Many institutions have been haunted by the memories of disastrous shootings and tragedies where, among other things, access control went wrong: Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

So now, in certain organizations, including schools, hospitals and corrections facilities, choosing a strong locking system is both entirely compulsory and infinitely complicated.

For example, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (or CHOP, as it is fondly known) is the second oldest pediatric hospital in the world and ranks among the top three in nine out of 10 categories in U.S. News’s Best Children’s Hospitals 2011-12.

CHOP has 28,400 hospital admissions and 85,000 emergency room visits each year, in its 48 buildings that employ around 12,000 employees.

“We prefer to use electric strikes,” Matthew Novacich, Assistant Director, Security, Parking and Transportation at CHOP says. “We find them to be the most reliable and least prone to failure. "

But hospitals can be a compliance minefield, and between international building codes and the National Fire Protection Agency, security directors have to be very careful of where they put any sort of locking mechanisms, delayed egresses and variance.

“The locks we choose depend on the application,” says Matthew Novacich, Assistant Director, Security, Parking and Transportation at CHOP. “We have some high risk areas that require different levels of protection – certain lab areas have to obey nuclear regulatory commission requirements, the pharmacy, certain HR areas like payroll, the cashiers’ offices.”

Novacich has been with the hospital for 10 years and is frequently the point-person for security design when CHOP expands.

“We get in early with a facilities group and the architects whenever they’re remodeling a space to understand the clients’ needs, who will occupy the space, and appropriately programming the types of locking mechanisms that are going to be used in that space, whether it’s electronic or mechanical locking,” he says. “We make sure we’re meeting code with positive latching. It’s better than having to go back and retrofit, trying to make people happy after the fact.”

The security strategy at CHOP is to use construction patterns of concentric circles and layered security, as well as “100 percent access control.”

“We had to make sure that non-public access points to a unit are secured,” Novacich says. “So that’s where we’re using technology, card readers and locking mechanisms to get into the backs of units or stair towers off of those units. We also use delayed egress leaving the unit into a stair tower.”

Another organization using strong, layered access control measures is the Shawnee County Department of Corrections in Topeka, Kansas. If any door needs to stay shut when it’s supposed to, it’s a detention cell door.

Captain Tim Phelps of the Shawnee County DOC installed a new access control system in 2005, through Siemens and Illinois company Creative Technologies, Inc.

Each door in the facility, which houses a transitional daily population of around 500, has a touchscreen opening mechanism. At the touch of a button, the person seeking entry is immediately targeted by two or three of the facility’s 459 cameras, and an audio chat is opened with a dispatcher. Once the person’s identity is verified, he or she is allowed to pass through the door.

But the real system test comes with an emergency.

There are two layers of access control within the department – there are the individual screens inside each module of the facility, and there is another in the control center. As long as a module still has power, it is in control of its own access system. But once power is transferred, the Control Center has to take over.

“That’s the stressful point in an emergency,” Phelps says. “We’re talking about a five-story building with literally thousands of doors. When you have an emergency in one part of it, and you have people responding from probably 20 different directions, 20 points of origin, you have to get them to that emergency as quickly as possible.

“There are two operators in Control, and they have to work together like a symphony,” he said. “They’ve memorized the maps of the facility, and together they know what buttons to push to open the sequence of doors for each person to arrive at their destination.”

For the Stafford County School District, lockdown improvements were the deciding factor on whether or not to implement a 30-school access control overhaul.

Since 2008, the district has been working with Stanley Security Solutions to provide a four-step access control program.

“We wanted to standardize our lock systems throughout the district,” says Scott Horan, Assistant Superintendant of Facilities for Stafford County Schools. “We also wanted to implement keyless entry and a standardized template for key control and utilization by establishing a key hierarchy throughout the different school levels (High, Middle and Elementary). But no one reason, by itself, was enough to justify the cost, until we had our third-party security evaluation.”

Through a Federal grant, a threat evaluation team investigated the schools and gave the district a firm recommendation for stronger, faster lockdown procedures. That clinched the decision, and the funding, for the multi-year, multi-level project.

“The existing lock system required each teacher to carry a classroom key, open the classroom door and lock it by stepping outside of the room into the hall,” Horan says. “This system was originally preferred so classroom doors would not be locked from the inside by students locking their teachers out of the room. But after the past 10, 15 years, that inconvenience has been overridden by the need to lock classrooms faster without endangering teachers in the hall.”

After a verbal signal over the intercom, teachers go to work locking doors, slapping the blinds shut and sheltering students in secure areas of the classroom.

The doors now have a push-button lock from the inside, and schools have upgraded panic hardware, and stronger door closers and door hardware. They also were able to fulfill those other three goals on their wish list, with a district-wide template for key management, keyless entry and standardized locks.

Hospitals, too, have their fair share of lockdown situations. From security plans for infant abduction to pharmacy theft and active shooter protocol, those layers of access control have to work under the most stressful situations.            

With three police departments within a square mile and no fewer than 16 guards on duty at any time, help is never too far away at CHOP, but Novacich won’t take any chances.

“We prefer to use electric strikes,” he says. “We find them to be the most reliable and least prone to failure. We’ve matched our hardware with the storeroom function, so the locks can’t be overridden easily, even if someone has a master key.”

“New services and changes can be a nuisance no matter what,” Horan says, “But it puts students, teachers and the district in a less vulnerable position, and that’s a worthy cause.”


Read more about security improvements and costs at Virginia Tech University at


Standalone Locks – ‘Around the Door’ vs. ‘On the Door’

Drew Alexander

By Drew Alexander, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, Product Manager, Schlage Electronics

Today’s world increasingly requires physical access control. Facilities requiring an access control system are concerned about security and cost. The most cost-effective system is a hybrid of standalone (offline) and networked (online) applications. Not every opening or access point in a facility needs to be integrated with an online system, nor does it require state-of-the-art equipment to offer appropriate security. Standalone options allow you to easily install access control as well as interface with many other peripheral systems on an opening.

There are two types of standalone or offline access control openings: “around the door” solutions and “on the door” solutions. When thinking about the system design, there are five things to keep in mind: the locking hardware, power requirements, monitoring needs, the switch or reader and the wire.

The first place to begin addressing access control needs is the facility’s perimeter openings. Typically the perimeter doors of a building have requirements for exit devices since they are a means of egress. This type of opening can be electrified with an electric latch retraction device, an electric strike or magnetic lock, a card reader and a standalone controller. This is an extremely robust and cost-effective common ”around the door” application if the opening does not need to be monitored in real time.

Using this application, we have just addressed all five areas in this common application with an offline “around the door” solution. These same controllers are able to interface with alarm systems and automatic operators, and are upgradeable in the future to an online system without changing any of the hardware “around the door.” Existing credential (PIN codes, magnetic stripe cards, proximity cards and smart cards) can easily interface with this type of system.

In an “on the door” solution, the reader, power and intelligence are all integrated inside one single device. The “on the door” solution is increasingly popular because it brings access control to more openings in a facility without all the costly and intrusive installation and cabling. These locks provide a range of options and can be manually or computer programmable.

Either type of standalone offline solution provides a cost-effective way to upgrade from traditional mechanical locking devices. Both provide more convenient security than traditional mechanical locking devices. You will get:

•  Audit trail reports to tell you who went where and when;

•  Readers that handle your credential of choice;

•  Options to update users and access rights at the lock using the keypad, authorized credentials or a handheld programming device;

•  Ability to program automatic lock and unlock times, as well as holiday schedules;

•  Options to easily add and delete users, track usage, and manage data without installing a facility-wide network.

This gives you more control, allowing you to manage your system more efficiently than with a traditional mechanical system.


What’s Next?

Whenever an organization implements a security system of any type, security managers ask, “What’s next?” The last thing you want is to be replacing these locks in a few years.

Look for solutions that can easily expand the system as needed or when the budget allows. Modular offline electronic locks are simple to upgrade with new credentials or bring online at a later date. In many cases, multi-technology readers will make migrating to different credential technologies in the future a more cost-effective, smoother process.


Key Management Delivers Practical Access Control to Impractical Areas

Fernando Pires

By Fernando Pires, VP Sales and Marketing, Morse Watchmans

Digital and networked technology has opened the door for widespread implementation of integrated access control systems. Whether it uses prox cards or smartphones, access control systems are efficient and scalable solutions that enhance the safety and security of any environment. There are applications, however, such as a construction site or a historic building, where the installation of a conventional card-based system is cost-prohibitive or simply not feasible. In these instances, mechanical locks and keys are the go-to solution, supported by an automated key control and management system.

Looking at a construction site, theft of building materials, equipment, tools or even private files can knock construction schedules off track and cause significant dollar losses. To help guard against these offences and other liability issues, keys for storage sheds, tool boxes, file cabinets, heavy construction equipment or other job site materials can be secured in automated key control system cabinets. The capability to integrate a key control and management system with an additional IP security solution such as video surveillance would add even more value to the key management system and allows best-of-breed solutions to be implemented without costly upgrades or overhauls.

Automated key control systems are designed to control, manage and track keys and only release them to authorized users. Each individual key is secured to a locking mechanism that features a built-in memory chip. Data from the chip is captured and stored when a key is inserted into or removed from a key slot. From this data, site management has a complete history of who used which key and when.

Activity reports of key usage such as movements by time, date and user code can be analyzed for improved control of equipment/materials access and overall security issues pertaining to the construction site. The reporting capabilities can also act as a kind of employee or vendor time sheet, verifying hours that an individual was on the job. 

Keys can be managed according to requirements (i.e. time/day available, personnel, etc.) and systems can be designed to the exact needs of the construction site with expansion or reconfiguration as needed.

From basic single cabinet key control systems to networked, custom designed solutions, key control and asset management is a cost-effective method of implementing access control when conventional access control is not practical.