Thomas Schulz: Giving Accommodation Security the Flexibility to Handle High Traffic and Rapid Turnover

by Katie Sloan

Offered the choice, would you rather run security at a bank vault or at student halls of residence? At least the bank job is straightforward: keep the money inside, and everyone else out. If only protecting hundreds of young people was so easy.

Student accommodation blocks are usually large, with high traffic moving from bedrooms to common areas, dining facilities and libraries. A single resident travelling between her room, a study area, the gym and a couple of trips offsite would use secure doors at least 15 times a day. In a residence housing just 200 students, that’s 3,000 daily events for the access system to handle.

Rapid student turnover puts a further admin burden on facility managers. Imagine, among hundreds of students living at the block, just a handful leave or arrive each semester. That’s a couple of manual key handovers to schedule every week, and to chase if a key-holder fails to appear. If keys are not handed in, is a room really secure for its next occupant? And how can you know if one has been copied?

With physical keys and mechanical locks, security lacks flexibility, and it’s impossible to get a site overview without a time-wasting manual key audit.

Today’s students, tomorrow’s solutions

Mechanical security is not the answer, because mechanical locks don’t offer the control or flexibility managers need. There’s no real-time monitoring, and you can’t generate detailed audit trails for locks or users, meaning there’s no easy way to track unauthorised access — if you’re investigating a theft, for example.

The current crop of students — Generation Z — were raised as digital natives. They expect convenience as a standard feature, not a mechanical solution first used in Ancient Egypt. In Europe’s increasingly international, marketized higher education ecosystem, attracting these tech-savvy students is critical, as is keeping them satisfied with the campus experience.

A properly specified wireless access control system can overcome the challenges of securing a student residence, if it can meet the demands of this key checklist:

  1. A system needs the hardware and software robustness to handle so many users, high traffic, and fast resident turnover.
  2. A system should make student life easier by replacing physical keys with programmable smart cards or even a mobile app.
  3. A system should secure more than just doors, including cabinet locks and devices to protect secure areas like car parks, all controllable at the administrator’s end from the same secure interface.
  4. A system and its devices should support all major RFID technologies.
  5. A system must be easy to upgrade in the future, by adding new doors and by upgrading the functionality of devices already installed. Your initial spend should be a future-proofed investment, not a one-off expense.
  6. A system should be able to handle additional student services like vending machines and the canteen on the same credential or card as a room door lock.

Cut the wires

A wireless access control system can solve admin problems with a combination of control and cost-effectiveness. Wireless systems are based on battery-powered locks and should be easy to retrofit wirelessly to existing premises or to incorporate in a new-build. Installers simply swap an existing mechanical lock for a wireless device and link the door to the management software.

Slim, robust wireless devices can be deployed at almost any opening. Escutcheons (with optional keypad for added security) and cylinders are ideal for student bedrooms or management offices, and generally fit wood or glass, emergency exit and even fire doors. Wall readers can filter lift, main door or car park access — ideally with a PIN-pad for multi-factor authentication. For storing student or staff belongings, cabinet and locker locks should be configurable in the same system without the need for an extra module.

And because wireless access control devices run on batteries, this type of access system is also cost-effective for accommodation providers to run — which is absolutely critical in an era of constrained higher education budgets.

One solution already making life easier for student residence managers all over Europe is ASSA ABLOY’s SMARTair™.

With the SMARTair™ wireless access control system, students come and go using programmable smart cards, tags, or a secure mobile phone app — not a cumbersome, easy-to-lose key. Students only need carry one credential to open their door and access onsite services. A single card to unlock their room, secure their belongings inside a locker, enter the library, pay for photocopying and buy lunch makes sense for them. It’s another step to boosting resident convenience — and one key element in secure accommodation design for the next generation of students.

Thomas Schulz, EMEA Marketing and Communications Director, Digital and Access Solutions at ASSA ABLOY. Thomas has over 15 years’ experience in the security industry, including in providing cost-effective solutions to the university sector. He currently leads pan-European marketing for digital access control technologies from the ASSA ABLOY Group, the global leader in door opening solutions, whose brands include Yale, TESA and Mul-T-Lock. Contact him at [email protected].

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