Upgrading Access Control on a Budget

The University of the District of Columbia adopts an offline access control system that allows it to leverage its previous technology investments.

The Van Ness campus of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) has grown substantially over the years. As the campus grew, a number of different offline locking systems were installed in various departments on campus without any centralized coordination.

“Lock and key is always confusing because who knows what keys go to what systems and who has a key?” says UDC Chief of Police Larry Volz.

While the use of various locking systems temporarily solved the key control issue, they offered no audit capabilities. Some of these systems had already exhausted the possibility of reprogramming new pin codes. Unauthorized personnel were entering secure areas, and in some cases, system administrators left the university without training another administrator on the basic functions of adding and deleting users.

Aware of these challenges, Lt. Ronald Culmer III, who is UDC’s commander of technology services, became fully involved in finding the right solution to integrate its wired system with a wireless networked solution to replace these devices. The solution had to be affordable and leverage the existing infrastructure.

Additionally, UDC President Dr. Allen Sessoms, who is a big proponent of campus security, fully supported the project. He not only understands the importance of public safety, he believes in using it as a marketing tool for the university.

Integrator Helps Find Solution
Volz and Culmer discussed the situation with Dave Sweeney, the sales director of Advantech, who provides sales and service for the university’s integrated security systems. The three men discussed how the university’s ID badge, an HID iClass RFID smart card, could be part of the solution. Additionally, whatever locks were chosen needed to work with UDC’s preexisting Honeywell access control system that was integrated with its video surveillance system.

Sweeney recommended Salto Systems, an access control solution that would take full advantage of the read/write capabilities of the campus ID smart card.

The hybrid upgrade provides offline card readers with the functionality of networked readers.

Sweeney explained how the networked “hotspots” that would be installed in every building on campus would be the link between the cardholders, the locks and the system server. Once cards are issued, changes could be made at remote hotspots on campus instead of at a centralized card office.

Also, users could enter doors with their ID badge whether the locks are the networked Honeywell readers or offline Salto locks.

Another plus was the fact that the Salto products would provide the required access control within the financial constraints of the university.

“To put a hardwired access system in is about $3,000 [per door],” says Volz. “To put this system in is about a third of the cost.”

The Salto Virtual Network (SVN) solution is well suited for applications where real-time control is not required. SVN provides for restricted area controls and audit activity. Offline SVN locks can be programmed for scheduled openings and relocking.

Now Everyone Wants New Locks
Because of its minimal cost and ease of use, several departments within UDC have adopted the new technology, and there is continued demand for the upgrade. The school of law was the first department to implement the Salto System. Officials there needed a way to secure various legal clinics. The mathematics and the English departments soon became clients. More than 175 doors have been secured with the Salto System so far.

“It’s unreal how many orders we got afterward,” says Culmer. “In fact, I have a storage room with 65 locks waiting to be installed.”

While the university is primarily a commuter campus, the implementation of a 600-bed dormitory will affect the after-hour access privileges for many students and staff down the road. The long-range plan is to grow the student body to 45,000.

Advice: Do Your Homework

So what are some of the best practices campuses should incorporate when they are considering an access control upgrade (or any upgrade, for that matter)?

“Don’t just look at the literature,” advises Culmer. “You need to see it demonstrated to see if it fits your needs. Also, talk to other places that have installed it. Don’t just talk to the manufacturer.”

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