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SCHOOL ACCESS CONTROL - DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

JERRY 'DUTCH' FORSTATER OCTOBER 2014

School Access Control - SecurityToday's school access control has provided superintendents and directors of technology with unprecedented technical alternatives for centralized access control and computer log-on security. Newly available are the integration of card readers with optional pin pads and security door hardware all in one neat little package. Instead of having controllers with distributed access control, then Ethernet cables going to servers, the new system simply has a module located at the door, either wired or wireless, which communicates directly to computers through switched networks. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But the devil is always in the details. You may want to read on.

The wired version uses a slim profile, epoxy resin-filled combination reader/controller and IP communication adapter. It is fully networkable with ranges of options from time and access level control to a wealth of other administrative software controls.

What’s convenient is that programs can be instituted to provide practically instantaneous lockdown from an administrative Smartphone app in the event of a weather, environmental, or an active shooter scenario. The ability to control an entire school or campus school setting for a complete lockdown provides much more stable security environment for “stay-in-place” scenarios and the ability for local law enforcement to exclude, with caution, those who are contained within the secure premises.

Proximity and contactless smart chip technology is also available. This provides powerful, adaptive, enterprise level programmability with local operation under strict control by the principal’s office and staff. It can also interface to cyber accountability in the logical domain, addressing a one-two punch with its physical/logical knockout, even though the cost model to schools is impressive.

The wireless versions come in a variety of models and configurations. There is WiFi and Mesh Network, but these frequently only afford programming using the Smart Chip technology upon presentation of the next card – a limitation to the security of the device.

Another manufacturer uses a unique spread spectrum (high security) wireless connection which allows teachers the option of using a lanyard remote – similar to a garage door opener – except to instantly lock down the classroom independently.

These devices are a marvel of engineering, workmanship, and design. They reflect the marriage of secure door hardware, quality materials, micro-miniaturized custom-reprogrammable chip design, and Wiegand-supported proximity or contactless chip technologies – all run on batteries. But here’s where it gets a little sticky. Let’s talk power.

The wireless versions use between 4 and 6 AA batteries. Advertised life being “up to 3 years,” while in actuality, users may get much less battery life under intensive use. Some of the lower reported power-hungry versions indicate approximately one year of normal use. Not what we consider practical total lifetime cost and sustainable answers.

And while we might think “buyer beware” when battery costs and operational costs for replacement add up, think about each powered (PoE) internet port that is needed for each of the wired versions at (depending on your switch purchase and configuration) between $200 and $500 total cost of ownership per port.

So, if you have “no budget,” the simple approach may be a mechanical instant deadbolt locking button from within each classroom. The ¾” deadbolt is massive and strong, but will the frame and strike plate prevent an intruder from merely kicking in the door? Maybe, maybe not.

All too often, when the layers of technology trade-offs are uncovered, the solution comes down to good solid sustainable design that withstands the test of time. Whether the newer distributed access control solutions without the wireless gimmicks are the best conceived architecture or a simple lockdown procedure at best; this is how and where better security engineering delivers a more sustainable security management plan.

Ask for an assessment and evaluation of protection alternatives for your school or institution by PSE’s staff of skilled door hardware consultants. Contact Jerry 'Dutch' Forstater at (800) 839-5060 x107 or email

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