Credit Union Gets Good Grades

Open architecture easily allows company to transition to upgraded security

Teachers Credit Union, headquartered in South Bend, Ind., is the largest credit union in the state, reaching from inside the Michigan border from Niles, Mich., to Greenwood, Ind. The institution has 51 locations, including a four-story corporate office, and continues to buy and build additional branches. For access control, Teachers Credit Union (TCU) had been using offline computer-managed locks. They were placed at strategic locations such as outside entrances, the door to the teller line and access to the vault room.

While these self-contained locks had been easy to install, they required significant resources to manage. Data that controlled access was downloaded to each lock individually, using a PDA. Audit trails and other information were uploaded to the PDA and transferred to a computer. The database itself was managed on the computer, allowing for response to personnel changes, lost credentials and changing access requirements.

However, with each branch having its own computer-managed standalone access control, the growing number of branches and the widening geographic coverage of the credit union were starting to create big problems for Mike True, TCU’s director of security.

“Every time an employee left the credit union or another employee was hired, we had to drive out to that branch and reprogram all the locks,” True said. “It was costly in time, mileage and hotels. It just wasn’t working anymore. We were scrambling.”

It also meant that security was compromised from the time the need was reported until the lock was reprogrammed. True knew the credit union needed to upgrade but didn’t want to replace all its electrified door equipment, including power supplies, closers and exits. The company just might have to continue working with what it had. However, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies gave the credit union a demonstration of its Schlage bright blue™ IP-enabled security management system along with the new AD-Series locking system

Ingersoll Rand provided TCU with wireless access control. Importantly, instead of having a proprietary design, Ingersoll created a system using open architecture, giving installers the flexibility to work with TCU’s existing electrified door hardware.

“This unit did everything that I wanted it to do,” True said. “Most importantly, since it was open architecture design, we could keep our current door hardware intact even though we were going to be integrating a Schlage wireless system.”

With bright blue, the credit union’s authorized personnel can access, monitor and manage any lock from any computer running a standard Web browser. The system’s plug-and-play design made configuration easy, and the embedded application eliminated the need for special software, a dedicated PC or IT resources. The unit connects to the network and a power source and is ready to go. The installed door hardware was left untouched.

The modular, open-architecture AD-Series system enabled the credit union to customize door openings with options such as credential reader type, networking and the types of finishes and levers to create a perfect fit. TCU chose wireless locks using proximity cards, knowing that, if business needs change, it can quickly switch to new credential technologies, a variety of network protocols, increased security levels and system expansions. Upgrades can be as simple as interchanging a module. The AD-Series electronic locks are compatible with all popular exit devices and include a wide variety of finishes and levers.

With the wireless locks solution, True and his team have simplified control of who goes where and when because they interact with bright blue in the same way they do with any Web page on the Internet. The system application is embedded on the control panel that connects easily to the credit union’s present network. Adding and deleting personnel, setting up doors and assigning access based on time schedules is straightforward. If there is a new employee or an employee leaves the credit union, True and his staff can simply add or delete that person from their computers without getting out of their chairs.

“There is an access control unit at each branch,” True said. “They are connected into our IT network. All I have to do is pull up the IP address of the particular branch and make the changes.”

At TCU, three logon levels—user, operator and administrator—provide different sets of access rights to the system, ensuring that system users will access only the functions management wants them to manage or view. All user IDs and passwords are protected with security encryption, providing safe access to monitor, control and manage sensitive personnel data, transactions and activities. Since the controller is built on a Linux operating system, it is very stable and sheltered from external threats.

Why Wireless instead of Wired?

The credit union originally went with the standalone locks so that it wouldn’t have to pull wires throughout its facilities. Likewise, wireless electronic locks from Schlage eliminated the need to pull wires to each opening while still providing online access control. This approach also made instant access control data changes possible from headquarters and the branches available at every lock.

“Now, we don’t have to drive to the branch to reprogram locks if someone loses their credential,” True said. “And, if we don’t get a credential back when someone leaves, we can disable their access instantly. This is absolutely improving our operations.”

Wireless also provides the company with the flexibility of extending its cardbased access control system. With wireless, it can migrate the present access control system so that it can be used for mobile mustering, remote areas, gates, elevators and other unique applications that heretofore have been either impossible to install or way too costly.

For instance, consider employee parking. For outdoor applications, such as vehicle and pedestrian gate access, wireless links will bridge up to 1,000 feet, eliminating costly trenching. As such, wireless systems are ideal for garages and parking lots. They are especially cost-effective for controlling gates around a facility. Optional directional or gain antennae are available for still longer distances, up to 4,000 feet away.

With wireless access control, people can enter the parking lot just like they enter the front door—with their credential. No guards are needed to keep unauthorized cars from entering, and no trenches need to be dug to provide what can be installed with a wireless solution quickly.

In addition, lockdowns can be important but they have everything to do with the wireless technology being deployed. This issue is major with wireless access control. Usually, with Wi-Fi, access control decisions are downloaded by the host into the lock five to six times per day, rather than five to six times per hour with 900-MHz solutions. Access control decisions also may be managed within the locks—as is the case with offline locks—to minimize communication from the lock to the host and conserve batteries. However, such limited, non-online connectivity with the host limits the locks’ ability to receive urgent commands from the host. For instance, even with a 900-MHz platform, a direction to immediately lock down could be ignored for more than 10 minutes.

However, with the AD-Series locks, a new Schlage patent-pending “wake up on radio” feature works in parallel with the 10-minute heartbeat. Without waking up the entire lock, it listens for complementary commands every one to 10 seconds and responds. Thus, 10 seconds is the longest it will take to initiate lockdown.

As the credit union adds branches, through building or acquisition, they too will be brought online. According to True, the changeovers are transparent to the branch managers and their employees.

“This was such a simple solution,” he said. “My team loves it and so does the IT staff because they know, with wireless access control, it takes only a couple days to switch over from the standalone locks. When I’m at financial institution conferences, I like to tell others about it. Their reply is usually, ‘I’d like to go with something like that myself.’”

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Security Today.

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