Electronic Access Control Basics for School Districts
Controlling access to school sites and protecting students and staff are one of the most important elements of any access control system within a school district security plan. The thought of an individual wishing to do harm on school grounds bring about feelings of fear and helplessness. It is that very fear that drives school safety officials to implement access control plans that minimize a criminal’s ability to cause harm on a school campus.
The most overlooked forms of access control are natural barriers that direct and control where a person must move to make entry into a school. Fences constructed around the perimeter of the school prevent unwanted access during all hours of the day and direct individuals desiring entry to a designated point such as the front office. Gates can be locked and unlocked based on the need to control flow of people at various times throughout the school day. Finally, the physical layout of furniture, cabinets and internal partitions can all contribute to controlling movement within the administrative area or front office.
Electronic access control systems are becoming the standard for school districts to control who and when parents, employees and visitors can have access to a school site. An electronic access control system is a series of devices used to control access to a particular location by checking an individual’s credentials against a database within the system. If the individual has been vetted, and should be allowed access, the system will unlock the point of entry, grant access and make a log of the transaction.
The systems being put into operation today are very similar to the concept of having a guard at the door that checks your identification, allows you to enter and then records your entry on a paper log. These newer systems are simply faster, can process many more people and create an easily searchable database of records. More importantly, individuals who are no longer approved for entry can be denied access to all entry points of a facility much more efficiently.
Electronic access control systems can be utilized for almost any point of entry that requires oversight. Electronic padlocks can be used to secure gates on a school site that can be rapidly unlocked by staff during an evacuation by simply using an access control credential. Electronic locks can be used on lockers and cabinets that secure important or confidential information such as testing materials or health records. Access to Chromebook or iPad carts can be limited to staff that have permission to use the devices.
There are several different types of credentials that can be used in an electronic access control system. There are codes that can be manually punched in to a keypad or some type of access control card or key fob an individual can carry. Some systems are now using fingerprints or retinal scans to verify an individual’s identity and permission to access an area. Another popular credentialing method is the use of dual credentials, requiring two positive forms of identification to be granted access. For example, you would need to have an access card and a key code to be allowed entry. This level of security is typically only used for highly secured areas and not common in schools.
One of the greatest benefits of this type of electronic credentialing versus a traditional key and lock is in the event of a credential being lost or stolen. The missing credential can simply be deactivated and a new one issued. There is never a need to re-key locks and reissue keys to large numbers of employees when a key is missing. This benefit is one of the many reasons that electronic access control is superior to a traditional key and lock system.
Also, the electronic access control system keeps detailed logs of when areas of a building are accessed and by whom. This information can be used to control other areas of a school site’s operations. For example, lights can be turned on and off based on times of the day when areas are occupied. Heating and air-conditioning systems can be more efficiently controlled based on when and where people are utilizing a building.
In addition to logging information, electronic access control systems can integrate with other electronic systems used by schools to become more effective. Security cameras and alarm systems can all be tied together so when a credential is presented at a control point, the alarm can be deactivated, and a camera can be activated to record the entry. More importantly, if an entry point is being tampered with or invalid credentials are presented, an alarm can be sounded and cameras activated in order to record a potential security breach.
In the climate of present day, school districts and other enterprises must continually seek new and innovative ways to secure school sites. Electronic access control systems offer far superior protection to traditional key and lock systems and have long term cost savings by reducing the amount of re-keying locks and reissuing keys to employees due to lost or stolen keys. Systems can be integrated with other security measures in place such as intrusion alarms and camera systems to achieve maximum performance from all technology used for security. The safety of students and staff members is the main concern of everyone tasked with security, and we should never stop looking for new ways to keep our sites safe and secure.