Getting Top Grades
Universities learning to use biometrics throughout the campus
- By Jennifer Toscano
- Jan 01, 2012
From dormitories to sororities, libraries to on-campus dining halls,
biometric technology is transforming the way universities nationwide
keep students and staff safe. It also is providing an innovative way
to market and manage meal plans at campus eateries and provide
authorized access to limited areas such as recreation centers, laboratories
and libraries. Unlike traditional card systems, biometric technology ensures
that users are who they say they are.
For instance, a biometric hand geometry reader simultaneously analyzes more
than 31,000 points and instantaneously records more than 90 separate measurements
of a person’s hand, including length, width, thickness and surface area, to
verify the person’s identification. In conjunction with a PIN number, the registered
person can gain access to the facility.
Because universities are often at the forefront of researching and developing
new technologies, it is not surprising that they are some of the biggest customers
in this innovative security arena.
A Helping Hand in Dining Halls
The University of New Hampshire is a top-tier land-, sea- and space-grant public
university serving more than 10,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students.
Recognized as a rising star among research universities, UNH retains the atmosphere
of a New England liberal arts college while embracing new technologies.
Creating a more efficient way of tracking student meal plans, UNH began investigating
biometric technology. After reviewing several options, university officials
installed biometric hand readers. UNH currently has 11 units that are placed
primarily in campus dining facilities to manage meal plans. The university previously
used a “declining balance” card system in its dining halls but switched to an
all-you-can-eat plan with the hand readers.
Instead of verifying a card or code, the biometric reader verifies the person who
is at an entrance. It looks at the three-dimensional size and shape of a resident’s
hand. The results of 90 hand measurements, including lengths, widths, thickness
and surface areas, are converted into a nine-byte mathematical representation of
the hand, which is stored for later use and verification.
“The hand readers facilitate the tracking of revenues,” said Rick McDonald,
the assistant director for Support Services at UNH. “There are three different dining
halls, and we can allocate revenue to each hall correctly.”
Students, who are required to purchase a meal plan if they live in the residence
halls, enter the dining halls any time between 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m., seven days a
week. They enter their student ID number on the keypad and present their hand
to be scanned. A turnstile then lets them into the dining hall.
The new system has improved operations at the dining halls.
“The hand readers have helped reduce the incidences of people stealing meals,”
McDonald said. “The readers also have sped up service. The checkers can focus on
other things. It is a fast, positive way to check people in.”
The system offers increased convenience for students, as well. Before, when students
forgot their cards, they weren’t permitted entrance. With the hand readers,
students are guaranteed a meal because they can’t forget their hand.
In UNH’s newest dining facility, Hallway Commons, there is an additional
reader at the entrance and on the two elevators for the faculty to access conference
rooms. The Student Union facility also has a hand reader.
Rec Centers Go Biometric
University of California-Irvine Campus Recreation
is just one of many departments that has installed a
biometric Schlage HandKey reader to replace card
access at its center on campus. With it, each Anteater
Recreation Center member has the option to enter the
facility without an identification card.
“The number one suggestion from our members
was eliminating the need for ID cards,” said Jill Schindele,
the director of Campus Recreation. “We took
their suggestions seriously and feel that hand geometry
is the fastest and most efficient alternative to
Schindele said that hand geometry is different than
fingerprinting and noted that the information is not
connected to the campus system. Campus Recreation
uses this information on an internal network, and it
does not go public.
Protecting Students Where They Live
When university officials chose to implement biometric
technology at Johnson & Wales University in
northeast Denver, they had several goals in mind. First
and foremost, they wanted to ensure student safety.
“Only biometric solutions can verify a human being,”
said Lindsay Morgan, a member of the Johnson
& Wales media relations department. “They let authorized
individuals access an area and keep everyone
else out. With biometric technology, students who
lose an access card or key do not have to worry about
an unauthorized individual picking up the card or key
and compromising the security of their dormitory.
They also don’t have to worry about students loaning
out their cards or PIN codes to strangers.”
At the Denver university, readers are currently at
the main entrances of each of three residence halls. In
Presidents Hall, eight additional readers, two on each
opposing wing of the four-story building, are used to
open a student’s individual room. Doors are timed so
that the ones nearest to a reader open for five to 10
seconds while those further down the hall open for up
to 20 seconds.
Students entering the dorm slide their hands into
the biometric reader and—in less than a second—the
door opens and they enter the dorm. As they arrive
on their specific floor, they again slide their hands into
the unit and their personal door opens. Students no
longer need to worry about locking themselves out, or
the $75 fine they would pay for losing a key.
Once implemented at the cafeteria, the scenario
will be similar to that at New Hampshire. This application
also has been used at the University of Georgia
for more than a decade.
Faculty members are now using the readers to enter
academic facilities. Eventually, Johnson & Wales plans
to use these biometric readers for access to 24-hour
computer labs, as well as to check out library books,
access the athletic fields and obtain bookstore chargebacks—
completely replacing its card-swipe system.
Johnson & Wales networked the hand readers to
leverage the university’s existing network infrastructure.
Officials can retrieve reports on building access,
assess traffic patterns, investigate unauthorized access
events and record all events for safety. Doors also
can be unlocked remotely, and a special code can be
punched in to alert campus safety officials in the event
of an emergency. If someone props open a door, security
officials are also notified.
Last, but certainly not least, students at Johnson &
Wales like the biometric system. The technology sparks
a lot of interest, and they know that they are using the
cutting edge of building access solutions. They feel safer
and unanimously say it is more convenient.
“We believe it will improve our profitability in terms
of student retention and recruitment,” Morgan said.
“When parents and their prospective children see and
understand the safety measures we are taking, it will
translate into increased confidence and enrollment.”
West Virginia University also is finding security
and success with biometric technology hand readers
it has integrated into the access control system at its
Boreman North Residence Hall. Interestingly, WVU
was the first school to offer degrees in biometrics and
Two sororities at the University of Central Florida
in Orlando have turned to biometric technology
to heighten security for 200 sorority sisters and staff.
Both the Alpha Delta Pi and Kappa Delta sorority
houses were experiencing problems with unauthorized
university students coming into the houses at
all times of the day and night. To eliminate the possibility
of an unauthorized individual gaining access
without a resident being present, the biometric units
offer redundant access to the sororities. Because they
operate outdoors, hand readers were selected over
fingerprint readers. Each sorority sister must enter
a PIN code and then present her hand in order to
The Technology of Now
Biometrics are not only more secure, but they are userfriendly,
cost effective and efficient, as well. For many
colleges and universities, that’s a hands-on lesson well
learned. Because biometrics have a proven track record
on many campuses, universities are learning
where to apply the right biometric technology.
When investigating biometric technologies, university
officials find that the most accurate of the technologies
have the smallest templates and, conversely,
the most inaccurate have the largest templates. For instance,
a hand reader has a small template while voice
recognition has a very large template.
“Our experts discovered that hand-geometry technology
has low false-reject rates and is the best technology
for high-volume applications,” Morgan said.
“It is also scalable and non-invasive for users.”
By eliminating cards, colleges from West Virginia
to California are reducing administrative costs
while greatly increasing their levels of security.
Never having to worry about keeping
track of a card or key is a major
benefit for many.
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Security Today.