Under Control

Key control is not a new issue for any school. What is innovative is how the Scotland County School District in Laurinburg, N.C., tackled the problem. Its approach was to adopt an integrated system that marries a computerized records management system for key tracking with a patented hardware system to keys that cannot be duplicated.

With the responsibility for the safety and security of more than 7,000 students in 15 K-12 schools, Scotland County Schools’ administrators went looking for a security system that would provide him and his staff with the peace of mind they needed, as well as the key control a school system their size demands.

The system the district decided on is a customizable key-based access control system, which provides instant capability to rekey and repin locks without hardware changes or the services of a locksmith. The patented hardware prevents unauthorized duplication of keys and allows the user instantly to rekey any level of a master key system without affecting any other level. The software and secure central key-tracking computer service enable a real-time monitoring system of every individually serial-numbered key, every lock and every user in the system, using the Internet to provide answers to access control questions.

With the support of the school board, the district has adopted a strict key system. To make it clear that passing along or copying keys was no longer acceptable, the district instituted a program whereby any person issued a key is required to sign a contract. These contracts specifically assign responsibility for keeping track of the key, and detail what access each keyholder is allowed. This accountability, along with a proprietary records management software program that provides real-time Web-based records management, has improved security and minimized the number of “lost” keys the district typically had to deal with in the past.

Modern Tools for Modern Times

The records management software used by the facilities staff at Scotland County Schools gives them the capability to manage key control in minute detail. The ability to have secured Web-based records management to order new keys, change key-holder status and basically handle complete recordkeeping – along with the capability to rekey any cylinder in a matter of minutes -- is also what sold the school district on the InstaKey system.

The cylinders installed at Scotland County Schools take the place of waiting for and paying a professional to rekey. They also eliminate the need to move cores around or collect and redistribute keys. The savings realized by no longer needing to call on locksmiths - calls that typically ran from $50 to $150 per visit - are paying for the new system through time. And it is able to manage the key control system for the entire school district with the support of one on-site locksmith.

The InstaKey lock and key system has been used successfully in the Scotland County School system since 1997. It has been retrofitted in several of the older schools and is being installed in all of our new schools because of the unique re-keying technology and the computerized record and control system. We are finally capable of tracking all of the keys that have been issued and, since these keys cannot be duplicated, we are assured that a high level of security is maintained. I would recommend this type of lock and key system for public school facilities and other similar institutional facilities.

Explore All of the Options

It’s important to note that the selection process for a new security system is time-consuming. But calling on security specialists who represent many different security vendors can help. To expedite the evaluation process, administrators called on local security specialist to help them weigh the pros and cons of electronic keys, lock and key systems with computer chips built in, traditional locks and keys and customizable key systems. Specifically, the evaluation process took into consideration costs, time to implement, the potential for security breaches and on-going vendor support.

The vendor and system selection also took into consideration the total number of doors that would need new keys, the frequency with which the school had been changing out locks and the short- and long-term costs to implement and maintain the system.

Security Choices Abound

The current marketplace offers schools a myriad of choices when it comes to security. While the popularity of electronic “keys,” or as they are more commonly known, “smart cards,” enables using one card for a multitude of applications - such as door access, identification and tracking purchases - the cost to implement this type of system was considered cost prohibitive.

Locks and keys with computer chips built-in were also considered. While these sophisticated systems are gaining popularity for facilities where it’s important to know who is accessing what doors, and exactly when they are entering and exiting facilities, the cost to install and maintain that extensive of an audit trail was plainly not justified for the Scotland School District.

Traditional locks and keys were being replaced for many reasons. While it’s easy to stamp “DO NOT DUPLICATE” onto a key, those keys can be duplicated. This type of system automatically leaves itself open to security breaches.

The customizable key system was first compared to the traditional lock and key systems, but it was quickly apparent that this system offered more benefits. First of all, the system includes keys that have individual serial numbers so the recordkeeping for the school became simplified. And the patented technology allows for repeated rekeying by simply turning a key. In multilevel master key systems -- like schools -- any one level (user, master, grand master, etc.) can be instantly rekeyed without affecting the operation of any other level.

By implementing a new system, Scotland County Schools personnel have been able to reduce the total number of keys distributed, which has given the facilities staff confidence in their key control effort.

According the James Jernigan, the district’s locksmith, “We’ve been using this system for more than three years now. To our students, and their parents, our security system is virtually invisible. But as part of the facilities team, I know that we offer our students a safe and protected environment so they never have to think about it.”

Like all professionals responsible for children’s safety and security, Jernigan did his homework on security systems and is confident in the district’s selection of a system that will support their growing student population.

Kerry McLawhorn is Maintenance Director & Construction Administrator for Scotland County Schools in Laurinburg, North Carolina.