Fit for Security

Fit for Security

Sandpoint West Athletic Club has used biometrics for 20 years and loves it

Sandpoint West Athletic Club has used biometrics for 20 years and loves itTo say I’m sold on biometrics for athletic clubs after using the Hand- Key since 1995 is an understatement. Back then, we were remodeling our check-in area. While doing so, we decided to re-evaluate our check-in software. We didn’t like membership cards because we were spending too much time on people who had forgotten to bring them; plus, it is very easy for a member to provide their card to a non-member. In addition, there was the actual product cost and labor spent printing and distributing cards. With many short-term memberships, that too was a cost we wanted to reduce.

Around the same time, we discovered that a YMCA in Washington State was successfully using biometrics. We visited them and learned that hand geometry readers positively verify users by the shape and size of their hands by analyzing more than 90 separate measurements of the hand’s length, width, thickness and surface area. This information is compared against a previously stored “template” in the reader’s memory allowing hand geometry technology to provide a fail-safe method to ensure that the person who enters the club isn’t merely carrying someone else’s access card or PIN.

Because HandKeys guarantee that the person requesting access is actually who they say they are, we began to evaluate software and decided to work with Clubrunner, a company that supports the HandKey check-in system.

We opened our remodeled check-in area in September 1995 with a new Hand- Key and two types of software: “HandReader” operates the HandKey, while “Clubrunner” runs our club. HandReader communicates with Clubrunner upon each check-in to record all visits.

Getting Customers Onboard

Starting from scratch, enrollment consisted of assigning people a PIN number and then instructing them to place their hand onto the platen of the HandKey three times. Henceforth, to enter the club, they would only need to enter their PIN and place their hand on the platen. They no longer would have to worry about cards. Initially, some members were concerned about sanitary concerns; others had privacy concerns. For those concerned with sanitary issues, we explained how the platen itself is infused with an antimicrobial coating that keeps it bacteria free. We also provided hand wipes for use after presenting one’s hand. That apprehension quickly went away

With sanitary concerns extinguished, privacy concerns were next. We explained that people often confuse biometrics with the systems they see on TV crime shows. When considering the privacy concerns associated with biometrics, an important distinction must be made between identification, a one-to-many match, and authentication, a one-to-one match. It is vital that users understand the difference.

Identification. A system designed to identify a person compares a biometric presented by a person against all biometric samples stored in the database. The system identifies the individual, if the presented biometric matches one of the many samples on file. This is a one-to-many match and is used by the police to identify criminals, governments to identify qualified recipients for benefit programs and registration systems for voting and licensing drivers. (This is the type of system we see on TV crime shows.)

Authentication. A live biometric presented by the user is compared to a stored sample previously given by that individual during enrollment, and the match is confirmed. The hand geometry of the user is not stored in a database or on an ID card. Instead, an algorithm is performed with points measured on the finger or hand. The template that results from this equation is all that is stored.

Using this knowledge, we assured club members that when they enter an assigned PIN, only that template is transmitted. When they present their hand, the reader runs the authentication process to determine if the template that is stored matches the biometric being presented. If there is a match, the person is authenticated.

A core group of enthusiastic members paved the way for the others. It was interesting to watch. We have two lanes at our check-in: one for the express check-in that uses the HandKey and the other for check-in by an attendant or when someone has questions. Within weeks, the majority of our members wanted to use the express lane.

Perhaps what impressed us the most, from a business standpoint, was how much personnel time we gained. Using cards requires someone to be at the front desk, exclusively devoted to check-in. Upon creating the express HandKey lane, our front desk employee could attend to other duties such as answering phones, signing people up for memberships and other member-related services. From a dollars and cents perspective, an automated express check-in lane is cost effective.

From the Original HandReader to the Next One

Recently, we replaced the ID3D—which had checked in over 2 million members— with a new reader, a Schlage HandKey II that is faster and has even better HandReader software.

Our first challenge was to transfer existing member templates to the new system. We had to get the system up and running, as we have over 400 visits per day. With excellent tech assistance, we were able to transfer more than 2,000 hand templates, so when the Handkey II was up and running, everything worked the same. It was great not having to re-enroll everyone and the members were satisfied.

Also, for 18 years, I’ve been extracting numbers from the old ID3D HandKey using Backhand, a DOS-based program, and matching them to our club’s system software to account for membership changes. The new HandReader software— HandNet for Windows—supports the HandKey II, so manually synchronizing the numbers is no longer required. This compatibility is an incredible time saver.

Today, we have more than 2,000 users stored in the HandKey II. Using a 4-digit PIN, we can assign up to 10,000 unique numbers. This means our members are free to choose their own numbers, one they can easily remember with a four in five chance that they will get the number they want.

Running the Club

Sandpoint West Athletic Club has different types of memberships, and some are even time restricted. Since the HandKey II and Clubrunner records the time and date that a member checks in, this is very easy to manage. Other members want to buy a set number of days. This also is managed easily because the software automatically reduces the member’s visits as he checks in.

Today, there is only one entrance and that requires only a single HandKey. However, in the future, if expansion takes place, a second entrance may be needed. HandNet for Windows will let us control and monitor two or more HandKeys simply and easily. With one program, we will be able to monitor activity and alarms on all readers while controlling the access of each.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Security Today.

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