Access Granted

Oct. 1, 1997
From laundry rooms to bookstores to security, institutions are taking advantage of card technology; however, not all colleges have made the leap to these

>From laundry rooms to bookstores to security, institutions are taking advantage of card technology; however, not all colleges have made the leap to these systems.

Campus security is a concern for all colleges and universities, no matter how large or small the school, or in what region of the country. One of the keys to keeping a campus secure is regulating who is going in and out of buildings and when.

Many administrators have aided security efforts by implementing an ID-card system. Going one step further, other conveniences have been incorporated into the card, including laundry services, bookstore purchases, banking services, beverage and vending-machine purchases, and cafeteria food plans. And, as campus needs change, cards are being upgraded to include other features.

Card functionality For colleges, controlling building access is key, especially after regular classes have ended for the day. Although many still use traditional lock-and-key systems, more are trying card systems to not only simplify the process, but also to help integrate other functions into the card.

One such case is at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, where a card system helps keeps track of 8,700 students in 25 buildings. Students use magnetic-stripe cards that are managed from a distributed database. Fifty readers across campus make access or purchasing decisions according to the information on the student's card.

"We wanted to stay away from key systems. If a key is lost, the only way to prevent access to that particular door is changing the lock," says Rob Genie, security systems manager. "With a card system, you just take a person's access away if there is turnover or lost cards."

So far, the system has worked well for the college, which recently completed the fourth phase of its card-system implementation, and added additional security around the campus perimeter.

"During the day we have an open atmosphere," says Genie. "The cards are mostly for those who need after-hours access-faculty, staff, students using labs, physical plant and security personnel."

Similarly, Columbia University, New York, utilizes a campuswide ID system on its Morningside campus. Its system, however, runs off of two different databases that have separate functions. One database contains student privileges for residence halls, dining facilities, laundry facilities and vending machines; another database allows access to administrative and academic buildings.

The purchasing side of the card works on a declining balance, where students can put a predetermined amount of money on the card and spend it down until the money is gone or another deposit is made. Currently, the school is adding the card system to its snack and beverage vending machines, and eventually hopes to incorporate bookstore accounts as an alternate means of payment.

"This system adds a great deal of convenience," says Joe Ienuso, director of finance and administration for student services. "It helps students and their families budget, and helps to better manage funds by pulling everything into an account they can spend down."

At Florida State University, Tallahassee, a major component of its card system is security. Although the magnetic-stripe card has several different capabilities, it has enabled campus police to have better control over who is going into buildings and at what times.

"There is no threat of someone being in an area they are not supposed to be in," says Sgt. Ron McGlockton of the university's police department. "It's a matter of control. There's no way to delete keys from the system. But with card access, it's an easy task."

Taking control For a student, obtaining building access or a late-night snack is as easy as swiping his or her card. However, managing card systems can be a challenge, especially when it comes to adding all of the different functions to the card. A well-thought-out system becomes very important, especially with the high turnover and changing student-access privileges of a typical campus.

"From a user's perspective, they have no idea that the two different functions are from two different databases," says Columbia's Ienuso. "You swipe where you need to, and the card automatically links to the appropriate systems."

But there are a lot of things to consider from a management perspective.

"We have four residential-life buildings, and that population changes three times a year. It's not like a corporate environment where you really don't have much turnover," says New Jersey Institute of Technology's Genie. "It's a very dynamic environment-even the parking privileges are changing."

At Florida State, the card-access system is updated on a nightly basis. "Access privileges are constantly changing. Students drop out, staff may get employment elsewhere, new people are entering the system," says McGlockton. "Every night, cards are made active or deactivated depending on the people who will be using them."

Some of the things to consider are the various ways of setting up databases. Also, there are many different types of cards on the market, ranging from a simple ID card to a smart card, which can contain numerous levels of information.

"It's really important to look at ways to go about populating the access system. Residential life has a database, and downloads are incorporated into that building," says Genie. "It's important to know how to go about getting access without having to manually do it."

That's where getting other departments, such as information services, involved in the planning process can save time and effort. "Get specs for what they are able to provide, and you can grow the system based on that," says Genie.

Tackling problems However, managing card systems is not an easy or fool-proof job.

"We are recovering from hard-drive failure right now," says Genie. "But mechanical systems do fail. As long as you have plans in effect to recover from a failure, it's really not a factor."

Another problem that administrators constantly are faced with is lost cards.

"This is something we are aware of and working with students about," says Columbia's Ienuso. "They need to treat it as they would a credit card because it has great value. It needs care and attention."

It is normally fairly easy for students to replace lost or stolen cards. However, for the simpler systems, if a student loses a card, he or she may lose money deposited on the system. For more advanced systems, it is just a matter of making a trip to the ID center.

"As soon as the card is reported lost, all of the old information can be linked to a new card and the old card is disabled," says Ienuso. "We are working to expand our ID-center hours to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to make it more convenient for students."

Sticking with what works What works for one school does not always work for another. Some colleges and universities do not think card technology will provide the greatest benefits. For instance, at the Citadel, Charleston, S.C., the idea of electronic access control has not even been discussed.

"Rekeying is an ongoing process, but key access is strictly controlled," says Mike Bingham, director of public safety. "Students get access during the day, and anything beyond that is coordinated with the specific professor and the public-safety department."

Rekeying, though, can be a costly and time-consuming task. At California State University, Hayward, administrators are investigating card systems but have not made any decisions as to which options to incorporate into a system.

"We have a lot of graduate students who come in at all hours and need access. We do have that kind of need [that card systems address] and would like to know who is in the building at what times," says Dan Frankie, facilities manager. "We are looking into it [card systems], but that involves dollars and commitment, and that's a long-range plan."

When making the decision to implement an advanced card system on your campus, it's important to have somewhere to turn for help and information. As more complex cards come onto the market, the issues of production, standards, quality, security and the environment have become more prominent.

The need to bring together these diverse elements of the plastic-card industry led to the formation of The International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA). The ICMA serves the dynamic plastic-card industry and the various companies and organizations involved in manufacturing these cards.

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