4 Ways Colleges Are Including Touchless Access Control Solutions in Their Safety Plans

Before the pandemic essentially made it a necessity, many universities had already begun investing in touchless access control solutions to improve campus safety.

4 Ways Colleges Are Including Touchless Access Control Solutions in Their Safety Plans

Protecting students and staff on university and college campuses has been at the forefront of the security industry as the higher education market works diligently to implement new policies and additional security technologies to prevent mass shootings and quickly identify and address crime on campus.

Overall the goals of the past few decades have remained constant – and that is to keep students, faculty and visitors safe anytime they enter a campus or any of the myriad buildings on campus, including cafeterias, dormitories, fitness facilities and classroom buildings. To accomplish this, many universities have made considerable campus-wide investments in access control and surveillance systems.

Among these measures have been adding smart card reader technology to the exterior doors of residence hall buildings so that only students who reside in that particular building may gain access, and to laboratories to replace traditional key locks. Increasing the use of surveillance cameras to help monitor the inside of buildings, parking lots and other exterior common areas is another common measure so that school personnel can quickly detect and respond to a problem.

As schools are now faced with the additional task of ensuring the health of students and staff in a COVID-19 world, universities have now begun to implement additional security technologies or retrofit existing security solutions to support a touchless environment.

Frictionless Access Control

One solution that can help minimize touchpoints without impeding the flow of people into a campus building is frictionless access control. This solution combines an access control system with a surveillance camera. It eliminates the need for an individual to physically present a badge when entering a facility and replaces that component by using facial recognition technology to verify the identity of individuals approved for entry. A person simply has to walk through a predetermined area and the system detects individual faces and checks the database to see if there is a match for a person in the system. When paired with automatic door entry technology, the need to touch anything to gain access, such as a keypad or door handle, is completely eliminated.

This solution can be particularly useful in high traffic flow areas, such as the main entrance of a classroom building where a large number of students may enter at particular times when they head to their class.

Contactless Credentials

In another effort to eliminate touchpoints, schools are replacing keypad entry systems with touchless devices, such as smart card readers that offer a hands-free option. The credentials for these readers can easily be incorporated as part of any teacher or student’s identification card.

A smart card is usually scanned at a reader at the door and sends a signal to the access control system to either permit entry or deny it, based upon whether an individual has permission to access a building on the weekends, for example. Entry would also be denied if the card is no longer valid. This can be especially helpful to safely manage access for students who may need to use a science laboratory on the weekend or in the evening. A keypad, on the other hand, has to be touched by many different people, which increases the risk of spreading germs if the device is not wiped down after every use.

Many fitness facilities on campus have deployed smart card technology as it enables them to also monitor who is using the fitness area at a specific time. This can alert security staff if someone enters the facility alone and does not leave for a long period of time, indicating a possible medical or safety issue.

Mobile Credentials

Although these are more commonly found in corporate environments, mobile credential technology is another option for universities looking to replace both badge and keypad technology with a contactless solution.

Instead of a person needing to carry a badge or swipe a badge at a card reader, with a mobile credential, a person’s smartphone becomes the badge or credential. Using a mobile app, the smartphone communicates with the access control system much like an access control credential would. However, a smartphone is less likely to be shared with another person, reducing problems associated with sharing an identification card or a school having to replace a lost or misplaced identification card.

In addition to being touchless, this solution enables a university to be versatile. An administrator of the system can quickly change a person’s access permissions, such as for a student who is no longer enrolled in classes or for an external contractor on site for a short period of time. It can also be an economic option as it eliminates the cost associated with purchasing and distributing physical badge credentials for each employee and having a pool of badges available for visitors.

Intercoms Become Touchless

Intercom systems are helping universities better manage the flow of visitors, especially food and package deliveries. More and more of these solutions are being incorporated as part of residential housing to enhance security measures.

Some universities with existing intercom systems located at the entrance of a building have begun to retrofit these solutions to incorporate a sensor that can automatically detect when a person is present, thereby enabling the system to alert security or an administrator. In addition, the growth of video intercom system technology has also proved useful as these types of systems can now enable schools to visually verify the identity of an individual before allowing that person to enter a facility.

A campus security officer can also use a video intercom system to confirm a visitor is following the school’s safety protocols, such as wearing a mask or using a hand sanitizer station before entering a building.

While surveillance has been the primary focus of university security efforts in recent years, touchless access control solutions are now becoming just as important. Administrators are looking to implement and adopt solutions that not only support a safe environment but a healthy one as well. These changes are likely here to stay as higher education institutions plan ahead to ensure the touchless access control technologies they invest in today continue to provide value tomorrow.


Rick Focke is the Director of Product Management, Enterprise Access Control for Johnson Controls. Prior to joining Johnson Controls, Rick was at Andover Controls (now Schneider Electric), working in both the security and building automation industries. 

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