Keeping the Bad Guys at Bay

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln adopted the latest inaccess control technology to protect its Biological Process DevelopmentFacility. See how this campus keeps unauthorized personnel from thevaccines and therapeutic countermeasures the school develops to combatbiological warfare agents.

Published: February 28, 2007

Officials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL)Biological Process Development Facility (BPDF) take their buildingsecurity very seriously. Indeed, they should, considering some of thestrains of botulism they work on at the school’s Othmer Hallhave been successfully weaponized by rogue states, such as Iraq in1990. Because the campus researches and develops vaccines andbiotherapeutics to counter these types of biological agents for theU.S. Department of the Interior, Pentagon and the biotech industry, itis imperative their materials and research don’t get into thewrong hands.

The high value of the BPDF’s equipment and data isanother reason why security is a top priority. More than $4 millionworth of equipment and priceless proprietary client documentation arehoused in the facility. The BPDF also maintains cell lines from pastand current clients with an estimated value of $20 million.

Leaving nothing to chance, UNL recently installed astate-of-the-art security management system to protect theBPDF’s research findings, lab experiments andmaterials.

FacilityOfficials Wanted Advanced Technology

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Enter Mike Meagher, Ph.D., who is a Donald and Mildred Othmer
Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at UNL, as well as the
founder and director of the BPDF. When he began searching for an
improved method of protection for the building, it came to his
attention that a Torrance, Calif.-based AMAG Technology access system
had been successfully deployed to secure a parking structure on the UNL
campus. It was recommended that Meagher look into a similar system for
the BPDF.

As a result, he chose AMAG’s Symmetry Homelandsecurity management system (SMS), which is an enhanced version of thestandard Symmetry SMS, designed for government agencies using smartcards. Meagher also chose AMAG because of the company’sextensive government experience – AMAG products protectseveral government agencies, including the Pentagon. With referenceslike these, Meagher knew he could trust the Symmetry Homeland SMS toprotect his facility’s assets, documentation andstaff.

Additionally, a highly advanced security system would help theschool compete with other institutions for government grants andfederal monies, says Senior Security Consultant Matt McCoy of Omaha,Neb.-based Security Equipment Inc. (SEI), the firm responsible for theinstallation of the new system. “It was their desire to havea secure facility using the most modern and encrypted technologyavailable. The Symmetry Homeland SMS [formerly SEIWG] was especiallyattractive to them because of the funding they receive from theDepartment of Defense and other government entities. The fact that AMAGcould comply with that specification was key.”

Access System IsScalable to Meet UNL Requirements

The new access control software allows Meagher’s staff to
establish control and monitor access of any door on any floor of Othmer
Hall. As more labs are added, the system easily expands.

“I needed a computer-based system that can grow withme,” said Meagher. “Because of the nature of thework we do, security has to be under my control.” Smart cardswere also chosen because the BPDF wanted to be ahead of the competitionin terms of technology.

Approximately 55 people have access to the BPDF, includinggraduate students and employees. Meagher has entrusted his QualityAssurance Staff with the responsibility of controlling their access andissuing their cards. His own IT department oversees the administrationof the security management system, monitors cameras and maintains anup-to-date database.

Cardholders are charged a fee to issue replacement accesscredentials so they are less likely to lose their smart cards. If acard is lost, it can easily be deactivated. This benefit, along withthe system’s ease of use, provides Meagher the flexibility herequires.

Another example of flexibility is how the system managescontractors. For instance, a contractor can be allowed access to thelab to perform work. After the contractor’s preassigned timehas expired, his or her access is automatically terminated by the SMS.This function provides peace of mind and a simple way to controlfacility entrances.

Security CamerasMonitor Activity, Staff Access

CCTV technology also helps Meagher and his employees manage access.
Small Silent Witness cameras are located at the three main floor
entrances monitoring all activities. A camera also monitors a
second-floor room used for crucial storage. An additional lab on the
first floor is also monitored via CCTV.

The cameras record all entrances and exits so the BPDF ITstaff knows who is coming and going at all times. Images aretransferred via an Integral digital video recorder to the server. If aproblem occurs, it’s easy to investigate and determine whowas in the labs and when they were there.

BiometricDevices Eliminate Need for PIN Codes

All entrances to the third-floor labs, main elevator and
freight elevator use a biometric fingerprint reader. Meagher chose the
biometric reader technology because he was concerned about personal
identification number (PIN) information getting into the wrong hands.
“I didn’t want to worry about a card getting stolen
and the person getting a PIN number,” says Meagher.

A good security practice is to periodically change allcardholder PINs, however, Meagher did not have time to administer thechanges. Doing away with PINs eliminated worry and the possibility forhuman error. “Having the biometric scanner makes it so mucheasier,” he says. “No one loses afingerprint.”

Once inside the BDPF, students can enter labs to perform theirwork based on the access rights programmed into their smartcards.

The all-important IT department is located in a room withinthe third floor lab. The security system and server sit within thatroom, and an additional smart card reader is stationed at the door tocontrol access.

Campus’Clients Impressed With Facility’s Security

According to Meagher, the security system works well and has a great
ability to track activity. It is difficult, however, for him to measure
in dollars what the return on investment (ROI) is for the Symmetry
system. A “sense of security and well-being” is the
best way to measure the ROI.

“My clients are impressed with the system… it provides a comfort to know their ongoing work ishappening in a secure, restricted area,” saysMeagher.

The BPDF is expected to expand its security management systemon the first floor and the entire lower level in the next fewyears.

Kim Rahfaldt is the publicrelations manager for Torrance, Calif.-based AMAG Technology. She canbe contacted at more information on AMAG, please visit

For the unabridged version of this article, please refer to the March/April 2007 issue of Campus Safety Magazine. To subscribe, go to

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