Improving Security

Card-based ID systems help schools be more efficient

The nation’s K-12 school districts are under pressure to upgrade their aging facility infrastructure. An independent, nationwide survey in October 2013 sponsored by United Technologies Corp. and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools revealed that nine out of 10 Americans believe it’s time for the nation to invest in transforming aging school facilities into 21st century learning environments. According to the Center, it will cost $271 billion to bring school buildings up to working order and comply with laws, and if additional steps are taken to ensure schools meet today’s education, safety and health standards, this figure grows to $542 billion.

Security is a key component of this upgrade challenge, especially in the wake of tragedies like the Newtown massacre. While districts already have access to both federal- and statelevel funding for general modernization projects, the Newtown tragedy was followed by the introduction of more than 450 new bills related to school safety. While there is no assurance that these bills will all pass or result in funding, they are indicators of the countrywide focus on school security. As the Department of Homeland Security wrote in its “Primer to Design Safe School Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings,” today’s schools “serve large populations and also serve as resources for their communities.” The report pointed out that many schools are used as shelters, command centers or meeting places in times of crisis, and also are used widely for polling and voting functions. Security is a critical design consideration for these facilities that should be continually reviewed and scrutinized from the design phase through construction or rehabilitee and into building use.

It can be difficult to ensure school security, especially in districts with dozens of school buildings and other centers housing tens of thousands of students. The answer is a universal, mandatory system for creating and managing student IDs. According to the DHS Primer, optimal security requires that there should be no entry into the school allowed without supervising staff or appropriate access control devices. The Primer also suggested that card access systems greatly simplify access control and eliminate problems associated with lost keys.

Moving to a card-based student ID system offers many benefits for K-12 school districts that are seeking to modernize their facilities. Not only do the ID cards improve campus safety, they also streamline processes such as managing time and attendance functions, and they offer new ways to make old tasks more efficient, such as checking out books at the media center or tracking student purchases in the cafeteria.

Thanks to advances in printers, card materials and software, districts can now quickly and easily deploy card issuance solutions that are fast and efficient, support their volume issuance requirements at the beginning of each school year, and also enable them to instantly create and issue new badges when a student loses his or her badge, or is newly enrolled in school. Today’s solutions also optimize card security by including visual and logical technologies for multi-layered validation. By following a number of industry best practices, district administrators can ensure the most secure deployment possible while paving the way for a variety of time- and resource-saving applications for their cards.

Laying the Foundation

The first step is to choose a printer/encoder solution, which can range from a monochrome direct-to-card (DTC) solution that combines quality, reliability and ease of use, to high definition printing (HDP) retransfer technology for contactless or contact smart cards. For districts that need high-throughput solutions, there are a number of additional choices that optimize performance and productivity.

Regardless of the printer/encoder choice, the solution should have an intuitive set up and easy to use. It should not require a large capital investment, or any extensive training for system operators. Ideally, the printer/encoder should be compact, since space is at a premium at most school campuses. It should also be field-upgradable, so that the district can modify its printers to fit new requirements as student ID system needs change and evolve. Finally, the printer/encoder’s card personalization software should make it easy for the district to design card templates, enter student data, create photo ID badges, and synchronize badge data with third-party database applications, such as student attendance and school records systems.

With an issuance solution in place, the next step is to set up the badging process. To ensure more trustworthy authentication and make it easier for school personnel to identify individuals, ID cards should feature visual elements, such as the district’s logo and mission statement, a large photo of the student and his or her name printed on the front of the card.

The typical large school district might need to print as many as 15,000 customized student ID cards during the first week of school, with uniform image quality, design and durability. Speed and efficiency are critical. Administrators can speed the badging process by preprinting static elements on the ID cards, such as the district logo and mission statement.

For schools that want to use their badges for tracking attendance and tardy arrivals, the ID card can include a barcode that is used in conjunction with a student management system. When a student arrives late to school, or is tardy to a class, the card is scanned into the system, and a tardy pass is printed automatically. Using an ID card system rather than manual processes can significantly cut the time required to process students, enabling them to spend more time in class while also reducing the staff’s administrative burden.

Managing Visitors

K-12 campuses may want to consider badging more than just staff and students for on-campus identification—visitors are important to monitor and manage. While some school districts believe that a paperbased badge and visitor log is all they need, this approach leaves them vulnerable to many security risks. It also eliminates any opportunities to analyze visitor trends and patterns, or to quickly flag visitors who are either not allowed on campus, or who need to be handled differently than typical campus guests. One of the worst problems with manual visitor check-in process is that, if there is a fire or other emergency, the paper-based badge and visitor logs are generally inadequate for quickly determining who is still in the building and needs to be found and evacuated.

Implemented on a PC at the lobby reception desk or another entry point, visitor management systems are easy to use, and training can be completed in no more than an hour. The systems automate the entire visitor registration process, including gathering information from the visitor such as a driver’s license or other government ID, screening the visitor against any internal and/or external watch lists, and creating a badge for the visitor to wear on campus.

Some school districts use their visitor management systems to issue a warning alert to the lobby attendant, within seconds, if a visitor who is checking in is listed as a registered sex offender. Additionally, an automatic e-mail alert can also be sent to other school administrators, and/or to security personnel. Besides sex offenders, the visitor management system can also flag other individuals or organizations that schools have pre-determined should not enter the building. The results of this screening process can be displayed in just two seconds if there is a match. The combination of sex offender database screening and other flagging mechanisms makes it easier for schools to ensure that proper controls are in place to monitor all visitors and protect those who are on the campus.

Districts can also use visitor management systems to manage the identification of parents or custodians who are authorized to drop off and pick up children from campus. As an option, the school can print and issue permanent barcoded ID cards for parents and caretakers, rather than temporary visitor badges. This can further expedite the student drop-off and pick-up process.

Other Badge Uses

Districts can maximize the investment in their ID cards by using them in multiple ways. For instance, besides simply identifying students, staff and visitors, ID cards can also be used by students at the media center for checking out books, or in the cafeteria to track lunch purchases on campus meal plans. Many elementary schools are also exploring how to use the ID cards in reward programs that are designed to encourage good student behavior through positive reinforcement.

Another way to derive additional value out of ID cards is to use them for monitoring field trip attendance. The cards also can be used in fund raising initiatives that involve monitoring purchases at participating stores and restaurants, a portion of which are donated to the schools. Additional applications include controlling access to school sporting and entertainment events, and monitoring students who are allowed to leave the campus during school hours, such as high school seniors with lunch privileges.

Today’s ID card systems significantly increase security for a school’s students, staff, parents and visitors. School districts have a wide range of printer/encoder solutions from which to choose, depending on their size and card issuance needs. Whatever solution is selected should be easy to install and use, with minimal training required, and the software should facilitate badge data synchronization with third-party applications, such as student attendance and school records systems. Visitor monitoring and management should also be part of the ID card solution, to ensure that all guests are authorized to be on campus and officially checked in. Once the ID badging solution is in place, administrators should look for additional ways to maximize the value of their investment, by using the badges for other applications such as time and attendance monitoring, and managing library check-out processes and cafeteria meal plan purchases.

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

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