Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Electronic Security on College Campuses

electronic security


Traditional, but now old-fashioned, mechanical key locks are disappearing from college and university campuses. Electronic locks have proven a more effective, more secure means of locking doors.

That’s especially important in light of today’s lethal outbreaks of violence, a number of which have occurred on school, college, and university campuses.

Violent outbreaks don’t really happen all that often, but when someone does show up—anywhere—with a deadly weapon and intent on using it, the results can prove so tragic that school administrations and security departments are seeking and taking extra steps to keep members of their campus communities safe.

First Steps

Perhaps the first and most basic step that can be taken is to improve the security of campus doors by replacing mechanical keyed locks with electronic locking systems.

Conventional mechanical keyed locks have great disadvantages. “Keys can be lost,” says Jeff Koziol, national account manager–Software Alliance Member, with Allegion, a company that specializes in door locks, closers, and exit devices, including steel doors, frames, and access control systems.

Lost keys can be expensive for a college or university. A single key lost by a single student isn’t a big deal, notes Koziol. The student reports the loss and has the key replaced. “On the other hand, what if a resident advisor loses the master key to all the doors in a building?” Koziol asks. “Now the entire building has been compromised and has to be rekeyed, at tremendous cost.”

To avoid such problems, some, if not many, campuses are adopting electronic card access control systems. If a card is lost, it can be disabled at a card control panel, making it useless.

“There are several different kinds of electronic locking systems,” says Paul Timm, vice president in the Chicago offices of the Washington, DC-based Facility Engineering Associates (FEA). “You can mount a keypad beside the door. Students gain entry by punching in a code.

“You also can carry a fob on a keychain and present the fob to a proximity reader to gain access.

“Then, there are proximity cards, which do the same job as a fob. Proximity cards can also serve as ID cards. In addition, you can add a magnetic stripe to a proximity card, making it possible to use the card for other tasks, such as accessing funds from bank ATMs and even purchasing goods in campus or local stores.

“The next iteration of electronic access is a smartphone app that enables users to access doors. A user simply opens the app in the phone and presents the phone to a reader, in the same way a proximity card or fob is presented. Such phone apps are already in use in a few places.”

Customizing Card Access Systems to Improve Security

A multi-building college campus has many locked doors, and each individual in the campus community will need access to a number of those doors. An enterprise-class access control system can facilitate such a requirement.

Unlike entry-level access control, enterprise class access control systems can be customized.

“A customizable system enables you to set up authority levels,” says Todd Shook, project manager and security systems specialist in the buildings group at Edmonton, Alberta-based Stantec. “This means that one group of individuals will have cards that will enable them to enter, say, the dining hall, the library, classroom buildings and their own dormitories—but they will not be able to enter buildings where they have no business.

“You can also tie these cards into campus parking facilities, allowing students to park in certain surface parking lots or certain parking decks in a garage—but not in other gated lots.”

Integrating Cards and Cameras

Security professionals recommend integrating access control systems with other campus security systems. “In my opinion, you must have a camera everywhere you place a card reader,” adds Shook. “That way you can spot check and even monitor use.

“For instance, a camera might show that Joe is using Jack’s card to get into a dorm. Cameras will also show doors that have been propped open as well as doors that are malfunctioning.”

Of course, cameras are expensive. But there is no need to buy cameras to monitor all locations at one time. Most facilities buy one camera now and another camera a few months or a year later, gradually building up to full coverage.

Managing Card Access Across Campus

A well-integrated access control system also enables effective access control management.

Robin Brown is director of electronic security at the University of Colorado–Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. He manages security for buildings that make up six medical schools located on the university campus. Each school covers a different medical discipline.

He also manages security for the university’s several medical research buildings.

Brown designed the campus access control system from scratch. “I was hired when the campus was being built,” he says. “From the beginning, the goal has been to protect people, property, and processes. Access control is an important part of that.”

Anschutz medical students need 24-hour-a-day access to campus buildings. Brown designed the campus access control system to accommodate that.

“We’re a large 5,000,000-square-foot campus with many buildings and many doors,” Brown says. “Our education buildings are unlocked during the day and locked in the evening. Our lab buildings are also unlocked during the day, although the labs inside the lab buildings are locked.”

The campus has 100 unlocked doors during the day, and patients, visitors, and salespeople come and go, moving easily through public areas, continues Brown. Locked buildings include the mechanical buildings and buildings with biological, radiological, and chemical hazards.

Every building has access-controlled doors. During the day, badges are required to enter certain, but not all, buildings. As of 6:00 p.m. every evening, all buildings lock down by way of a software-controlled time table. Most perimeter doors are secured by the access control system. Those that aren’t included in the access control system are protected by alarms.

Overall, the system Brown has created manages over 100 different faculty, administrative, and student clearances connected to exterior and interior doors across campus.

“Our safety staff includes sworn police officers and security officers,” Brown says. “If there is an emergency—an active shooter, for instance—and one of our police or security officers calls for a lockdown, we can lock down the entire campus in one second by hitting a single button. Our dispatchers handle such lockdowns.”

Managing Visitors

Most enterprise-class access control systems have a visitor management component, notes Stantec’s Shook. “You may have to buy a software license to activate the visitor management capabilities,” he says.

Usually, these systems feature stations that enable visitors to key in their own information. In response, the station prints out a badge. Different systems ask for a little or a lot of information from visitors, depending on needs. Some systems have web cameras that will print photo ID tags and even access control badges—all without an attendant.

Given the potential for violence in today’s world, colleges and universities—as well as other locations where diverse people gather—can use modern access control and visitor management systems to help improve safety and security.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management May 2018 issue of Spaces4Learning.