more access control

More Access Control

As school districts and parents are searching for increased comprehensive security measures for their schools, there are some basics that every school or college security administrator needs to know about access control.

More Access ControlFirst of all, let’s remind ourselves what an electronic lock provides. An electromagnetic lock, also called a magnetic lock or maglock, consists of an electromagnet and an armature plate. There are two main categories of maglock—the fail safe and fail secure. By attaching the electromagnet to the door frame and the armature plate to the door, a current passing through the electromagnet attracts (fail safe) or releases (fail secure) the armature plate.

A fail-safe magnetic lock requires power to remain locked and is not suitable for high-security applications because it is possible to bypass the lock by disrupting the power supply. However, fail-safe maglocks are well suited for use on emergency exit doors because they are more reliable.

Fail-secure maglocks use a permanent magnet to keep the door shut and use current passing through an electromagnet to cancel the permanent magnet and release the door. These fail-secure locks are therefore better suited to high-security installations. Because power is required to release the fail-secure locks, more care is needed when deciding to use them for safety reasons. For example, if a fire occurs and the power to the building is cut, occupants may not be able to escape.

Functions available with electronic locks include:

  • Basic mechanical functions—Electronic locks have all the functions of mechanical locks plus two more.
  • Office—The lockset is normally secure. This lock meets the need for a lockdown function for safety and security. The inside lever is always free for immediate egress.
  • Privacy—The lockset is normally secure. The interior pushbutton will disable normal electronic access from the exterior. The inside lever is always free for immediate egress.

Types of Electronic Locks

An electronic lock as described above is controlled by a reader—keypad, card reader or biometric terminal. If the user has the right PIN, card or biometric, the door unlocks. Typically readers are installed next to the door.

The Cobb County School District (CCSD), the second largest school system in Georgia serving more than 106,000 students with a total of 114 schools, upgraded access at its elementary schools with a Schlage card access control system. Concurrently, it simplifies access management and reduces maintenance costs, issues the schools faced when access was controlled by mechanical keys.

Formerly, access to all schools was controlled by mechanical keys.

“The keys were marked, ‘Do Not Duplicate,’ but there were thousands of keys out there,” said James H. Carlson, executive director of CCSD maintenance services. “Each school was responsible for managing its own keys, so it was hard to know who had them.”

To determine whether electronic access control was feasible, CCSD ran a pilot test at one elementary school, installing proximity-card readers and electric-latch retraction exit devices at the five most-used entrances, including main doors, bus entrance, exit doors and playground doors. All other exterior doors were locked and monitored. Success meant the system would be installed throughout the district.

The system provides flexibility to accommodate school schedules. It unlocks and relocks controlled doors according to schedule during school hours. The system is programmed to eliminate automatically opening for holidays throughout the school year. Occasional snow days are easy to program.

Card access makes it easier to issue and delete credentials than issuing new keys or getting them returned if someone leaves. Deleting a lost card also is considerably less expensive than rekeying multiple doors. In addition, cards can be programmed to operate for a limited time or specific hours to control access for contractors or other visitors. According to Carlson, the human resources department issues the cards after background checks are complete. Each school can then give an employee the right to access its building as required.

Other Locking Systems

There are two other types of locking systems.

Standalone, programmable, combination locks/readers offer a variety of options that allow schools to customize the right solution for a specific facility. Keypad only, proximity, magnetic stripe and dual credential plus PIN options are available on these computer-managed readers/locks. On some units, a key-in-lever design also lets users leverage existing master key systems. Schools can control where people go and when by setting up access rights and schedules in a central database which gets transferred to the locks using software with a handheld device. With some versions, audit trails can provide visibility as to who accessed a door and when.

Maintaining key control and keeping security effective was difficult with mechanical keys alone at the Birmingham, Mich., School District.

“We tried to limit the number of exterior door keys that we gave each school because our buildings are alarmed,” said Rob J. Carson, skilled trades and grounds supervisor. “Anybody with an exterior key who tried to enter the building while it was closed would set off a silent alarm if they didn’t realize it was armed or didn’t have the code to disarm it.”

Only the main entrance doors to elementary and middle schools are locked during school hours and their offices are located to give a clear view of the front doors so the staff can see everybody coming in and out. Once they started locking the buildings during the day, it became difficult to maintain security while allowing re-entry from playgrounds or parking lots.

“Dogging down a panic bar or blocking a door open compromises security,” Carson said. “We needed to find a solution that would give the principals a way to run their educational program and meet the district’s goal of keeping the building secure.”

The district started investigating electronic access control but leaned away from magnetic strip cards or other credentials that could be lost, stolen, damaged or misused. The cost of providing cards, iButton fobs or other credentials to a large number of people and managing or replacing them would need to be funded and could be substantial. Instead, they chose computer-managed locks that are programmable and pushbutton-activated.

“PIN codes are free, and with people being used to having codes for ATMs, we felt comfortable that they would be effective here,” said Carson, who indicated that staff went through a training program on how to protect the codes and use them properly, and the locks are programmed to operate only during specific hours. “Our backup security is that the code will only work during the times we permit it to work.

“After we program them on our computer, we download the information to a Palm Pilot. We have an iButton key fob that puts the lock into a programming mode. Then we just plug the Palm Pilot into the lock, download it in a couple of minutes, and we are finished. We don’t have to open them up like we did with the mechanical pushbutton locks.”

All access codes are canceled at the end of the school year and new codes are issued and emailed to the principals at the start of the next school year. Keeping control of the programming at the district office helps maintain consistency and avoid unforeseen problems that could occur if decisions were made at the school level without full knowledge of the security and control implications.

“Their skill level is education, and ours is building management,” Carson said.

Once the new codes are established, he or his employees reprogram the locks using a PDA, which also updates the access schedule for school holidays. At the same time, the batteries that power the stand alone locks also are changed.

If an employee leaves the district or a problem arises, the principal typically notifies Carson by telephone or email so he can invalidate that person’s code. Previously, it would have been necessary to re-key the school’s exterior doors and issue new keys to everyone.

All-in-one Systems

Modular all-in-one locking systems combine the lock and reader so that a school can now choose the specific electronic lock they need now with full confidence that it can be later upgraded without ever taking it off the door. Components that have been traditionally located around the door are now integrated into the lock itself to yield a smarter solution and more value for the investment. The locks provide multiple, interchangeable credential reader modules as well as interchangeable offline, wired and wireless networking modules so that access control can now be installed at doors where it had been previously unfeasible. The locks are compatible with all popular exit devices, provide a host of power and cylinder options, offer field configurable settings and include a wide variety of finishes and levers.

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, selected such a locking system. Since these locks are designed with easily changeable reader modules, they can be upgraded in the future without changing the entire lock. The locks simplified the installation process because they combine all the hardware components required at the door into one integrated design. They incorporate the electrified lock, credential reader, request-to-exit and enter sensors, door position switch and tamper guard. Their wireless operation also made them easier and more costeffective to install in the existing buildings on campus.

The near field communication (NFC) capability of the locks makes them compatable for the future, according to Steve Thole, director of business systems and technology at Miami University. As more smartphones become NFC-capable, students are highly likely to prefer using them as their primary credential. Already, nearly half of all college students nationwide are using cell phone apps on campus for managing class work, checking grades and bookstore purchases. As apps become available, the university will not have to upgrade the readers to use smartphone credentials.

In addition to the security benefits, the university is realizing substantial cost savings by eliminating rekeying and minimizing lockout calls. Previously, there were between four and six keys issued for a typical door and the university was generating nearly 1,200 locksmith work orders per year under the mechanical key system. The re-coring and rekeying costs associated with a lost master key could run as high as $15,000 and it could take several days to complete the task.

When Specifying a System, Start with the Specific Door

Lastly, regardless of the electronic access control system you and your school choose, you do not need to specify the same model of door hardware throughout a school. In some areas, you will want hardware that is quieter than standard. Other areas need higher security hardware, such as a large district’s computer center. Some areas need extrastrong hardware to combat high winds, while in other spots, such as the superintendent’s office, the door hardware can be fancier. You should always choose what’s right for each specific location.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Security Today.

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