College fine tunes security from keys to electrified locks
- By Ann Geissler Timme
- Nov 03, 2014
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
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.
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
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
“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 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.