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Tips for choosing a Web-based access-control ssytem that fits with your overall security program.

If you are looking to install an access-control system or replace an existing system, it is important to understand the new options in electronic access control (EAC). The case for replacing lock-and-key systems, particularly in an education environment, is clear-cut: lost and stolen keys present a risk; there are no records of user access or unauthorized attempts to access; there is no control over when users can enter and no lock-down capability;and re-keying can be expensive. By using an electronic access-control system, schools have more control over the physical security of buildings and campuses, and can save a significant amount of money over the life of the system.

Understanding the features and functions provided by new technologies in physical security is key to selecting the best option.

Breaking tradition

A “traditional” electronic access-control system entails software installed on a dedicated computer situated within the building being controlled. This is a common setup, but it is outdated; trying to maintain the integrity of a security program can lead to disastrous problems.

Why? Operating systems get upgraded, and the original software may no longer work or be supported. Computers are stolen, and schools can lose the ability to administer the system, but even worse, the user database can be compromised. Software is licensed, and if schools want to install the software on another computer, they may need to buy another license. New features are added to later versions of software, and institutions often need to buy and install upgrades to get full system benefits.

Many traditional electronic access-control systems aren't very network-friendly; they were not designed to reside on a network. Instead, these systems have been forced onto the network with the use of third-party serial-to-IP converters. This often results in IT administrators requiring separate networks for physical security in order to keep their core network and applications from being affected by devices and applications that make it difficult or impossible to carry out system policies.

On the Web

Web technology has made its way to the world of access control, and the result is more choices for education institutions. Before committing to a new system, review the choices in IP electronic access control solutions:

  • Web-enabled

    Evaluating needs

    These access-control systems still rely on on-site servers and software, but provide remote access to that server by making it browser-accessible from a computer situated just about anywhere. Most Web-enabled applications support either a dial-up or network configuration for remote access. With Web-enabled applications, a user still has to take responsibility for server maintenance, database backup, security updates and software upgrades.

  • Web-based

    Expanding on the Web-enabled concept, some companies offer products that eliminate the need for on-site servers or software by embedding all the necessary functionality within the controller itself. Most Web-based applications support network configurations through a LAN/WAN or VPN and can control any location on that network through any PC connected to that network as long as the user has a valid login and password. This array of products is ideal for customers with an established IT infrastructure and support, and a need for remote management.

  • Web-hosted

    Similar to online banking and hosted customer relationship management (CRM) applications, Web-hosted applications, also referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS), are becoming increasingly popular. In an SaaS model of access control, the application is hosted by the service provider, along with the user database. A secure, centralized data center takes care of the software and upgrades, along with backups, archives, redundancy and disaster recovery. The end-user administrator accesses the application by using any Web browser to log into his or her account. As with Web-based solutions, eliminating the server and software frees up the user's IT department to focus on the enterprise's core business. A SaaS solution also eliminates the need for an established network or dial-up configuration among multiple sites, enabling the administration of multiple buildings and remote facilities.

  • Security dealer-managed applications

    Although Web-hosted services such as those previously mentioned provide users with ultimate flexibility when managing their access-control systems, some customers wish to rely on their security dealer entirely. Security dealer-managed applications allow the customer to submit access-system change requests to the installing security dealer. With security dealer-managed applications, traditional security dealers use Web-hosted applications to provide a “concierge” service for system redundancy, disaster recovery and managed services on a level not available with traditional server-based access-control applications.

Web services bring about a whole new way of thinking for the access-control industry. Each category offers some level of cost or time savings to the user over standard locks and keys. In some instances, Web service providers can offer a greater level of security and reliability than an IT or security department can provide. When evaluating access-control systems, consider the following:

  • In-house resources

    Do you have the IT staff to handle backups, security updates and system upgrades? Do you have human-resources personnel available to handle system changes, such as adding or deleting users and maintaining door schedules?

    Evaluating existing resources is a good first step. Web-hosted and central station-managed solutions require little or no on-site IT support; local systems will need regular backups, maintenance and upgrades.

  • Accessibility needs

    Do you have one person to manage your access-system changes, or will multiple departments manage pieces of the system? Do any of your administrators need remote access, for example on snow days or during travel?

    Each type of Web service handles administrator licenses differently. Some systems limit the number of administrators, and others offer unlimited licenses as part of the service. It also is important to review the technical capabilities of administrators. Choosing a system that is easy to learn and understand will ensure that existing and new administrators are not hindered by system complexity. Evaluate your administrative needs to ensure that you can grow and manage the system without limitations. Seeing a system in action is essential, so be certain to ask for a demonstration of the Web service capability and interface prior to making a decision.

  • Operating system environment

    Will you need something that can be used on both Macintosh and Windows PCs?

    Many software applications work only on the Microsoft Windows operating system, but many schools use Apple products. Or your administrator may use a Mac at work but have a Windows-based PC at home. Most locally installed software will work only on one platform. A Web-hosted application and Web-based systems that need no software installed are accessed via a Web browser, independent of local operating systems. As long as you have a Web browser and Internet access, your operating system is irrelevant.

  • Scalability

    Are you managing access for one building or many? Are they situated on a single campus or spread throughout a region or even globally? Are all of the locations on an existing network? Do you have remote or unmanned facilities to manage? Will you add additional facilities in the future?

Each system differs on the type of communication necessary to connect multiple facilities. Look for systems that accommodate multiple communication mediums such as LAN/WAN, satellite broadband, WiFi, DSL, cable and cellular wireless.

Orr is director of business development for Brivo Systems, LLC, Bethesda, Md., which worked with St. John's High School and the Midland Borough School District (see sidebars). He can be reached at [email protected] or (240)271-8158.

St. John's High School: A Web-based system maintained onsite

St. John's College High School (SJC) is an independent, Catholic, co-educational college-preparatory school. Situated on a 27-acre campus in Washington, D.C., with 1,100 students and 150 faculty and staff, St. John's formerly secured its buildings with a standard lock-and-key system.

The SJC administration sought improved access technology to provide school administrators with maximum flexibility, using existing infrastructure, and give them a “tiered” management system to fit the overall needs of the school and each specific administrator.

The new Web-based, on-site data-storage control system enables SJC to schedule an open time for the building, as well as the ability to lock the building once everyone is inside after the official start of the day. Deliveries are buzzed in while the building is locked during these hours. As part of its emergency plan, St. John's also has installed a single-button “lock-down” for the entire campus. Other benefits include:

  • Improved access control, visibility and reporting.

  • Remote administration of the system from any Web browser anytime, anywhere.

  • Card and schedule management, and controlled and tracked access for the athletic building, which is used by 15 different athletic programs at different times of the year.

  • System scalability, flexibility and the ability to expand the system where and when appropriate.

Midland Borough Schools: A Web-hosted system deployed across multiple buildings

Prior to installing a new Web-hosted system, Midland Borough School District, Midland, Pa., left classroom doors open, and the back and loading-dock doors were unlocked at most times.

“There was basically access to the whole building,” said Kim Kaiser, dean of students/safety and security.

It's not that Midland had no security; the school had a card-reader access system, and employees were logged in as they entered the buildings. But Kaiser knew the school had to be more prepared.

“If we can get a few extra seconds or even minutes and buy some time for the emergency response personnel to get here, then we need to install the technology to ensure such capabilities,” he says.

Through a Web-hosted access-control system, the school's front, back, loading dock and teacher access doors are secured and monitored. Staff and teachers with access cards have easy access, but visitors must enter the school through a single point of entry, which also is under video surveillance. A keypad was installed on the front door along with an intercom. Midland Borough Schools has experienced other improvements to security and operations:

  • The system logs all activity. The school now has an accurate record of employees coming and going, can log in deliveries, and can confirm delivery times.

  • The system enables Kaiser and his staff to lock down the entire building quickly and confidently.

  • Midland staff needed minimal training to get up and running.

WEB 101

For more articles on security and life safety in education institutions, visit the Security “Articles by Topic” section at

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