By the Book

College campuses stay on top of security by stufying wireless access control solutions

Whether in retrofit or new construction on college campuses, the business case for deploying wireless access control systems in networked openings is compelling. Wireless solutions seamlessly integrate into existing access control panels, eliminating wire between locks and access control panel interfaces and providing a complete solution at each opening. Implementing a wireless solution takes significantly less time than its traditional hardwired counterpart.

Actual college and university installations demonstrate that a wireless solution can have a substantially lower installed cost than a wired access control system. Wireless systems use less hardware and install five to 10 times faster. They also are less invasive and often eliminate the need for conduit, wire mold, plastering and repainting, making wireless solutions ideal for both difficult-to-wire situations and new construction projects. They retain the integrity of historical buildings and avoid potential asbestos issues in older buildings. With wireless systems, it becomes easier to retrofit electronic access control solutions in facilities and applications that have previously held back due to budget constraints or installation limitations.

In addition to providing access control at doors in the form of wireless locks, wireless solutions also can be used for elevators, gates, exit devices and electric strikes on college campuses. Importantly, a wireless system easily integrates into all existing access control systems, and campuses can continue to use their existing credentials.

Saving Big Money
Several years ago, the University of New Hampshire sought a wireless solution to provide security at its newly constructed residence building, Mills Hall, which houses 358 students in suites with three to five bedrooms that open from a common living area.

The wireless access control system was chosen for the individual suites because it integrates with the university’s Software House C-CURE card-based access control system. Schlage wireless integrated reader locks were installed quickly at the suite doors and now communicate with a panel interface module via wireless technology.

Despite an abundance of concrete construction— which is often a concern where radio frequency is involved—the wireless locks work like a charm. Being able to grant or deny access to any student from a central location is a plus for housing staff, and the doors also can be locked or unlocked on a regular schedule or for special events.

“I was concerned about whether or not the frequency would allow transmission through the concrete and steel of our building,” said William Conk, senior manager of housing facilities at the university. “We have not had any problems with the wireless access control system receiving a signal.”

Conk also appreciates saving $50,000 when implementing the 40 suites in Mills Hall with wireless access control. What’s even more compelling, UNH continues to expand its wireless access network to include other new and retrofit expansion projects.

Overcoming Obstacles
Established in 1844 and designated a University Center for the State University of New York in 1962, the University of Albany’s 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. Staff investigated many options and ultimately chose to go the wireless route.

“There is a reason that wireless or RF online locking systems are some of the fastest growing implementations in campus access control,” said Brian M cCarthy, University of Albany systems administrator.

For instance, at the University of Albany, wireless locking systems are providing the same online, real-time capabilities as wired systems. With the new systems, staff can add or change access privileges at the central control terminal, all from a common database, simplifying data entry and management. They do not 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.

Since wireless systems easily integrate into any existing access control system, such as the CBORD system used at Albany, the university did not have to replace its existing keys or ID credentials. The multifunction magnetic stripe cards issued to students and faculty at the university are used for identification, on-campus purchases, checking out books from the library and meal plans, and as debit cards at select stores off campus. They are integrated into nearly every aspect of life on campus, but they also are critical for access control. To replace them or have to create a separate database would have been a headache.

“Wireless access control has given us the capability to expand card access throughout the campus,” said Ryan Webb, SUNY card systems administrator. “Wireless systems typically operate up to 200 feet between the door and the panel interface module for indoor applications. What’s especially important is you don’t need 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.”

McCarthy said they heard about wireless access solutions several years ago and knew that wireless would be a part of their future access control system. They decided to start with two wireless pilot projects—residence halls and the Humanities Building—using Schlage wireless locks on both.

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 McCarthy and Webb wanted to install card access on the remaining doors, as well.

“We started with wireless locks for the two outside doors,” McCarthy said. “We appreciated that we didn’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 we 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, which were 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, McCarthy and Webb recommended the wireless locking system. 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 and Sciences Building also have been switched to wireless locks. The Earth Science Building had more doors converted to wireless, and the residence halls had eight more go wireless. The university’s computer center is interested in the wireless locks, and beta testing 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 have reduced thefts.

“There was some concern that we might have trouble transmitting through the walls with the wireless system,” McCarthy said. “It has actually worked better than predicted.”

Bulldog Tough
Richard Tollison, manager of telecom data services for Mississippi State University, said he has started using wireless everywhere on campus.

“That’s the only way I install access control anymore. I have more than 1,000 wireless access devices on campus right now, and I’ll continue to install them,” he said.

Like most security and IT administrators, Tollison started off slowly, installing wireless access locks on a dozen or so hard-to-wire doors. He also installed a handful of wireless portable readers at their baseball stadium, so students can bypass the ticket box and go directly to the bleachers. Now, he’s so confident in wireless access technology that he’s installing it on every door needing access control. That includes new construction, not just retrofit and difficult-to-wire applications.

For instance, when the university constructed the Ruby Hall residence building three years ago, it noted that it would be far too expensive to hardwire lock each student’s room. After comparing the costs, it implemented wireless locks on each of the 223 rooms. Since then, they’ve installed wireless locks on two additional residence halls for both perimeter and interior applications.

Not only were the wireless locks dramatically less expensive to install, but installation took only 60 to 90 minutes per door versus one to two days for wired locks, Tollison said.

Lessons Learned
What have the University of New Hampshire, the University of Albany and Mississippi State University discovered about wireless? Think about the adage “time is money.” A traditional, wired access control point often takes eight to 10 hours to install and often requires multiple specialists— an electrician to install conduit and pull wire from the access control panel to the door, a locksmith to install a strike or a magnetic lock and a technician to install the reader and sensors and connect them to the access control system. In comparison, a recent study found it takes about 45 minutes to install a Schlage wireless access lock.

Wireless locks are a natural fit for college campuses. They make the most sense for replacement and expansion. Given today’s constraints on time and budgets, wireless solutions work particularly well for schools and universities. Wireless access control results in substantial installation savings and significantly reduces the disruption that a facility experiences during the installation of security systems.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Security Today.

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