It’s Electrifying

College fine tunes security from keys to electrified locks

Tarrant County College is the sixth largest college or university in the state of Texas offering two-year degrees that lead to careers or transfers to four-year institutions. Founded in 1965, it has expanded from a single campus to an institution that soon will encompass six facilities serving more than 50,000 students including computer laboratories and other technical facilities that contain high-value items. For example, the nursing school includes state-of-theart operating rooms and $200,000 mannequins on which students can practice.

This college has followed a path of continuous improvement to manage access control and other security issues at its five campuses located throughout the Fort Worth area. Whether upgrading its key system or implementing electrified locks, Tarrant County College is committed to providing the best solutions by testing all products before deploying them throughout the district.

Beginning with a Key System Upgrade

A few years ago, Tarrant County College knew its growth had outpaced its existing key system. The key manufacturer advised that an entirely new system was needed to handle the college’s more than 10,000 doors. This led to a broader investigation of solutions.

As a result, the college selected a key system with a large format, interchangeable core system that is patent-protected until 2024. Patent-protected keyways prevent unauthorized duplication, and key blanks can only be obtained from the manufacturer when authorized by the customer, in this case, the college. Even during renovation or new building projects, contractors are provided with construction cores. Once the project is completed, the interchangeable cores make it easy to secure the building.

Although electrified locks and card readers are used throughout Tarrant County campuses, mechanical keys still play an important role in the access control plan. Keys are used extensively on non-critical interior doors as well as over-ride for the electrified locks when necessary. To provide physical control of the keys used by maintenance staff, the college uses a cabinet that sends management an e-mail alert if a key is not returned when due.

“We have one of these on every campus,” said Bob McCleary, electronic access control systems manager. “We put the master keys at the top and sets for the maintenance staff below. It keeps track of the keys that are checked out electronically.”

McCleary said that the key system is structured so the police department needs only two keys to access any of the college’s buildings. One handles all the northern campuses while the other controls the southern campuses. Although access to most of the buildings is normally controlled by card access, the electrified locks can be opened by key override. In the event of a lockdown, for example, this would ensure that the police could always enter the building.

Upgrading Electrified Access Control

While the college has used electrified access control for several years, it is expanding and upgrading its system. McCleary uses electrified mortise locks or electrified exit devices to secure all access-controlled doors. The college has about 1,400 card readers that control the electrified locks. These are now being replaced with multi-technology card readers. All new installations are using these readers, as well.

The readers are capable of interfacing with proximity, smart and most other credentials, providing flexibility for future changes or upgrades. They use an open architecture platform designed to work with industry standards and common access control system interfaces. In addition, their single-gang styling and easy-to-connect wiring harness simplifies installation.

To monitor this system, McCleary receives online data in his office that shows the status of every card reader.

“You can see when they are online and locked or unlocked, the name of the door and whether it is open or closed,” McCleary said.

Doors automatically unlock at a specified time for classes but can be locked remotely in case of emergency.

Many of the entries controlled by card readers and electrified locks incorporate a camera that lets a staff member verify visitor’s identities before unlocking remotely. Other cameras are located throughout the various campuses. According to McCleary, one benefit is that in the event of a threat, they could tell if the perpetrator was inside or outside of a building, and decide which doors needed to be locked down.

In addition, a recent acquisition of the former Bell Helicopter building at the Fort Worth Alliance airport has created a sixth campus that will allow the college to move and expand its aircraft mechanic courses there. McCleary said that the building will incorporate 50 to 60 multitechnology card readers and wireless electronic locks when the move is completed. This is the college’s first use of wireless locks.

Electrified locking in combination with a high-security key system provides the security this college needs to protect both people and property.

“We try to make the students and faculty feel more secure and confident that we have control of the situation, whatever it is,” McCleary said. “We limit faculty cards to the areas where they need access, so only the police have access to every door.”

Other Solutions

Other hardware and security solutions include exit devices, door closers and Ives hinges. The exit devices that are used on all required access-controlled doors incorporate a new latch-bolt design, providing greater strength and durability. McCleary said that he prefers exit devices that have a four-bolt mounting because this provides a higher level of strength and security over narrow stile devices.

Many of the exit devices incorporate special features selected to meet Tarrant County College’s specifications. For instance, all new exit device installations and replacements include a quiet exit latch option. Quiet operation is especially important in areas such as auditoriums, classrooms and libraries, where the noise of a conventional latch could be disturbing. Many applications also call for a special dogging option, which allows them to be dogged by key as well as electronically in the event of power failure or other situation (because the main body contains the electronics, the lock cylinder is located in the center case.)

Another solution that works well for this college is a keyed removable mullion for double doors. McCleary said that he prefers this approach over vertical rod exit devices to achieve security and feels it requires less maintenance.

“If someone needs to move a piano into a building, we just have a maintenance worker unlock and remove the mullion, then put it back in a few minutes,” McCleary said.

Comprehensive specifications ensure that the best solutions are applied consistently throughout this college system.

“We have been told by our architects that ours are one of the best specs ever written,” McCleary said. “They are so detailed that whoever bids our jobs won’t have any problems if they follow them.”

Typically, McCleary tests a new product in a high-traffic location before including it in the specifications. Although the standards are tight, there are enough qualified distributors in the area that can supply the desired products to achieve competitive bidding; however, they must ensure that they have the qualified personnel necessary to provide installation as well as service.

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

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