Keys and Credentials

School district blends security system to protect students and staff

With many school buildings that are veterans of the suburban expansion of the 1950s and 1960s, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) needed to consolidate its access control solutions to improve security. Today, electronic locks control access through exterior doors while restricted patented keyways improve key control and prevent unauthorized key duplication on interior door locks.

BVSD, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, stretches from the Continental Divide to the suburbs of Denver. It operates 55 schools serving approximately 28,500 students in the 500-square-mile area it encompasses, with more than 4,000 employees.

When most of the district’s schools were built, schools were viewed as public places, similar to libraries, and security was not a major concern. Emerging issues, such as custodial parent disputes and the potential for violence, especially in the wake of the Columbine incident, caused the district to focus more strongly on steps it could take to minimize or prevent such problems. As with most districts, BVSD originally used a mechanical key system.

“With good key control, it is possible to maintain a certain degree of security, but there are always risks of lost keys,” said Steve Hoban, the district’s director of security. “If someone loses a master key, it could require re-keying an entire school or even multiple schools, which can be very expensive.”

These concerns led to a pilot program that marked the beginning of the move to electronically locking perimeter doors. Locksmith Paul Poglajen notes that the first such installation incorporated Schlage standalone computer-managed locks, in which access control data is downloaded to each lock individually using a PDA. Audit trails and other information also can be uploaded to the PDA and a computer. The database itself is managed on the computer, which provides quick response to staff changes, lost credentials and changing access requirements.

The self-contained locks also are easy to install because they do not require separate wiring.

Once the district was satisfied that electronic access control would meet its needs, it moved a step further with online readers that are hardwired into its network. This approach provides the added benefit of making instant changes available at every lock.

“Beyond that, there are levels of control, so I can feel comfortable giving a key credential to a teacher, a para-professional or any employee, because I know I can control their access to a school and the times they need it,” Hoban said. “Before, we either had to check a brass key in and out each day or give the access 24/7.”

Hoban added that the ability to issue, change or replace electronic credentials quickly also is a major advantage that saves time and reduces cost.

“On the buildings where we have implemented full electronic access control, we’ve been able to limit hard keys to administration and custodial people,” he said.

Electronic access also benefits employees who work at multiple schools; nurses, food service workers and physical education teachers, for example, formerly needed multiple keys, but with electronic locks their credential can be programmed to allow access at all the sites they serve and tailored to include the specific hours they should be allowed access.

To manage the access control system, BVSD uses the Schlage security management system, which manages both online and standalone locks from a single database. In addition, the system retains audit trail information that can be helpful if it becomes necessary to investigate vandalism, theft, employee attendance claims or other incidents.

One circumstance that helped facilitate the move to electronic access control, Hoban points out, was that the district’s IT department wanted to secure its equipment closets at the schools with a system that would provide information on who was going in and out of them.

Using funds from a bond issue, the IT department installed panels at each school that also formed the base for controlling the exterior doors.

The district uses proximity credentials, both key fobs and badges, although Hoban prefers the fobs because they cannot be identified with a specific school if they are lost. Because people sometimes delay reporting a lost credential in the hope they will find it, he said he believes a lost badge could compromise security more easily than a fob.

For exterior doors that are controlled by the credential, the district prefers to use Von Duprin EL electric latch exit devices.

Hoban says electric strikes can also be used on interior doors that are controlled or in locations where getting power to the door for the EL device would be difficult.

Because funding dictates priorities, the district’s primary focus for electronic security has been on perimeter doors.

“Convenience is the enemy of security, so we try to make it convenient for people to get in using electronic access by installing it on doors that are closer to parking lots, as well as playground doors,” Hoban said. “A typical elementary school will have up to six controlled doors, including the main entrance.”

The district is working toward integrating its ADA-accessible doors into the system, said Vince Grishman, an electrical repair technician, so the LCN auto operator on a door will be activated for a student or employee who needs it during specific times.

Visitor Verification
For greater security, most main entrances have been renovated to incorporate a vestibule adjacent to the school’s office, which functions as an access control point. When visitors enter, they encounter a locked door leading into the school but an open one leading to the office, where they must stop and register.

The door to the school will open when authorized credential-holders present the credential. At schools where the vestibule has not yet been renovated, a visitor calls the office from a telephone intercom in the vestibule, and the office staff verifies his or her identity using a video surveillance system before remotely unlocking the door. In both cases, the doors are locked automatically once school is in session.

One added benefit is the ability to control doors remotely.

“If an authorized person calls in and needs access, we can remotely unlock the door,” Hoban said. “Also, if there is a problem outside the school that creates a lockout situation, the school can get the students inside and lock all the doors remotely.”

Conversely, if an intruder is inside the school, the policy now is to get the students, teachers and staff behind locked classroom doors but unlock the exterior doors so police aren’t delayed in getting inside. This can also be done remotely.

While unlocking the doors may seem counterintuitive at first, Hoban points out that the exit devices would allow anyone inside to get out but a locked door would only slow down the first responders.

To make it easier to lock down the classrooms, the district is now specifying classroom security locks on new construction projects. These allow a teacher to lock the door safely from the inside, rather than going into the hallway.

Keys Still Play a Role
Mechanical keys still have a place in the district’s system, both for backup in case of power failure and for interior doors. Where doors require higher security, Schlage Everest patent-protected restricted keyways are used to prevent unauthorized duplication.

“Before we used patented keys, we had a security breach at one school when people were duplicating keys,” Hoban said. “Now we have an exclusive side cut for our zip code.”

He notes that the restricted keyways are being used on new construction projects, which are funded by a bond issue, while the district’s capital reserve is used to upgrade locks at existing buildings on an ongoing basis.

According to Poglajen, the district originally had a single master key, but consolidation brought in several other incompatible key systems.

“We’re re-keying the buildings that had individual key systems and slowly whittling it down to what eventually will be three viable masters,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Security Today.


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