Simplifying School Safety With Access Control

Along with educating students from kindergarten to college, all schools must keep their students, staff, and facilities safe. But as threats from gangs, predators, and bullying to fire, theft, vandalism, and terrorism proliferate so have schools’ physical security systems with unintended consequences.

For too long each of these systems — from video surveillance and door access control to fire alarms, intrusion alarms, and asset control systems — has been installed, operated, and maintained independently at added cost and complexity, with the unfortunate result often being “one hand not knowing what the other is doing.” The problem is not too little data, but too much, kept in “separate silos of information” until it’s too late to do any good.

The challenge for school administrators and facility managers is to unify these separate security systems to quickly prevent trouble, resolve it, or identify the perpetrators. With school administrators increasingly demanding a single command and control capability for their physical security systems, enterprise door access control and video management system (VMS) vendors are finally stepping up to deliver it.

“The trend toward unifying school physical security systems will increase safety while decreasing cost, maintenance, and training,” says Chuck Crenshaw, CEO of ISONAS Security Systems, a Boulder, Colo.-based leader in network-based door access control. “To achieve this, schools will need to move away from separate proprietary systems requiring separate wiring, installation, management software, training and multiple maintenance contracts. Instead, schools should take advantage of the IP-based computer network infrastructure many have already built to enable real-time systems integration and significant savings.”

IP-based technology is the same technology used for networking computers, printers and other peripherals in most schools and businesses today. By piggybacking on the existing network cabling, facility managers and security personnel can quickly and easily install the IP-based door access readers to a common network switch with standard cables. 

With this set-up, the door readers are powered by the built in power over Ethernet (PoE) feature already provided through the network switch and CAT-5 cabling, and does not require hardwiring to the building’s power. Established in 1999, ISONAS designs, manufactures and distributes the first electrical panelfree, IP-based security access control system called PowerNet.

In the ISONAS system, the reader is a network device with built in functions to act as reader and control panel. Each reader can store information in its own memory for up to 64,000 sets of credentials, along with a historical access log. The readers come with a keypad, card swipe or both and the reader can be programmed in a variety of ways include assigning specific permissions, groupings, time zones, etc. 

For instance, in perhaps the largest school physical security project of the past year, ISONAS teamed up with IPVideo Corp., a Bay Shore, N.Y.-based manufacturer of IP Video Management Systems (VMS) to provide a uniquely integrated fully IP based access control/video surveillance solution. 

The project at South Country Central School District, located 50 miles east of New York City, with six K-12 schools, integrated over 1,200 ISONAS door access readers with IPVideo’s Enterprise VMS capturing 850 high resolution Panasonic IP cameras to 150 Terabytes of storage.  A+ Technology & Security Solutions, a Bay Shore, N.Y.-based leader in the convergence of IT, AV and IP Security Solutions was the project’s systems integrator.

For the project, IPVideo developed software, called access commander, that fully integrates video surveillance management with door access control securely controllable from an onsite or offsite PC. The integration gives school administrators the ability to monitor and respond to security events in virtually real-time, enhancing school safety. Additionally the system is capable of allowing police to remotely connect to the system via a web browser during an emergency while simultaneously notifying appropriate personnel within the district.

In typical schools, for instance, a dangerous intruder on campus could trigger a slow, haphazard campus lockdown. In most cases, this would require a PA announcement in code, alerting teachers to manually lock their doors and keep students inside. The problem: busy teachers may lock their doors slowly, with some students slipping outside into possible danger. The PA announcement could also alert the intruder that the school is aware of him, potentially causing him to act out.

On campuses like South Country Central’s, however, where door access control is fully integrated with video surveillance management on an IP-based network, administrators could lockdown an entire campus, or selectively lock down parts of it, remotely and automatically within seconds of either activating an emergency switch or securely entering the proper commands into a PC from any location within the district. 

Another plus of such an IP-based system is that door status can be monitored and most issues corrected remotely. Door entry permissions can be set by individual, time, and other factors: so a teacher’s entry card could open the school’s front door and their classroom door only within set times.

Video surveillance and door access integration also leads to enhanced security at door entry and other locations due to the ability to correlate video from a camera that is then “linked” to an associated access control door. This ability makes it easy to access the captured video when verifying alarms or incidents as evidence.

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