In Control

Centralizing disparate technologies ensures safety, security of students, staff.

York County School Division in Yorktown, Va., has never had a major security problem, and that's the way they want to keep it. To ensure the security of their facility and safety of their students, officials installed security systems in each of their 23 facilities.

The equipment included several different brands, and while each system did a good job of protecting its building, monitoring and maintaining the various systems created some confusion and generated extra work.

Building Protection

In early 2000, York County schools turned to ASI Security in Newport News, Va., to better integrate their protection systems.

"We replaced all of the various intrusion panels with the DMP XR200, and that made life a lot easier for the division," said Bobby Schaffer, general manager of ASI.

Several years later, ASI provided the next phase of the system, which involved integrating the fire protection systems with intrusion detection. ASI installed the network-ready DMP XR500N panel, which enabled YCSD to make the transition from dial-up to Ethernet communications.

The installation of the XR500N with network communications laid the groundwork for the final component of the integrated system: access control.

Securing Building Access

"In the past, all of the exterior doors of our schools had to be manually locked," said Mark Tschirhart, supervisor of resources and security control at YCSD. "We had no knowledge of whether the doors were actually locked or even closed without walking through the entire building. We also found that when teachers would go outside for physical education class or other activities, they would prop doors open, or would have to knock on a window so they could get back in the building."

The installation of the XR500N panels provided the foundation for a fast and affordable access control upgrade.

"They didn't have to purchase any new control panels, software or computers," Schaffer said. "They just added controllers, door contacts, electric strikes and readers at each protected door. It was easy to install."

The system was installed in 23 buildings with 220 controlled doors. All exterior doors are monitored through the system. The school division replaced its existing employee identification badges with new proximity badges. Although they look identical to the previous badges, teachers and staff can now unlock doors and arm or disarm the security system with their badges.

Video intercoms were installed at the main entrances of all the schools and at other high-traffic entrances. Students or visitors without an access badge must use the video intercom to call the front office, identify themselves and ask to be admitted. The person monitoring the intercom can then remotely unlock the door.

Feeling More Secure

York County school administrators now are confident that they have schools that are safe and secure.

"Having just one door unsecure is unacceptable," Tschirhart said. "We can monitor the status of all exterior doors and know that the teachers and students are safe and secure."

Tschirhart also was glad to reduce the number of keys.

"We had been issuing keys for years, but there was no practical way to track all of them," he said. "Some teachers did not have keys for the exterior doors of their school, but now through the use of the access badges, they can open virtually any exterior door. The result is that there is no longer a need to prop open doors or to bang on windows to get back in the school."

Pushing the System to Do More

ASI Security monitors the schools' fire and security systems remotely, but the school division manages its own security database and programs changes to user profiles. Tschirhart describes York as an intense user and said that they required a high level of flexibility in the system.

"We have more than 2,000 users with very granular access requirements," Tschirhart said. "The programming flexibility gave us the ability to create profiles for each building and manage the different hours that our users require. "Our goal when we started was just to maintain security. We were surprised at how far we've been able to push the system to give the teachers and staff better access and convenience."

Surprised by the Acceptance

York administrators were braced for some backlash when the access control system went live. They expected a little grumbling from parents and teachers.

"We thought parents would complain about having to go to the front door to be buzzed in when they visited a school," Tschirhart said. "We had very few complaints, and some parents actually asked why we hadn't done it sooner."

Ironically, as the school system began to install the card access system, which provided increased control over users, they actually made the building more accessible to teachers. Equipped with their proximity badges, they are able to move more freely around their facilities than ever before. Teachers like the increased access the new system provides for them.

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