A Lesson on Wireless

Wireless locking systems offer flexible, innovative integration options at the University of Albany

ESTABLISHED in 1844 and designated a University Center of the State University of New York in 1962, the University of Albany's broad mission of excellence in undergraduate and graduate education, research and public service engages 17,000 diverse students in nine schools and colleges across three campuses.

The uptown campus is said to be the second-largest concrete structure in the United States, after the Pentagon. When the university sought to upgrade and expand its magnetic stripe-based locking system, its thick concrete walls made it cost prohibitive to hardwire the campus after the fact. The university investigated many options and ultimately chose to go wireless.

Fact is, wireless locks are a natural fit. They make the most sense for replacement and expansion. There is a tremendous cost savings in both labor and time.

Without the Wire
There is a reason that wireless or RF online locking systems are one of the fastest growing implementations in access control. Officials at the university discovered, that these solutions seamlessly integrate into the access control panel, eliminating wire between the lock and the access control panel, and providing a complete solution at each opening.

Wireless locking systems provide the same online, real-time capabilities as wired systems. Access privileges can be added or changed at the central control terminal, all from a common database, which simplifies data entry and management. There is no need to tour the building to reprogram locks or download transaction logs and audit trails. All events are recorded in real time by the host access control system. In addition, all wireless transmissions are encoded using 128-bit private keys for heightened security versus traditional wired installations.

Wireless systems also easily integrate into any existing access control system, such as the Diebold system used at Albany, which means the university did not have to replace its existing keys or ID credentials.

Wireless systems typically operate up to 200 feet between the door and the panel interface module (PIM) for indoor applications. What's especially important, there is no need for line of sight. Signals are able to penetrate concrete or cinder block walls, plasterboard walls, brick walls and many other non-metallic materials for simplified system designs and implementations. Wireless systems work on wood and metal doors, both exterior and interior, as well as glass, monitored and scheduled doors, gates, elevators and in portable solutions.

For on-campus security personnel, wireless locking systems offer an opportunity to solve problems that might once have been impossible or impractical.

Better Than Predicted
At the University at Albany, officials first heard about wireless access solutions two years ago and felt from the beginning that it would be a part of the future access control system. They decided to start with two wireless pilot projects last summer, chosing a residence hall and the humanities building, using Schlage locks on both projects.

The residence halls are made up of four large quads on the main campus, and each quad has eight buildings. The front door has always had card access, but the school wanted to install card access on the remaining doors, as well.

Prescription: HandReaders for Security

Aspirus Wausau Hospital in Wausau, Wis., serves the healthcare needs of residents of Wausau and a 12-county region from the northern and central part of the state. In order to increase security and ensure that only authorized people access hospital grounds, the hospital has deployed 50 biometric HandReaders at key entry and exit points.

More than 3,000 Aspirus Wausau employees are enrolled with the HandReaders that automatically take a three-dimensional reading of the size and shape of a hand, and verify the user?s identity in less than one second.

"We chose biometrics because of the high cost of using access control cards," said Greg Pehlke, security supervisor for the hospital. "We were spending $2,000 a month on smart cards with computer chips, which employees were simply loaning to unauthorized individuals. Much of this cost and the security breaches have been eliminated with the HandReaders."

Aspirus Wausau Hospital's previous card-based system had reached full capacity and it would frequently freeze up. During the transition to biometric access control, the hospital had a dual system running with both card and HandReaders. Now, however, the hospital is using only HandReaders for access control.

The hospital's 50 HandReaders, including rugged outdoor models designed to handle the inclement weather of northern Wisconsin, control access to the hospital. The front entrance is locked down after visiting hours and only authorized people can enter at that point. The HandReaders are networked, and all security systems are monitored from the security department's dispatch center.

Hospital officials have found hand geometry to be more reliable than other biometric technologies they researched, Pehlke said. There are fewer false reads with HandReaders and fingerprint scanners just don't work for large user populations.

The hospital will be adding six new readers this year. More departments are requesting the HandReaders so that they can eliminate keys and increase security, Pehlke said.

It started with wireless locks for the two outside doors. University officials appreciate that they don't have to wire for data or power since the units are battery operated. The key shop can do 90 percent of the installation. The two outside doors were installed in an afternoon and the only reason it took that long is because they were using a crash bar as opposed to a regular lock.

The wireless pilot project at the humanities building was similarly successful. That building had converted to "smart classrooms" with a lot of high-tech equipment, which was left largely unattended in the evenings.

To prevent vandalism and theft, the humanities department wanted to add door access to individual classrooms. Again, because wiring was deemed too expensive, wireless locking system were recommended. The wireless locks were installed without a hitch on 18 doors.

Since the initial wireless pilot projects, four doors to "smart classrooms" in the arts & sciences building have been switched to wireless locks. The earth science building has six to eight doors to be converted to wireless over the summer, and the residence halls have eight more to go wireless. Interest in the wireless locks also extends to the university's computer center. Beta testing also is taking place in the campus athletic facility with the goal of using fewer keys there.

With the wireless locking systems, classroom doors can now lock automatically and unlock in the morning to admit faculty. Deans and heads of departments at the University at Albany say the locks give them peace of mind and also have reduced thefts.

The wireless locks have proven to be an improvement over their predecessors, and the university is currently testing a wireless panel interface module, as well.

There was some concern that there might have trouble transmitting through the walls with the wireless system. It has actually worked better than predicted.

A Wireless Future for the University
The multi-function magnetic stripe cards currently issued to students and faculty at the University at Albany are used for identification, on-campus purchases, checking out books from the library, meal plans, and debit cards and at select off-campus stores. They are integrated into nearly every aspect of life on campus, but are critical for access control.

Schlage's wireless locks have given officials the capability to expand card access. The equipment is aging, and the wireless locking systems provide a migration plan. So far, it has been an anticipated smooth transition.

Wireless installations, such as that used at the university, demonstrate that a wireless solution can have a substantially lower installed cost than its wired alternative since wireless systems use less hardware and install five to 10 times faster. Retrofitting electronic access control systems is now made easy and affordable, especially in situations where it might have once seemed impossible.

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