Iowa Western Locks Down Campus Security Upgrade

With the help of a local integrator, Iowa Western Community College was able to bring together its access control, video surveillance and emergency notification solutions.
Published: April 20, 2020

Four years ago, Iowa Western Community College located in Council Bluffs, Iowa, had several security pain points that it needed to address. The college — which has four satellite locations and enrolls 6,000 students, with 1,200 of them living in on-campus housing — was vulnerable to people accessing buildings and rooms without permission. Additionally, there was aging hardware, and the condition of some exterior doors and campus lighting needed to be addressed.

“Iowa Western had been using an offline access control software system which required campus staff to visit each door to make any changes,” says Doug Talbott, electronics specialist at Allegion, the company that conducted the college’s security technology assessment. “It was important to establish a security environment which could be automated and controlled from multiple locations and medias.”

Another concern was key management. Due to the turnover in student housing each year, students and staff sometimes neglected to turn in their keys.

“Loss of control of the key system was a struggle we weren’t going to win,” says Brian Sutter, director of facilities at Iowa Western Community College. “At one point, there were more than 100 keys that were unaccounted for.”

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Iowa Western also wanted to add security camera coverage and tie together existing standalone notification systems, as well as automate them for quicker response times and notification of staff and students.

Omaha, Neb.-based Commonwealth Communications, a division of Commonwealth Electric Company of the Midwest, had previous experience working with the college supporting its existing security camera system. After bidding on Iowa Western’s RFP, the integrator was chosen to make the much-needed upgrades to its access control, video surveillance and emergency notification systems. With the help of a $14 million bond, Iowa Western and Commonwealth Communications set about making the improvements.

Balancing Installation and Academia

One of the most difficult challenges when it comes to doing any type of work on a school campus is finding a time to actually do the work that won’t interrupt students and classes. Commonwealth Communications began cabling and infrastructure in the Spring of 2018.

“We were able to work in public spaces during the class sessions but had to coordinate getting to doors within the classrooms after hours and during breaks,” says Scott Lamoreux, project manager, Commonwealth Communications. “We basically tried to do everything we could in class spaces, as well as get the infrastructure installed in the dorms during summer break of 2018. We ran a crew of about 12 guys during the summers but were able to cut back to four or five during the semesters.”

Because the school wasn’t accustomed to having construction take place in occupied areas, Commonwealth Communications brought in its corporate safety department to develop a site safety plan, as well as a site orientation for all of the subcontractors.

“Though we do work in a lot of schools, we are usually the subcontractor and it is usually during school breaks, so this was a fairly new process for us as the prime con-tractor as well,” adds Lamoreux.

Next, the integrator sent general foreman and electricians through all of the buildings to provide exploratory information.

“This allowed us to account for any potential safety hazards and provide the most efficient routes for our conduit and pathways,” explains Lamoreau. “By the time we thoroughly reviewed this information with the end user and architects, it was just about time for school to let out for the summer. We spent the final weeks of the school year staging material and scheduling areas we knew we had to have done before the fall semester.”

Although completion of the entire project is not scheduled until August 2020, Commonwealth Communications needed to have the main campus, which was 90% of the project, substantially completed by August 2019. Clinton Stoffer, Security Manager, Commonwealth Communications says they were able to do this by preprogramming everything, pretesting and then staging the installation.

“We had a very small window to install a very large quantity of wireless locksets, as the majority of them were located in student living spaces,” he says. “We basically had spring break of 2019 to install a couple of dozen to try to work out any bugs, then only an eight-week window to install roughly 1,200 more. Our concern wasn’t getting them installed, it was getting them online and tested thoroughly since we would not have access to them once the students moved back in.”

Not only was it necessary to work around the students, but the integrator also had to form a relationship with the school faculty and staff.

“We spent a substantial amount of time building a master schedule with the facilities coordinators based on class schedules and other projects the school had scheduled, then met weekly with the general contractor to ensure all subcontractors had the material and manpower ready,” says Lamoreux. “We also had follow-up meetings with the end user to ensure the areas were ready for us to occupy prior to mobilizing in each area.”

Lamoreux adds they had to work with campus security to secure worksites and IT to make sure integrations ran smoothly.

“We had to coordinate areas of work with facilities and campus security every week, as well as work with campus security to ensure every area was locked up at the end of every day,” he says. “We worked with IT for all of the programmable devices, the setup of the VM instances, the integration into their notification systems and coordination with their network refresh.”

Campus Can Lockdown with Push of a Button

Sutter wanted to ensure the campus would be able to be locked down by the push of a single button. Commonwealth Communications helped accomplish this with a number of unique integrations.

“We integrated the typical access, video and intercom, but were also able to integrate their Polycom, Four Winds, WENS and Alertus systems for campus lockdown and evacuation operations,” says Stoffer. “There was also quite a diverse combination of locking hardware, as there seemed to be a little bit of everything from panic hardware, to strikes, mag locks and a substantial number of wireless locksets.”

Allegion provided Iowa Western with samples of Schlage’s wireless electronic locks to use in the football and wrestling complex. As part of Allegion’s Try-Me program, the college was able to interact with the Schlage AD-400, NDE cylindrical and LE mortise wireless locks before implementing the solution across campus.

Iowa Western regained control over its key systems after Allegion set up three new master key systems using Schlage’s Everest 29 restricted keying solutions. This unified the main campus with the satellite locations, which were on separate key systems.

In addition, the school moved to electronic credentials to reduce the risk and nuances associated with lost and stolen keys.

“The college wanted to upgrade control and security in the residence halls on the Council Bluffs campus,” says John Torchia, end user consultant at Allegion. “Instead of mechanical keys, students are using credentials. As of the last month or so, every single suite and interior room doors have NDE or LE wireless electronic locks.”

Additional access control solutions included Von Duprin 99 Series exit devices, LCN 4040 XP Series closers, Ives hinges, Von Duprin concealed vertical cables, Glynn-Johnson accessories, hardwired readers and a combination of Schlage AD-400, NDE and LE wireless locks.

Integrator Upgrades Iowa Western’s Surveillance Capabilities

Because Commonwealth Communications supported the campus’ surveillance system prior to this project, it was familiar with the devices onboard. Already accustomed to multimegapixel technology, Iowa Westen was introduced to multisensor technology by the integrator and ended up adding more than 300 cameras in addition to license plate recognition. These additions have helped the college enable greater operational efficiencies.

Omaha, Neb.-based Commonwealth Communications, a division of Commonwealth Electric Company of the Mid-west, served as the project’s integrator. The parent firm also has locations in Iowa and Arizona.

“The usual, scheduling, video verification and intercom functionalities have helped their security force to focus more on the safety and security aspect of their jobs instead of running around campus unlocking doors,” says Stoffer. “The video has assisted with parking enforcement and keeping the campus tobacco free as well. I am sure they will continue to find efficiency as they are just beginning to really utilize the systems.”

It can be difficult for a project to go smoothly without product vendors’ support. Fortunately, Stoffer says that its manufacturers were very supportive and available as needed.

“Allegion attended and contributed to many planning and scheduling meetings and provided most of the keying information since the campus did their own core pinning,” he says. “LenelS2 wrote a custom hotfix for an issue we encountered due to the end users’ environment — it was written in less than 72 hours.”

Although the project still has a handful of months to go until it is 100% complete, it is well on its way to fulfilling Iowa Western’s needs.

“Our main focus through this whole process has been life safety. Life safety of any Iowa Western stakeholder,” says Sutter. “Student life is obviously a large part of that and creating a system where we’re able to give students a more secure environment was at the top of our list. The physical security will be improved greatly, but the bigger part is we’re going to have peace of mind knowing we will be able to handle a bad situation in an organized manner.”

Steve Karantzoulidis is CS sister publication Security Sales & Integration’s senior editor. This article has been edited.

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