Anything But Old School
Texas school district integrates leading security technologies
- By Judy Jones
- Mar 01, 2012
Among Austin Independent School District’s top-stated values
are excellence and the health and safety of its students, and it
shows. Six of the district’s high schools were named “America’s
Best High Schools” by Newsweek; 20 more were listed as “Higher
Performing” schools by the National Center for Educational Achievement
(NCEA) and 173 Austin high school seniors were recognized as National
Scholars just last year. AISD is the 16th largest district in the country
and the fifth largest in Texas.
Not surprisingly, Austin, Texas, known as the “Silicon Hills,” relies on
integrating leading security technologies to safeguard AISD’s campuses,
85,000-strong student body, faculty and staff. That’s the role of the school
district’s Life Safety Systems Department, headed by Wayne Berry and
Mike Savercool. Like all things in Texas, it’s a tall order to secure a district
this large: 121 campuses, 80 elementary schools, 18 middle schools, 15 high
schools and 5 special campuses and alternative centers. The department’s
duties include daily inspections and routine maintenance of AISD’s extensive
burglar, fire and access systems—from alarms to sprinklers and fire
extinguishers to badge readers and cameras.
Despite being responsible for the school district’s enterprise-class security,
the Life Safety Systems Department has implemented cost-saving initiatives.
The low-maintenance costs and reliability associated with Napco’s
Gemini™ Security Systems have benefited AISD, Savercool said. AISD faculty
are reliant on ID badges, which are a big factor in keeping nearly 2,000
doors closed and secured at all times. If someone’s ID badge doesn’t open
the door instantly, Savercool’s department is called. Fortunately, the system
turbo-processes door-open times in under a half second, even at peak,
high-traffic periods. Savercool said the first thing people think of for school
security is to lock the doors and keep intruders or unauthorized people out,
but sometimes those doors need to be opened for entry.
Who’s going to be there to unlock them and/or distribute, track and
retrieve the keys? Going back as far as 1998, AISD has relied on Napco’s
access control system, Continental CardAccess. Savercool indicated it’s a
budget-saver and great alternative to rekeying costs, which can be as much
as $10,000 to rekey a school. Plus, the system is low maintenance, excluding
infrequent attacks on outdoor readers, which are more prone to vandalism
or graffiti tags.
AISD’s integrated security and access systems communicate via their
own network using the Napco NetLink. This can save school districts approximately
$40 to $50 per month, per alarm panel, eliminating panel-dedicated
phone land lines, which are increasingly scarce, by using their own
Intranet. Full alarm panel program downloads with NetLink are done at
high-speed, taking mere seconds. Likewise, AISD’s alarm activations and
remote monitoring are handled internally by AISD patrol officers, some
of whom are assigned on-site at all middle schools. The system also is securely
accessible and controllable around the clock via AISD’s VPN or with
Napco’s Continental Remote Web Client, providing complete capability to
change, add or delete authorized users and access privileges; modify schedules;
lock/unlock doors; and monitor alarms and security cameras.
AISD processes more than 100 visitors a day, so stringent visitor ID is
currently one of the top issues AISD’s Life Safety Systems Department deals
with. Every school has integrated visitor management. Visitors use keypads
to request entry. They are then viewed on security cameras with their identification
and granted entry through the access system by the screening staff
and secretaries. Visitors, workers, students’ relatives, parents, noncustodial-
parents—all are carefully processed. “It’s a big deal today, especially with
Texas’s proximity to Mexico,” Savercool said.
In the past, contractors were a big part of the largely unknown group
of people going in and out of schools; no one really knew them or their
exact schedules. (Years ago, AISD tracked some insider thefts of computer
components to a contractor, caught on security cameras.) The CardAccess
System’s integrated visitor management function has solved such problems.
“(Texas) state law requires now that contractors have security clearances,
and that is integrated with the access control system,” Savercool said.
Without clearance, no badge is issued. The access system also provides
auto-expiring badges used for short-term contractors and visitors. Since
AISD schools are designated hurricane refuge facilities, CardAccess badging
has provided access for Red Cross volunteers and hurricane refugees.
“In the case of Gulf Coast Hurricane Rita a few years back, many stayed
in AISD school buildings for several weeks,” Savercool said.
Access is handled on a campus-by-campus basis, according to daily
All staff and faculty, and some students, have a badge for multi-building
access needs. Special access privileges are required for entry to the Administration
Building, MDF rooms—media distribution frame centers for
servers—and gymnasiums. The CardAccess system also provides elevator
control in the district’s multifloor school buildings. Savercool reiterated the
savings using access control: badges cost $2 to $3 each versus old-school
keys, which were likely impossible to retrieve, were far more costly and
created security exposures resulting in thousands of dollars spent in both
rekeying locks and manpower.
Savercool said the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and Columbine attacks
in 1999 were “big drivers for visitor control and the biggest expansion
in Card Access. It marked a big culture shift in security for AISD.”
Emergency management is charged with planning and implementing
monthly emergency drills; additionally, it coordinates with city- and
countywide emergency departments; all are synchronized, especially since
Austin is the seat of the state government and AISD is a designated emergency
refuge facility, he stated.
Virtually all doors across the district are now secured with access control.
That translates to about 11,000 employees using the access control
system daily. AISD also supplements CardAccess with Alarm Lock Trilogy
standalone PIN/Prox pushbutton access locks in certain areas, including
the former network department, help-desks districtwide and county
“combination buildings,” shared by school, library and police substations.
Trilogy Prox Lock models have built-in HID Readers and can share the
same badge/credential as the Continental hardwired access system. AISD
recently upgraded its server to the new CardAccess v2.8; the system features
integration of new Trilogy Networx wireless pushbutton access locks
that are networked and controlled in real time with the Continental CardAccess
v2.8 front end.
Asked why AISD originally chose Napco for its security systems, Savercool
said when he first started at the district, the foreman whom he would
eventually replace began an initiative to replace another manufacturer’s
alarm systems with Napco systems. Over the years, the alarm systems AISD
deployed evolved in technology, along with Napco Security Systems, from
original Magnums and MA3000’s to the GEMP9600, 3200 and scores of
Napco dual-technology motion detectors. He said the district continues
to use Napco because the systems perform reliably, and AISD’s Life Safety
Systems Department has always had a good relationship with Napco. It’s
critical for security departments “to get a robust system and grow into it,”
Savercool said. Napco’s Continental CardAccess System is scalable from
a few to thousands of doors and badgeholders, and it integrates with the
Napco Gemini Intrusion & Fire System and Alarm Lock Access Locks, incorporated
in AISD’s new version of CA3000 v2.8. Reflective of the diverse
Austin population, and thus AISD, the Continental System is multilingual,
supporting 12 languages, and the workstation operator interface loads the
language preference by user login automatically.
AISD also uses its CardAccess System for speedier, more cost-effective
fire department response. Savercool explained that in an emergency or
alarm activation, for fire department school building access, five or more
keys used to be kept in an exterior Knox Box. Today, however, the Life
Safety Systems Department simply puts one access card in that box. It provides
savings on keys, key replacement and/or rekeying costs, substituting
a single $2 to $3 access card (deactivated on demand, quickly and inexpensively).
Plus, having one card to give the fire department access to all doors
in the particular school saves firefighters time (juggling through keys). In
the event of an emergency or fire, seconds can save lives and/or thousands
of dollars in school property damages.
“Parents are happy that our schools have kept students safe and CardAccess
is a great part of that,” Savercool said. “AISD—and the Life Safety
Systems Department—gets positive parental support. They see the card
access at work, they see cameras and they get the good feeling the school
He also mentioned that while Austin is a relatively safe city, there are
gang problems, probably seen more in schools than in neighborhoods.
Closed buildings (access-controlled) helps with that a lot. While AISD at
one time considered metal detectors as an option, years back, it ultimately
decided that the implementation and administration of using them outweighed
their effective impact or possible benefits.
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Security Today.