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Integration by Degrees

12 April 2011

A good access control system can keep students safe and save money, explains Hugh Murray, but using it to link other building systems provides extra benefits.

EVERY SCHOOL, COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY faces unique challenges but they all share the basic responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of the students, faculty and staff. Access control systems are increasingly important to the safety and security of educational establishments and when they are integrated with other facilities alongside a searchable database, they start contributing to some real operational savings and advantages.
More and more, education is benefiting from thinking widely and using their security systems as an integrating platform for many other initiatives. As a component of a complete security solution, access control not only manages physical access to facilities and assets, but creates an audit trail that is valuable for both operational and audit purposes.
The primary reason for using access control is for the protection of both people and assets where theft and damage can be reduced and additional privacy given. It can also help in visitor management and providing records of use, for example where playing fields and school rooms/halls are used out of hours by the community. Security at this time can be enhanced and liability reduced by controlling the access points and integrating with CCTV
within these areas.
An added benefit of access control is in risk management. A robust system can reduce insurance costs significantly particularly if the establishment is also part of a cooperative insurance programme which focuses on minimising any exposure to liability.
Emergency response is increasingly on the agenda with access control systems having the sophistication of being able to facilitate automatic lockdowns, both full or partial, and also provide the necessary communication with staff.
Understanding the current and future operational requirements of a particular school, college or university will help determine the type of system needed. But it’s also important to understand the scope of any given system for integrating with additional facilities and services to ensure that maximum advantage and effective future planning.
Typical of the organic development of access control in higher education can be found at the University of Bath where The Knighthood Group is supplied and installed of a Mifare card-based access control system, initially designed for library access where it is integrated with the 14,000 strong student database and selfregistration system. Often the library has to handle 9,000 students on a daily basis so the access system has to be smooth, easy-to-use and totally reliable. This system is now being extended and recent works have provided access control to faculties and to student accommodation blocks, including the integration of a wireless bedroom, door-locking facility.
As Lawrence Lockton from the University Libratry explained, “Our PLAN system was installed in the Library in 2006, covering three turnstiles at the entrance that see about one million entrances a year. Now the system has been extended to cover some 200 doors in over 30 buildings around the university campus, replacing legacy systems in some buildings.”
He continued, “The library has had entry turnstiles since 1996 when it started opening 24 hours a day. There is a security officer in the entrance all the time, but in addition all visitors were required to enter using their card, mainly to deter thefts of personal belongings which students do tend to leave lying around. We were using magnetic stripe cards and swipe readers, which caused considerable congestion at the turnstiles so we introduced Mifare proximity cards mainly for the ease of use rather than enhanced security.”
As the system is extended to more doors around campus using the single ‘library’ card. This card is used for self-service library borrowing, authentication onto multifunction printers which are currently being rolled out across campus under a new managed print service contract with Canon. The catering department is also considering the introduction of cashless payments and loyalty right. The card also serves as the student ID card for sitting exams, proof of membership of the Students' Union, and membership of the Sports Training Village.
As Lockton explained, “There is more of a perceived need for tightened security, but cooperation between departments is not always easy in a University. However, as a result of taking the lead on proximity cards and access control we have built up good relationships with the Security, IT, Accommodation & Hospitality, and Estates departments, and the Students' Union.”
Further integration is possible through Knighthood’s BearBox system. Already proved in the self-storage market across the UK and Europe, it ensures different functions can be easily integrated onto one platform. In fact BearBox is a very cost-effective for the education market offering browser-based, real time management of security and fire functions.
It is easy to install and the great advantage for customers is the fact that the it is software-free. Users can simply browse the information via the web where there is one central depository for all their management tools.
At the most basic level, key pad systems are no more than a lock and key mechanism with the advantage of being able to change the key (PIN) at any time. Card-based systems are more secure and can offer the ability of invalidating the pre-programmed card if it is lost. Both systems can also be combined into a card & PIN system for high security situations or times of day. Proximity systems have the advantage of hands-free access and this ease makes them useful for high volumes and for restricting some areas such as laboratories. While at the high end is the biometric system, probably the most secure but also an expensive option.
Audit trail
Some access systems can fulfil additional needs such as Time & Attendance recording for payroll purposes, to provide a roll call for emergency situations or provide an audit trail of movements for investigation purposes. The system can also be tailored to other purposes such as acting as a payment facility for the canteen, vending machines, library or photocopying services. The system is networked throughout the site to allow administration from anywhere.
Larger organisations need to integrate monitoring and control systems across a site or multi site, but few think of using the access control system as the basis for this. It is a distributed system that gathers data on a variety of access control points but could be linked to BMS and fire monitoring systems, CCTV, alarm outputs. BearBox uniquely provides a hosting
system for monitoring the outputs from facilities via the access control system and it can be accessed from a PC or smart phone to see the system status at any time across the internet. When alarms are triggered, an email is sent to the responsble person.
BearBox will manage intruder and fire alarms, CCTV, door/gate entry and access systems, Time & Attendence, locker management, parking, library systems, class change, voice messaging and incident alerts. It can also interface with cashless vending to allow the use of a single credential.
Once the infrastructure for access control is implemented, other options become available which allow monitoring of sensors linked to the fire extinguishers to alert to vandalism. Another example is the use of sensors to warn if refrigerators fail or water sensors in toilet areas which might be prone to vandalism or flooding, and field lighting to ensure they are turned off after use thus reducing power costs. These alarms can result in the transmission of emails or SMS text messages to staff and caretakers.
Electronic access control systems are increasingly being used to achieve this and some are beginning to see the sophistication of a good system that can act as an integrated platform for numerous other functions so making valuable savings elsewhere.
Hugh Murray is Director of The Knighthood Group


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