Access Control Needs to be Comprehensive

The four D's of security will stand the test of time: deter, detect, delay and detain. And when it comes to keeping our children safe, most schools are doing their best with the resources they have. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report, 90 percent of schools across the nation attempt to control access to some or all of their campuses during school hours. 

While that may sound impressive, most of us in the industry realize that many of those schools are basically using door locks or student-aged hall monitors to control who may or may not have access to their campuses. 

With technology, however, the definition of access control is rapidly changing, and trying to keep up with the latest innovations is a full time job.

Access control is no longer just about locking doors. Today, access control is about a total integration of equipment, technology and manpower. The buzzword these days is “convergence.” Basically, this is the idea of tying electronic or physical security into IT or cyber security and data management. It’s about keeping unwanted visitors out, while also limiting and tracking who is where on your campus and when. 

Before any organization jumps feet first into investing in costly, high-tech security technology, it’s important to identify and prioritize your problems and potential emergencies based on everything from geography to community expectations. Once a school commits to controlling access, the solution must be a comprehensive one.

According to National School Safety and Security Services, there are several points schools should consider before putting out any requests for proposals. 

Schools should identify and rank problems or risks unique to each campus- from hurricanes to intruders. If technology is a part of that planned solution, consider bids that emphasize quality and performance instead of just the bottom dollar. Also, consider asking for two kinds of bids, some meeting your specifications and others without constraints so that you can compare the two to see if new options should be considered.

A wide range of school safety and security measures is regularly published by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) which can help schools assess better ways of controlling access to and within a campus. 

In July 2010, NCEF’s Tod Schneider outlined School Security Technologies, which touched on the pro’s and con’s of various access control options. Schneider outlined options like locks, latches and keys; electronic access control like card keys and biometrics; visitor screening and badging; surveillance equipment like cameras and recorders; weapons detectors; communications and alarms.

For example, if a school is looking into retrofitting conventional door locks with electronic cards, you might consider using an existing WiFi network and compatible locksets for centralized control without a need to hard wire. This is just one example of combining existing resources to beef up access control on campus.

When it comes to screening visitors, scanning government issued IDs against sex offender and law enforcement data bases has been proven an effective tool. These systems can also confirm authorization for anyone picking up a child, track students and volunteers, and even send district wide emergency communications.

Biometrics can be expensive, and from an affordability and accuracy standpoint, fingerprint biometrics is by far the most popular option. Limitations include temperature variations and unreadable fingerprints of young children up to the age of eight years, among other problems.

Access control options also walk the tightrope of providing effective security while still maintaining a welcoming and friendly atmosphere that should be maintained at schools that serve the families in our communities. It’s not easy, and many compromises affect the final integrated system.

No matter what, it’s important to remember that there will never be one security technology that can solve all school access control problems. A comprehensive prevention and intervention policy must involve people, technology, equipment, constant upgrades and good old common sense.