. Santa Clara's new tennis center is fenced and gated, andan electronic access card controls entry to the courts.

"The use of cards for door security has grown beyond my imagination," says Jane Barrantes, director of Santa Clara's ACCESS Card office.

Access-control systems are one way colleges and universities are using technological advances as a way of enhancing security. Along with other improvements such as closed-circuit camera systems and greater numbers of call boxes, card systems are making it easier for school officials to provide secure environments for their students and staff.

FLEXIBILITY AND EFFICIENCY The major advantage of card systems is that they allow colleges and universities to monitor and control entry into their buildings without having to post a guard at every door or drastically reduce the number of entrances into buildings.

They also alert security workers when a door has been left open too long, so that students can't prop the door and defeat the system.

"When the mag lock doesn't make contact, an alarm goes off in one of our alarm centers," says Vince Busico, an officer with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville police department.

Students are notorious for mislaying their belongings. Barrantes says a rule of thumb is that about one fourth of the cards issued will be lost over a year. But a lost or stolen card doesn't jeopardize security as a misplaced key might. Instead of installing a new lock or replacing dozens of keys, a missing card can be deactivated immediately. At Santa Clara, a student or employee can deactivate a lost card 24 hours a day on the World Wide Web.

Schools can grant students and employees various levels of access depending on their class schedule, major or other special needs. Santa Clara's ACCESS cards control entry not only to residence halls, but also to computer labs, the fitness center, performing-arts center and other facilities. Some parts of the law school are restricted to only law students; in other areas of the campus, only MBA students can gain entry. The area of the campus library where new acquisitions arrive is now controlled by card access. Materials were disappearing before they could be catalogued into the library system, but after access controls were placed on the area, the problem has diminished, says Barrantes.

The computer host system that drives the card system automatically can revise the access needs and privileges of students and employees without having to contact the user.

Card systems also allow colleges and universities to give vendors, guests and other visitors temporary access to parts of a campus. For instance, if a group from off-campus were using an athletic facility for a few hours on a weekend, a college could issue a card instead of providing a key or having someone from the facilities department be on hand to let the group in and out.

"The cards are wonderfully efficient," says Barrantes.

MULTIPLE USES Besides the added security that access cards provide, colleges and universities can take advantage of technology and load all sorts of additional uses onto one card.

At Santa Clara, a student's ACCESS card allows a student to check out materials from the library, pay for meals in residence-hall dining rooms and set up a debit account that can be used at campus bookstores, vending machines, laundries, copy centers and other businesses.

Barrantes says the cards have the capacity to have more functions placed on them. "If something makes sense, we'll do it," she says.

One characteristic that is crucial to the success of a card system, says Barrantes, is having a card that can handle the less-than-delicate treatment of a typical college student. Traditional credit cards use magnetic striping with "low coercivity," and the data on them can be corrupted by direct contact with a magnet or heavy wear. That isn't necessarily a problem with a credit card, because when a swipe through a machine doesn't register, a clerk can read the account number on the front and enter it manually.

While low-coercivity cards are good enough for access control, if a stripe is corrupted and a card won't work, users won't be able to get where they need to go. At Santa Clara, the ACCESS cards have high-coercivity stripes, which are significantly more resistant to inadvertent erasure.

"You can use it and abuse it," says Barrantes. "We don't have any de-mag problems."

In addition to card systems, many colleges and universities rely on technology such as closed-circuit cameras and remote call boxes to enhance security, especially in isolated areas of spread-out campuses.

"Cameras have helped a lot," says Darrell Hallstead, a crime prevention officer with the University of Texas police department in Austin.

On a daily basis, the department is responsible for patrolling the main campus, with 413 acres in central Austin; the J.J. Pickle Research Center, with 415 acres eight miles northwest of campus; the Brackenridge tract, a family student-housing area and a biological field laboratory that occupies 504 acres in central Austin; the Paisano Ranch, a 254-acre tract southwest of Austin; and Bee Caves Research Center, a 38-acre tract in West Austin.

Cameras enable the police to keep track of remote locations that officers can't patrol as frequently as they would like.

"We had one parking lot where there were two or three auto burglaries a day. We put cameras in there, and the crime rates have dropped significantly. In three months, the number of auto burglaries has dropped by half. We got a lot of folks on tape who have gone to jail."

The university also is installing more call boxes for students and others on campus to contact police.

"If we could have them every 100 feet, we would," says Hallstead.

Until the University of Texas can afford that, it tries to place call boxes in areas with heavy traffic and high crime rates.

The call boxes at the University of Tennessee have two features, says Officer Vince Busico. By pressing a black button, students or employees can summon an escort service that sends a van to pick them up. Pressing a red button will send an alert to the 911 center, which will dispatch a police officer.

In addition to technological advancements that enhance security, many campuses rely on more traditional approaches such as escort services and bicycle patrols.

At many schools, students who don't want to travel across campus alone can request an escort to walk with them or a shuttle van to take them to their destinations.

And, bicycle patrols allow public safety officers to have more personal interaction with those on campus and let them get to places on campus that a patrol car could not reach.

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