50 Customers in One

50 Customers in One

What it takes to think like a higher education buyer

Finding the right security solution for, let’s say, multi-tenant housing, requires significant consideration. There is a variety of factors to think through, such as which doors need to be secured? How will visitors be managed? Where cameras will need to be deployed? What if that was just one small vertical slice of a much larger campus with distinct needs? Now you are thinking like a higher education buyer.

A university campus comes with diverse security needs. There is residential housing, academic buildings, point-of-sale locations like dining halls, and high-security areas such as research laboratories, sports stadiums involving mass gatherings, healthcare facilities and even off-season usage by third-party organizations such as camps or symposiums. Finding a solution that can cover all of those use cases is no simple feat. The best way to begin is by breaking down each core vertical slice to determine its needs, and then find a solution that is open enough to make a multi-faceted system a reality.

Before diving into the solutions for the various use cases, it is critical to consider how any campus-wide security solution will be managed. Consider using an “area access manager” style of governance.

This partitions system administration rights across different departments to manage buildings, cardholders and any other relevant systems. This distributes the workload, reducing strain on the often resource-constrained security team.

Campus Buildings (with specialized areas)
The most common type of security needs on a higher education campus are the buildings students use every day for living and learning. For student housing, access control at the main entrance of the building is a necessity. Whether indoor wireless or PoE locks are included on individual room doors is a matter of budget. There is room here to go with mobile credentials but to accommodate other on-campus needs, as if dining halls and smart cards are also used. Integrating video management into the overall ecosystem is ideal for student protection, allowing a university to monitor everyone coming and going, and ultimately identify unauthorized individuals who manage to gain entry. Furthermore, campus buildings are used in the school off-season to house visitors for temporary stays (such as symposiums or camps), so the ability to provide temporary credentials becomes an important consideration when implementing a security solution.

One of the most onerous components of residential buildings is the constant turnover (as semesters come and go), along with everchanging roommate assignments, because let’s face it – not all roommates are a match made in heaven. Many institutions of higher learning do not have a good solution for this challenge and find themselves spending significant time manually changing access rights. Finding an access control solution that can easily integrate with the existing human resource or student information system to automate this process saves many headaches, while also reducing the risk of a student accidentally gaining access to the wrong residence hall room. In situ- ations like the recent COVID-19 pandemic, this integration also used to block a person’s access to facilities for specified time-periods based on the results of a health self-assessment questionnaire, helping to create safer, healthier buildings for the entire campus community.

For standard academic buildings, access control should be deployed where needed – places of ingress and egress, as well as any rooms and closets that should not be accessible to the general population. Many schools have research programs and facilities that operate high-dollar equipment, store hazardous materials or controlled substances and contain valuable intellectual property.

The research areas must be protected with a higher level of security than a standard classroom. It is not uncommon for research programs to have federal funding and affiliation, which may require compliance with additional federal regulations. It is critical to select a system that supports compliance with all of the various regulatory requirements of a campus. At a minimum, readers need to use Open Supervised Device Protocol and multi-factor authentication if any hazardous chemicals or controlled substances are being used and stored.

It is a solemn necessity that any solution includes ways for authorized persons to put a campus on lockdown, whether that be a special card swipe, a software-initiated lockdown or an input such as a panic button. Ideally, lockdowns should be customizable to certain campus areas for a more targeted approach.

Point of Sale
College campuses also include retail experiences with dining halls or on-campus stores, where students need an easy way to make purchases. As stated earlier, using smart cards that act as both an access credential as well as a place to store school funds is ideal.

Things can get tricky when students try to take advantage of “all you can eat” meal plans by giving friends their cards. One way to solve this problem while also speeding up entry is by integrating with biometric software and readers. Rather than multiple swipes of a card, students can simply walk through immediately as the biometric reader verifies their access. Exchanging cards is no longer possible when students are required to present a unique biometric, which in turn, reduces the financial loss a campus experiences with meal plan sharing.

Stadiums and Mass Gatherings
The influx of people on a big college game day presents a host of unique security challenges. A big rival football game can draw more than 100,000 people over a relatively short timeframe, and unlike other controlled and secure areas on campus, necessitates letting large numbers of people into a given area at a given time.

While it’s not feasible to provide credentials to every visitor to the campus, risk can be mitigated by implementing extensive video surveillance to improve situational awareness around violence or theft, as well as intercom integrations to improve mass notification capabilities in the event of an emergency. Due to the open nature of athletic facilities, it makes the most sense to focus access control on select areas that require tighter restrictions, such as locker rooms, IT closets and areas where currency is stored.

Find an Open, Trusted Solution
If you take anything away from this simplified breakdown of the multiple uses of a college setting, it’s that a good technology solution is an open one that has a wide variety of features, and a proven pedigree of seamlessly integrating with third-party technologies. With the right products and implementation, your security solution will certainly make for a safer campus – but it can do much more than that too.

It can simplify operations and enhance the everyday experience of students and faculty, all while providing the peace of mind and confidence needed to create an ideal learning environment.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security Today.


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