Exploring Your Access Control Options

In the real world, most campus access control installations are subject to some form of limitation – whether it is budget, time, logistics, personnel or politics. But if resources were no object, or at least less of a barrier, what would you install?

Welcome to Campus Safety University (CSU). This is a fictional campus created to demonstrate how various access control technologies can be deployed in some of the more common, yet often challenging, locations at hospitals and universities.

The safety and security of college dorms, for example, with their key management and resident turnover issues might be greatly improved with the latest access control technologies now available. With these solutions in place, no longer would campus facility personnel be required to rekey doors every year.

Healthcare centers, too, with their high-risk locations — like emergency rooms, narcotics storage areas and neonatal units — would benefit from full-fledged, centrally administered access control systems. And of course parking garages are prime locations for vehicle thefts and break-ins, as well as assaults. Limiting entry to authorized vehicles and persons can greatly reduce a facility’s exposure to this type of risk, as well as increase the revenue generated from parking fees.

Campus Safety magazine has asked three experts from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Fargo Electronics and HID Global of Irvine, Calif., to comment on the access and identification technologies most appropriate for hospitals and universities. These experts include Chris Sincock, vice president of sales and marketing of HID Identity; Steve Blake, vice president of Fargo; and Sharon Steinhoff-Smith, Fargo’s director of public relations.

Here are some real-world solutions that can help your campus maintain an open, inviting environment while keeping unauthorized individuals away from vulnerable locations.


“Currently, dormitories using access control systems use either an online system, where the door readers are connected in real time to an access control system and events are monitored and recorded as they happen; or offline systems, where cardholders and their access privileges are programmed into a single door controller and/or lock combination device located physically at the door,” says Sincock. “The third common type of deployment is a hybrid system that uses both types of systems and devices.”

“If a campus applies electronic access control all the way down to the dorm room level, a university can benefit in many ways,” he adds. “Not only will it have enhanced security, but the maintenance costs of keeping those rooms secured will be minimized.” Eliminating the need to recore doors when keys are lost is just one example of how card access can reduce maintenance expenses.

“There are still many dorms that don’t have automatic access control, but that is rapidly changing,” says Blake. “For those that do, the security isn’t very tight. There is a lot of piggybacking, where one student will walk into the dorm and then a whole bunch of others will walk through the door.”

How to Prevent Piggybacking on Campus:

  • Install a vestibule (or mantrap): The vestibule should have two entrances, but only one person can enter it at a time
  • Include anti-passback features on access cards: Cardholders must use their credentials to exit and enter. The card is only valid when it is used in the sequence that the administration or policy has defined.
  • Incorporate photo identification on the cards: This enables RAs to check the photos on the access credentials. According to Blake, however, “Typically, [after entry] the card is put right back into the wallet or purse and is not shown on the person, so you don’t have your visual to verify that everyone who is on that floor should be there unless you have the residents display the card at all times. That’s a procedural change, and I don’t know of any school that requires it.” Still, when appropriate, RAs can ask for credentials.

Well-Secured Residence Halls Could Include:

  • All doors, including perimeter and room entryways, on the same online system, allowing the recording and monitoring of those who enter and exit and at what times
  • Controls possibly on a floor-by-floor basis
  • Security cameras by all residence hall entrances
  • Appropriate interior and exterior lighting



When it comes to healthcare facilities, preventing infant abductions is a top priority. Often RFID wristbands (or barcode wristbands) are issued to both the parents and the newborns. Although this method is extremely useful in preventing newborn abductions, according to Sincock, it is very easy to circumvent because aluminum foil can shield wristbands or anklebands. Additionally, it doesn’t prevent unauthorized visitors from gaining access to the maternity department in the first place.

Sincock recommends hospitals deploy good old fashioned security. “In the cases where a visitor is allowed to go into the room, that individual should be photographed and registered. He should have a photo ID identifying him as a valid visitor.”

With childcare/daycare centers, a parent can be issued an ID card with the child’s and parent’s photo on it. Additionally, some form of access control either via a card or keypad can be used. Biometrics is also a possibility.

For hospital employees and staff, regardless of where they work, IDs need to be legible. Overlaminates on their credentials can prevent photos and text from fading. If unauthorized duplication is a concern, clear holograms, foil stamped holograms, microtext or ultraviolet printing can be used to verify credentials are authentic.

In hospital settings, it is also advisable that doctors, nurses and employees carry only one card with multiple technologies (when needed). A single credential greatly simplifies the lives of all cardholders.

Logical Access:

“More and more people are concerned not only about physical security, but also logical access security on the PC and network,” says Blake. This is a significant issue on healthcare campuses, but also with educational facilities.

According to Blake, a smart card or multiple technology credential would probably be the most appropriate method to achieve logical security. “You might use one technology on your physical access because it is already there, like proximity. With the logical access, you may want to implement a new system that is smart-card based with a higher level of data security in it.”

The card could then be used for network logon. When a user leaves the terminal, the system immediately locks, keeping the campus compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Colleges and universities, which must abide by Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) standards, might also benefit from deploying this type of solution.

Narcotics Control:

“A two-factor form of authorization into the room and cabinet is going to be the most effective way of securing those materials,” says Sincock. Hospitals could use the “two-man rule,” which requires cards, PINs or biometrics from two different authorized persons who are authorized to access the materials.


Common Campus Access Control Technologies

  • Magstripe: Low cost; commonly used; not as secure as technology cards; can be duplicated easily; subject to physical wear-and-tear
  • Proximity: Durable; convenient; widely used for access control; more difficult to compromise or duplicate than magstripe technology but easier to compromise than contactless smart cards; less wear-and-tear issues
  • Contactless Smart Cards: Multiapplication functionality (access control, cashless vending, library card, events); enhanced security through en
    cryption and mutual authentication; less wear-and-tear issues; not as widely adopted as magstripes or proximity cards



“The access control challenges for parking facilities are really not much different than for those of a building,” says Sincock. “The one exception is that a vehicle could obviously conceal many different things that may be of concern to campus safety officers. Generally, the access is more noticeable, and it is a lot easier to spot a car going into a parking lot or garage than a person going into a building.

“Standard practices for securing these types of facilities really range from no security at all to gate-controlled key cards or proximity card-type applications. Many times it will depend on if it’s a garage or lot. Most garages tend to be revenue generating, while parking lots tend to be a convenience for students, patients, staff and visitors. Most garages have some form of access control gate.”

Protecting Surface Lots in Rural or Suburban Areas:

  • Generally more reliant upon CCTV for enhanced security
  • Gate controls used more for revenue generation than access management
  • Unless surface lots are fenced in (which isn’t often), it is much more difficult to control the entry of unauthorized individuals

Protecting Parking Facilities in High-Crime Areas:

  • Install access gates at entrances and exits
  • Require some form of identification (could be automated)
  • Deploy security cameras
  • Provide good lighting
  • Place call boxes in strategic locations
  • Limit pedestrian access, possibly with fences or walls



Counterfeit cards pose a significant challenge to universities, especially those that offer performing arts or athletic events at reduced prices for students, staff and faculty. It is important then, to take appropriate steps so the card cannot be duplicated.

“One of the things you can add to a card is visual security,” says Fargo’s Steinhoff-Smith. “You can add a simple holographic overlaminate, which is pretty basic. It may not be customized, but if someone is going to try to counterfeit that card, they’ve got to take an extra step. You can also customize holograms, which makes it a lot more difficult for a counterfeiter to get their hands on it. You can add several elements that are covert, overt and forensic, like nano text. The more layers you put on, the more difficult it is to counterfeit.”

Mobile verification is another way to reduce unauthorized use and duplication of a credential. Using smart card technology, data (either a photo or biometric) is embedded into a contactless chip. When a mobile reader reads the card, that person’s record is displayed with their photo. This allows security to verify the identity of the cardholder.

Animal research laboratories or other research facilities that may contain dangerous strains of bacteria, nuclear materials or chemicals that could be weaponized also pose a significant risk to campuses. The entire building should be locked down and a two-factor authorization should be required for entry into the facility. “You also need to look at some pretty significant physical security measures, like wire mesh on the windows, video surveillance and a mantrap,” says Sincock.

Robin Hattersley Gray is the executive editor of Campus Safety magazine. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

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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