SALTO RFID Access Solution Secures All Doors But One at Oglethorpe University

The liberal arts institution takes IT security to the next level.

Oglethorpe University is an independent liberal arts institution located in Atlanta, GA. With an enrollment of over 1,100 students, the university is consistently listed among America’s best colleges by The Princeton Review and Forbes. 

Students at Oglethorpe enjoy a faculty dedicated to teaching, small class sizes, and a rich tradition of excellence in a university with a history dating back to 1835. The 100-acre campus, self-contained and stunning with its Gothic revival architecture, is on the National Register of Historic Places. And just a short distance from the Peachtree Road campus is the modern and dynamic city of Atlanta, a real-world learning laboratory to explore. It doesn’t get any better for students!

The challenge

It’s an environment that also challenges. Oglethorpe’s IT services department is tasked with the responsibility of keeping the 16 campus buildings networked and secure for the university’s students, faculty and staff. 

The university was using an old card access system that was failing, causing students to get locked out of their dormitory rooms. This would happen at all hours of the day and without rhyme or reason. An entire dorm would get locked out, affecting 160-plus students. The controllers would suddenly stop talking to the dorms, the system would not do updates, the updates would overwrite older information, and users would get locked out. The on-campus security team would have to come in and let students back into their rooms. It was a problem that needed resolving – fast!

Since Oglethorpe is not a wealthy university, they began looking for an economical solution that offered a number of capabilities. They wanted an access control solution that was cost effective and expandable to the buildings on campus, some very old buildings, and because of their age there was not an infrastructure in place that you would maybe find at other universities.

The new technology

After considerable research, Oglethorpe’s IT services department decided on a SALTO Virtual Network (SVN) wire-free system. The SALTO SVN system pushes and pulls data from the university’s “hot spot” entry points to all their offline locks.

oglethorpeBy choosing a wire-free solution, the university only had to run wires to their exterior doors. The interior doors do not require wiring as these locks are stand-alone wire free locks. This is an advantage, especially for older buildings. With a wired lock system, you have to run wiring to every single door in every single building, which is expensive and difficult to do.

To date, they have two dormitories on the system. That’s seven wired exterior door locks with hot spot readers and 103 interior wire-free doors. Atlanta South, a SALTO certified installation company, did the wiring. Eventually the aim is for all the buildings on campus to use the SALTO access control system.

Here’s how it works. The university has issued smart cards to all their full and part-time students, faculty, and staff - about 1,600 people. The cards have a smart chip on them and an antenna.

To gain access to a building, exterior doors have a wired card reader and are hot spots. Hot spots read information from and write information to a card and the security system. So when a person presents their card to the reader, it takes information from the card - which includes all the doors that the card has been to – and uploads it to the main system. It also then downloads any new access credentials, and updates the card’s information. Door #1, for example, will read a card, recognize when a user has access to Door #1, and opens it for the user.

Once inside the dormitory, a student has access to all of its four floors, but to gain access to their room, they have to present their card to the reader on their door lock. The interior doors have no wires, just individual locks with a reader built-in to the door handle. Once a person goes to an interior door and presents their card, they authenticate with that door and the door writes back to the card information from the log files it keeps at that door including battery status and similar information. These subjects then get transported on the individual card. The card also retains information about where the student has been.

The next time the card hits a hot spot – again, the only wired devices in the system – all the information gets uploaded to the main system. Now the university has a detailed log for each door, and a complete access control log of who has been where including any failed entry attempts.

These smart access control cards also function as student ID and meal plan cards, eliminating the need for a student to carry multiple cards. The cards are encoded with a student’s complete information, so when they go to the cafeteria, for example, they simply present their card to a reader which checks them in. The students are very happy with the cards and especially happy to have uninterrupted access to their dorms.

The result and that one door

The university says “The latest building to get the SALTO system is our new Student Center, which completed in August. After that it will be the library with planning to include two more buildings this year. It is fully anticipated that we will continue to expand each year until all 16 campus buildings are covered. Our goal is to have it all completed over the next two to three years. Funding is our only limiting factor.”

There is one “door” on campus that won’t need a technology update any time soon however. This is the door to a stainless steel vault that is welded shut and isn’t expected to be opened until May 28, 8113. This is the university’s Crypt of Civilization, or time capsule as it would be called today. The first serious effort to collect and preserve a snapshot of human civilization and technology, it is a 20' x 10' waterproof room whose contents represent an encyclopedic inventory of life and customs up until the date when the crypt was sealed on May 28, 1940.

Dallas Holmes, SALTO Systems Southeast Region Sales Manager, comments “Oglethorpe University is a very forward thinking institution and with the incorporation of the latest SALTO wire-free access control technology into their campus, they have taken the necessary steps to ensure they will be able to achieve far reaching and long lasting control over their security requirements.

Key benefits achieved include a more flexible and reliable system for a lower total dollar cost, the benefits of a keyless environment and thanks to its SALTO SVN system, the ability to manage up to 64,000 users and 4,000,000 doors in a single system if required, making the university a more secure and accessible environment for all its users.”

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