Intruders Get the Message: Don’t Mess with Texas A&M

An integrated electronic card access system installed at the Laredo campus of Texas A&M Int’l University has increased security and streamlined school operations.

When officials at Texas A&M Int’l University, Laredo decided to provide on-campus student housing a few years ago, administrators knew the school would need to adopt a cost-effective yet secure method of controlling entry to its facilities.

The college chose a magnetic stripe card system from Compass Technologies of Exton, Pa., and NuVision of Napa, Calif., that manages access and provides identification for students, faculty, administration and service personnel alike. Called the TAMIU OneCard system by the school, it manages entry privileges to student housing and other campus locations while integrating library, debit, financial aid and event admission transactions.

Access Solution Must Integrate With Other Software

Being a relatively new school with formerly no on-site dormitories, Texas A&M previously didn’t have integrated online access control. With the impending opening of student resident halls, however, administrators needed to install a solution that would track who was entering the buildings and limit individual access to housing doors based on time, door location and campus holidays. The university also wanted campus police to have the ability to monitor alarms when doors are forced open.

In addition to access management, the school was implementing a new campus identification card system provided by NuVision. It was very important to Texas A&M administrators that the access solution they selected integrate with NuVision’s product as well as the school’s Student Information System (SIS) from Banner Systems. Officials did not want to redundantly enter student data at different computers for different programs.

With this integration in mind, the Model 5E access control system from Compass Technologies was the logical choice for the access portion of the installation. It had a direct interface with NuVision’s product, which would allow cardholder record information to be globally entered, modified or deleted at one location for all three of the campus’ systems. This would greatly improve efficiency and reduce system administrator data entry errors.

Cards Keep Key Replacement Hassles in Check

The elimination of keys, at least for portions of Texas A&M’s on-campus housing, was another aspect of the Compass product that was very attractive to those involved in the decision-making process, including staff from food services, student housing, student activities, the library, facilities, executive council and the finance department.

Albert Chavez, Texas A&M’s ID system administrator says, “I think the easiest selling point was that there was going to be less work involved. Instead of having to generate keys, we would just have to issue the students cards and give them access to specific buildings.”

According to Ed Sims, systems sales manager for Compass Technologies, “A lost key would mean the university would either have to rekey the existing on-site campus buildings at great expense or take the risk that unknown personnel might have access to student housing.” Another problem with a traditional key-only system was that it would not provide an audit trail.

Access System Controls Perimeter Doors of Resident Halls

The access system was installed in 2004 and is now running in seven residential buildings. Usually two or three exterior doors are controlled by card access, while the doors to individual rooms are opened and locked by keys. The deployment at a limited number of doors was done to keep costs under control. “It was more cost effective to have a reader panel configuration of two or four doors than to purchase an eight- or 16-reader panel configuration and have the extra reader ports unused,” says Sims.

Now when a student enrolls or a new faculty or staff member is hired, his or her data is entered into the SIS from Banner and is seamlessly transferred to the NuVision One-Card software. Cardholder record data includes the person’s name, classification (student, faculty, staff, etc.) and access levels. Once the data is transferred to the NuVision software, it is then transmitted to the Compass access control software.

What cardholders see are seamless transactions. Once enrolled or hired, they are issued their fully functional identification cards, which means their access privileges are active, as are their debit and library services. Cardholders who want to check their transactions can do so via the Web.

Cardholder Data Updated Instantaneously, Globally

If a card is lost or stolen or when disciplinary or security action is required, administrators can add or remove cardholder permission easily, and the changes in status will go into effect immediately system-wide. Additionally, privileges can be assigned a start and end date, and access schedules can be set according to need. For example, residents may use their cards at any time, while maintenance employees are given preset hours when they can work in the dormitories.

System administrators can run reports showing transaction histories. The Compass system even provides a cardholder activity screen that displays in real-time. Additionally, campus police can view the quad screen alarm monitoring display, which shows alarm priority, alarm time and date, custom operator instructions and responses, as well as a graphic map.

System Can Include Surveillance, Intercoms, HVAC

Because the access system has worked so well, Texas A&M officials plan on expanding its implementation to additional student residences, as well as the school’s computer labs, administrative offices, classrooms and parking facilities. Currently, 50 readers are installed, but the system’s software and hardware are both scalable. The Compass solution can expand to more than 500 readers with 30 workstations per server.

Although the university currently uses magnetic stripe cards to keep costs minimized, additional functionality can be achieved by switching to proximity or smart cards. Digital video recording (DVR) integration is also available. Although this functionality is currently not being used, the school is considering implementing it in the future. “DVR integration will enable Texas A&M to view a video clip associated with a specific alarm and view cameras in real-time from the same monitoring screen as the access control system,” adds Sims. Compass’ product can also integrate intercoms and HVAC systems, when or if it is required.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine and can be reached at [email protected].

For the complete version of this article, please refer to the July/August 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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