By Philip Verner, Strategic Sales Manager, EMEA for AMAG Technology
Universities are bustling hubs of knowledge, with diverse populations and valuable resources.
In this blog, we look at the unique characteristics of universities and the features a security management system needs to meet these requirements. We will specifically delve into the importance of access control in universities and discuss key considerations that can help safeguard students, faculty, staff, and sensitive information.
The University Environment
Universities can be comprised of many buildings for teaching, research, administrative offices, student accommodation and social areas. This can be a campus setup or many buildings situated within city areas and often in historic and protected buildings. Prioritizing access control based on the sensitivity of the space is needed to allocate resources effectively.
Universities also comprise a mixed group of cardholders including admin and faculty staff, students, contractors and visitors. Large universities will have tens of thousands of cardholders with variable access times throughout the year allowing for term time, exam time and holiday periods.
Managing access control across the entire campus can therefore be complex and the systems deployed must take into consideration these unique requirements.
Let’s look at some examples…
1. Cardholder Administration
Managing a large population of cardholders such as students, staff and contractors at universities can be both costly and time-consuming. Using an Identity Management System such as AMAG's Symmetry CONNECT can streamline the whole process from on-boarding to off-boarding cardholders when they leave, reducing administration time and the chance of processes not being followed, which can create issues such as cards not being expired or returned when students or cardholders leave. Deploying an Identity Management system can digitise the process reducing administration costs and reducing the chance of errors and enhancing security.
With a student’s time at university typically being three to four years, there is a large yearly change in cardholders with new students starting and graduating students leaving, which can also mean a high yearly cost spent on access cards.
With these ongoing administrative costs and often a high number of lost cards amongst the student group, there is a move to consider credentials held on Mobile phones instead of traditional access cards, which can provide an easy-to-use option for the student or worker and provide considerable savings for the university. AMAG provides readers with the ability to read traditional access cards and mobile credentials and the Symmetry Mobile platform provides other benefits such as the ability to upload photos via the phone app allowing student photos to be captured and a credential issued prior to arriving onsite.
2. Visitor Management Systems
Universities often welcome visitors, including prospective students, guest lecturers, or the local community for functions and conferences. Using a visitor management system, such as Symmetry GUEST, allows for efficient registration, tracking, and monitoring of visitors on campus. This ensures that visitors are given sufficient upfront information in their invitation and are granted appropriate access while maintaining the overall security of the university.
3. Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication
Areas such as research labs, data centers and offices that require a higher level of security should consider deploying multi-factor authentication using biometric devices that provide an extra layer of security and reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Universities can also deploy biometric devices for student access to minimize the impact of lost or stolen cards for areas such as classrooms or exam halls.
4. Access Control System Integration
Enterprise access control systems that can be integrated with other security systems, such as video cameras, intrusion detection, intercom and more are essential for securing the unique university environment. With many buildings and differing requirements, all sites must have a solution to meet their requirements. An example is when securing old and historic buildings, that might have protected status, and not easy to run new cables for traditional card readers. In such scenarios, wireless or offline locks can provide a secure solution integrated back into the access control system.
Such integration allows for a comprehensive security approach, enabling real-time monitoring and rapid response to any potential security breaches or incidents.
5. Securing Remote Areas
Providing sufficient security for students throughout the university campus including at their residential areas is essential for promoting a safe and inclusive environment. Installing Intercom systems with integration to the access control system provides a quick way to raise an alarm and speak with security and gives reassurance should any incident occur.
Additionally, the access control system should support portable ‘handheld’ card readers for guards to carry for use in open and remote areas. These readers allow guards to check the access permissions and stored images in the access control system, allowing them to do spot checks on anyone suspicious to confirm if they should be in the area. These readers can also provide flexibility for other functions such as quickly checking people into buildings during conventions or other events rather than queuing to swipe on door readers.
6. Managing Increasing or Changing Risk
Having an integrated solution that can quickly adapt to changing security situations is essential for the university environment. Threats could be anything as serious as active shooters or threats to students in accommodation areas. Deploying an access control system with a Threat Level application allows guards to quickly change the system status to meet the ongoing threat assisting evacuation or lockdown of the sites.
Additionally, as universities are often used for conferences and events hosting VIPs the Threat Level application can also be used as a way to manage the access requirements onsite for the specific period of the event. For example, to remove access permissions for certain cardholder groups, enabling or disabling the need for card plus PIN at readers and much more. This can be done system-wide or by area with a single selection then easily changed after the event has finished without needing a major reconfiguration of the system and devices affected.
7. Training and Awareness
While the university and student environment needs to be an enjoyable experience, awareness of security and potential issues is important. Educating the university community about the importance of access control and best practices is vital. Students, staff, and faculty members should receive a level of training on using access control systems correctly, reporting suspicious activities, and following security protocols.
Within the deployed access control system there should also be features that assist in following procedures and correct usage. This can include examples like having Workflow capability for guards managing alarms so they follow pre-configured steps and actions on how to manage any type of alarm to take the appropriate actions to handle the situation. The system should also have features that encourage card usage and prevent tailgating to ensure proper reporting of who is in any area. This can be achieved by requiring card usage at designated entrance readers to enable the card to work at doors in other areas.
Access control is an essential component of a comprehensive security strategy for universities. By implementing robust access control measures, universities can mitigate risks, safeguard sensitive areas, and protect valuable resources. Managing the large number and different types of cardholders, integrating systems, and fostering a security-conscious culture are vital steps toward creating a safe and secure environment for all.