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Secure Objectives for School Security

Secure Objectives for School Security

Research shows that many institutions have diverse opinions on what is most important when it comes to security.

In a study conducted among more than 980 American four-year and two-year colleges and universities, including institutions such as the University of Michigan, MIT, UCLA and Columbia, security staff and other administrators identified the five leading goals for their security systems:

1. Preventing unauthorized people from entering their facilities.

2. Maximizing the likelihood that students can comply with the intended access design.

3. Providing real-time notification when problems occur.

4. Minimizing the time it takes to lock down the campus.

5. Finding building occupants quickly in an emergency.

However, students do not correlate schools’ No. 1 concern, ensuring only authorized entry, with a direct threat to their safety. Violence, threats from non-students, and stalking, among others, are the top five items from which they believe the school should be protecting them:

1. Gun and knife violence/murder/shootings.

2. Rape/sexual harassment/stalking.

3. Muggings/theft/identity theft.

4. Protection from non-students/homeless people/outsiders.

5. Crimes committed by fellow students (e.g., fights, hate crimes, bullying, hazing and discrimination).

Indeed, more than 50 percent of all students mentioned numbers 1 to 3 above.

Yet, to make matters worse, when responses were tallied among different departments among the colleges—housing/residential life, facilities management, IT and one-card departments—with the exception of unauthorized entry, there was very little unanimity about the main tasks of their access-control systems (see sidebar).

Different objectives

This divergence can be explained by how different departments view their objectives. Facilities and public safety, the key stakeholders in 57 percent of colleges, are more traditional in their approach; IT, one-card and housing departments are more customer/student-oriented. The focus is evolving from the former to the latter.

When the IT, one-card or housing departments are the key stakeholders, the solutions are more innovative. For instance, the one-card department considers convenience, customer service, improving customer experiences and including the students’ perceptions in the access-control decision as primary concerns. IT’s major focus is measuring the return on investment to the higher-education institution to improve options for upgrading.

Today, facilities and public safety are the primary stakeholders when determined by department on 57 percent of campuses. Following them are IT (17 percent), one-card (10 percent), housing (10 percent) and other (6 percent). In general, the focus on access control on campus is evolving from the traditional security/product-oriented focus of the facilities and public-safety departments to the broader definition of the IT, one-card and housing departments.

For example, when stakeholders are determined by their roles on campus, facilities and public safety drop to 36 percent, while IT grew to 28 percent, one-card to 16 percent, housing to 13 percent and other stayed at 6 percent.

A key finding is that differing mentalities typically do not occur on the same campus as colleges tend to be solely one or the other in their focus.

What Are Campuses Using for Access Control?

Only 36 percent of those using electronic locks are using standalone locks to manage openings. The majority, 64 percent, are using networked electronic locks to manage their openings—12 percent of those being wireless.

However, this is a very low number for wireless because in the overall access-control market, more than 70 percent of all networked systems deployed today are wireless access control. Without having to pull wire or trench, installation is less expensive and faster with wireless than with cabling.

For instance, in summer 2011, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, installed, configured and brought online more than 4,200 interior and 325 exterior doors in only 90 days by leveraging a wireless electronic locking platform. When students began moving in, they expressed a feeling of greater safety and comfort knowing that the new access system was in place. This increased confidence in their living arrangements was important for new arrivals and upperclassmen alike.

Issues with Lockdown

It is especially interesting that students are most concerned about violence on campus, yet only one department, housing/residential life, even listed "fast lockdown" as a top 3 job for their access control systems. Therefore, it is not surprising that, in a lockdown situation, three out of four colleges still are manually locking some points of access. Only 45 percent are using some type of a networked system that is activated on-site. However, even those are not campuswide.

This seems out of step with parental and student concerns about campus safety. Solutions are available. Wired or wireless, networked access-control systems enable administrators to install access control at all openings to provide centralized instant lockdown. A wireless networking option can secure an opening while protecting a school’s historic infrastructure.

However, Gary Conley, a University of Virginia facilities and systems engineer in the Office of Business Operations, Charlottesville, Va., cautions others to beware of any type of wireless.

"Usually, with WiFi, access-control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock five to six times per day vs. five to six times per hour with 900 MHz solutions, a 10-minute heartbeat," says Conley. "Access-control decisions may also be managed within the locks (as is the case with offline locks) to minimize communication from the lock to the host and conserve batteries. However, such limited (non-online) connectivity with the host limits the locks’ ability to receive urgent commands from the host. For instance, even with a 900 MHz platform, a direction to immediately lock down could be ignored for 10-plus minutes."

He suggests using a "wake up on radio" feature that works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every 1 to 10 seconds and responds. Thus, 10 seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown of all residence halls.

Credential Crisis

Overall, the great majority of colleges still deploy photo ID cards, magnetic-stripe cards, mechanical keys and barcodes for access control on campus vs. newer, more secure technologies such as proximity and, especially, biometrics and smart cards.

Indeed, 76 percent of colleges still use a magnetic-stripe card, even though students are the leading first adapters for new technologies. Only 31 percent of them are using proximity cards, 16 percent are using proximity fobs/tokens, 10 percent are using biometrics and 9 percent are using smart cards.

Access to buildings, identification, cafeteria/food courts, library, bookstore purchases, printing and vending, in that order, are the leading applications for which American college students use their school-issued cards.

Convenience is the ultimate student goal. Tools should support this goal without intruding. Effective safety and security on campus must be unobtrusive and transparent to gain student acceptance. One-card systems are perceived as convenient and enabling connection to accomplish their goals.

Although additional features are available, use is inconsistent from student to student and college to college. There are three consistent unfulfilled needs that exist for one-card use, students report. First, students typically would like their one-cards to replace ATM and driver’s licenses to reduce the number of items they need to carry. They want to use their one-card as a debit card and date-of-birth. Last, they consistently want to use it for retailer discounts.

Present and future

Only 18 percent of higher-education security directors and administrators believe that they are very effective at granting or denying access to appropriate individuals or knowing who goes where on their campus. There is great room for improvement, according to this study.

Sidebar: What Colleges are Using to Secure Campuses

Mechanical locks/Exits/Door closers


Electronic locks with Card/Fob/Token readers


Automatic door openers


Keypad locks


Video/CCTV surveillance


Intrusion/Burglar alarm


Electronic locks with biometric readers


Optical turnstiles


Metal detectors


Sidebar: What Higher-Education Institutions are Using to Identify Students

Picture ID cards


Magnetic-stripe card


Bar code on card


Proximity card


Proximity fob or token




Smart card




Dalton-Noblitt is director-vertical markets for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, Carmel, Ind. She can be reached at [email protected].

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