Choosing The Right On-Campus Access Control Technology

by Katie Sloan

There are many surprises when it comes to fitting lock and security technology to a campus’ specific needs. High-dollar solutions are not always the most effective.

One of the most important aspects of on-campus housing is to ensure that students are safe and secure. It’s a paramount consideration not only for students who currently live in residence halls, but also to show prospective students and their parents that the university considers the security of its on-campus residents to be a top priority.

While every college residence hall has some type of security system in place, even if it’s nothing more than keyed mechanical locks on the doors, many colleges are looking at either adding electronic access control (EAC) technology or improving an existing EAC system. The truth is, many university housing facilities need a security system upgrade.

The university committee in charge of selecting what type of solution will be deployed has a variety of interests at stake. Representatives from university housing, security, administration, facilities management, IT, the one card office, finance and possibly others will all be a part of the process. Everyone’s requirements and points of view need to be taken into account. That said, no one is going to contest the need to keep students safe and secure.

There are two fundamental areas that have to be looked at – literally. How is the college perimeter going to be secured, and how are the interior doors going to be secured?

Any discussion about school security starts with securing the perimeter. This is the first area of entry, the “first line of defense,” and having an effective security system in place is mandatory. That said, securing the interior doors of residence halls and other facilities where students work and play is of equal importance – but perhaps surprisingly, most schools don’t give this serious enough consideration.

In deciding what type of access control locking hardware to choose, consider this: Every student and faculty member has an ID card. Therefore, going to a card reader-based access control system has a tremendous advantage: it can be used with the ID cards that everyone already has. Card-based electronic access control also eliminates the need for keys (and their potential to be lost or stolen) and like all EAC systems, provides a host of capabilities unavailable from traditional mechanical locks. In addition to card-based systems, other types of locks could be good options: for example, locks that use a combination of card and PIN code access or locks that can be opened using a smartphone.

EAC provides tiered or scheduled levels of access – meaning different authorization levels (for example, a student worker versus a university employee) may access different areas of a building or authorized personnel may be allowed to enter a building only at certain times. For example, only those students who live in a residence hall would be able to enter that building using their IDs, while everyone on campus might have ID card access to the library. Another big advantage is monitoring capability. EAC locks provide an audit trail of who opened a door and when.

How will any electronic upgrades work with a facility’s existing security system? Understandably, administrators want to protect their initial investment, and budget is always a major factor. The good news is that in many cases an existing system can be built upon.

There are three basic types of electronic access control locks: offline locks, Power over Ethernet (PoE) locks and Wi-Fi locks. Offline locks are battery-powered and do not tie into an existing security system, while providing all the functionality of electronic access control mentioned previously. PoE and Wi-Fi locks offer a major advantage – they interface with a facility’s existing IT network. The locks and related hardware can leverage the already-in-place IT infrastructure, saving considerable expense and facilitating installation and deployment. Wi-Fi locks can readily expand the coverage area of a security system since they can be installed in areas that are difficult to reach by cable.

Perhaps as important as choosing the right system is choosing the right security provider. The security contractor you select should be a partner, not just a vendor. Security isn’t a “one and done” situation – on-campus housing needs will evolve and change over time, and it’s a good idea to consider not only the current situation but to keep an eye on possible future upgrades – for example, locks that can accommodate multiple types of credentials even if they’re not used now, or electronic access control systems that operate with smartphones and other mobile devices. Choose a company that will keep up with changes in the university’s needs, and that keeps pace with current and future advances in security technology.

Remember, students are your most important assets, and an investment in your university’s residence hall security represents one of the most critical decisions you can make as an administrator. A higher level of investment does not guarantee a higher level of safety, so taking the time to review and understand how each of the above factors plays a role in your campus is critical to choosing the right solution. Don’t hesitate to consult with a certified security professional who can help you determine how to get the most out of an existing system or to decide which options might be most appropriate for upgrading.

Angelo Faenza is Senior Director of Campus Electronic Access Control Security Solutions (EACSS) for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions.

You may also like