Schools, Healthcare Continue to Bolster Access Control, Struggle to Manage Changes

Campus Safety survey finds most campuses embrace lockdown and access control, are more aware of challenges associated with the systems.

Schools, Healthcare Continue to Bolster Access Control, Struggle to Manage Changes

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Campus safety officials appear to have an increasing awareness of their vulnerabilities and the abilities of the various access control and lockdown technologies to help address their security gaps, according to results of the 2023 Campus Safety Access Control and Lockdown Survey.

That awareness led to “a significant rise in the installation of and demand for access security, locks and door hardware,” according to results of the survey, conducted by SSI sister publication Campus Safety. But the increase in upgrades has brought with it many technology struggles.

Locks and/or door hardware were the most popular purchases with 80% of respondents implementing upgrades to this technology over the past two years. Lockdown/shelter-in-place policies and procedures (76%), and card and/or biometric access control systems (69%) were the most second- and third-most popular upgrades implemented by our survey takers over the past two years.

Broken out by sector, K-12 respondents (81%) were the most likely to have updated their lockdown/shelter-in-place policies and procedures recently, while healthcare respondents (75%) were the most likely to upgrade or buy new card and/or biometric access control systems.

Nine out of 10 healthcare respondents (91%) have purchased locks and/or door hardware in the past two years, followed by K-12 at 86% and higher ed at 72%.

Locks and/or door hardware are the most popular planned purchases or upgrades, with 43% of all survey takers saying they made upgrades to their systems in the past two years and are considering doing so in the next two years.

Another 13% said they haven’t recently made upgrades to their locks and door hardware but are considering doing so in the next two years. Overall interest in future purchases/upgrades of this technology has increased from 45% in 2021 to 56% today.

Visitor management is also popular, with 55% of all respondents saying they’re considering making upgrades soon. Additionally, NFC/BLE mobile phone access control has grown in popularity compared to 2021.

Now, 55% of all survey respondents have either recently purchased this type of solution and are considering adding more in the next two years or haven’t recently made a purchase but are considering doing so in the next two years. That’s 10 percentage points more than in 2021.

More respondents also say they are considering acquiring window safety and/or security solutions in the next two years: 53% this year compared to 44% two years ago.

Other types of solutions are also getting a lot of attention, with the following technologies being considered by campuses for upgrades in the next two years: Intercoms (52%); cloud-based access control  (51%); card and/or biometric access control (46%); secure front entrance vestibules (46%); and fences (43%).

Why Campuses Upgrade Their Access Control

A new question that was added to this year’s survey was, “If you have recently made or plan to soon make improvements to your access control and lockdown technology, policies and procedures, what prompted you to do so?”

More than half (53%) of all respondents said, “Recent incident(s) that happened in other parts of the country.” When the answers were segmented out by organization type, 66% of K-12, 73% of healthcare and 41% of college and university respondents said incidents that happened in other parts of the country were motivating factors.

The differences in responses by sector are understandable. Last year’s Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as well as this spring’s active shooter attack at Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., were widely covered by the media and discussed by the nation as a whole, including superintendents and school boards, not just among school security professionals.

Additionally, the dramatic rise in active shooter incidents in the U.S. as a whole has certainly prompted many campuses to bolster security. Although there is a very low probability that your specific hospital, school, or university will actually experience an active shooter event, if it does happen, the impact to your campus and surrounding community is certain to be devastating.

Meanwhile, it appears that many healthcare executives might be waking up to the massive rate of workplace violence that has occurred at U.S. hospitals for years and intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the survey didn’t ask, another development that may be prompting healthcare to pay closer attention to security is last year’s Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) warning that hospitals must protect their employees and patients from violence.

Recent incident(s) that happened “on my campus” or “near my campus” were motivations for about 46% of hospitals; 42% and 46% for schools, respectively; but only 23% and 28%, respectively, for institutions of higher education. Four in 10 respondents overall said nothing in particular prompted them to make upgrades. They just wanted to improve safety and security.

Thankfully, only a small percentage (5%) said, “We need to upgrade our access control and lockdown technology, policies, and procedures, but we are not taking steps to do so.” Only 3% of K-12 respondents and 6% of college and university respondents checked this option in the survey. Sadly, 13% of healthcare participants said they know they need to make improvements but aren’t doing anything.

Access Control

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Equipment Coverage and Quality Ratings Hold Steady

Overall, one in four respondents to this year’s survey rate the coverage of their access control/locks/door hardware systems as excellent, which is five percentage points fewer than when we asked this question in 2021. Nearly half (48%) rate it as good, which is three percentage points more than two years ago.

Interestingly, while more than half of higher education and hospital respondents rated their equipment’s coverage as “good,” K-12 respondents were much more likely to give an “excellent” rating (41%) compared to only 13% of college respondents and 31% of healthcare respondents.

When combining “excellent” and “good” responses, K-12 and healthcare survey takers are nearly the same: 80% and 82% respectively. Institutions of higher education, however, are well behind their school and hospital brethren with a total of 69% rating their coverage as excellent or good.

Although this year’s overall ratings for quality are practically the same as two years ago (72% of 2023 respondents rate it as excellent or good compared to 71% in 2021), when broken down by sector, the satisfaction levels vary significantly.

At 42%, healthcare participants are the most likely to rate the quality of their access, lock, and door hardware solutions as excellent, compared to only 35% of school respondents and 20% of higher ed respondents.

There is still quite a bit of agreement among the sectors: 44% of K-12 and higher ed survey participants and 46% of hospital respondents rate their systems as good.

K-12 Schools’ Ability to Lockdown Slightly Improving

With the recent dramatic increase in active shooter incidents in the U.S. and hyper-focus on school lockdowns, it should come as no surprise that K-12 survey participants were the respondents to most often say that 75% or more of their campus can lockdown.

This year, 39% of school respondents said they can lockdown 100% of their campus and 44% said they can lockdown 75-99% of their campus. This year’s K-12 combined total of 83% is four percentage points more than two years ago when it was 79%.

Hospitals and college campuses, however, are way behind their K-12 peers. Only 43% of healthcare respondents and 35% of participants from institutions of higher education said they can lockdown 75% or more of their campuses.

However, in all fairness to institutions of higher education and hospitals, often those types of campuses are open to the public, where anyone can walk in from off the street. Additionally, some campuses have city streets running through them, so the ability for them to lockdown completely is an unreasonable expectation.

Although 71% of all respondents said they can lockdown 50% or more of their campuses, that figure is 15 percentage points below 2021’s findings (86%) and eight percentage points below 2019’s findings (79%).

As far as how quickly their campuses can lockdown, this year, 81% of K-12 respondents said they can lockdown their campuses in 10 minutes or less, with 59% saying they could do so in five minutes or less.

Half of healthcare survey takers and 57% of higher ed respondents said they could lockdown in 10 minutes or less.

Training, Maintenance Continue to Pose Problems

There appears to be no improvement with training on and adherence to lockdown and door hardware policies. Nearly half (49%) of all of this year’s respondents said their students, staff, administrators, and faculty aren’t trained on campus access control policies or don’t follow those policies.

That’s practically the same as the 48% who said this was an issue in 2021. Institutions of higher education are struggling the most with this problem (56%), closely followed by healthcare facilities (50%). At 39%, K-12 schools and districts aren’t struggling as much.

Lock and door hardware maintenance are also a challenge for 47% of all respondents, which is three percentage points more than two years ago. However, hospitals really struggle with this issue: nearly two out of three (61%) said their locks and door hardware have not been properly maintained.

Of course, once a campus has installed its equipment and trained everyone on how to use it, the next question is, “How effective is it?”

Healthcare and school respondents are much more confident than college and university survey takers in the ability of their door hardware and locks to protect against intruders. Seven out of ten healthcare respondents said “Yes” to the question, “Do you have adequate door hardware and locks to protect against outside threats?”

Another 25% said, “Somewhat, but it could be better.” Likewise, two in three (66%) school respondents answered “Yes” to that question, while 33% answered “Somewhat.”

Unlike K-12 and healthcare, the level of confidence among higher ed participants is just OK: 33% answered “Yes” while 51% answered “Somewhat.”

Once a facility has locked down, it’s important for officials to be able to identify who is and is not on campus. Not surprisingly, colleges and universities are the least confident in their abilities to account for everyone in their buildings, with 23% of respondents saying they are “Not confident at all,” compared to only 8% of schools and hospitals.

The reason for this is straightforward: most people on college campuses are adults who can come and go as they please. Although this is also somewhat true in healthcare, hospitals must take great care in tracking their patients and, to a certain extent, the guests who visit them.

So, it makes sense that hospital respondents are more confident in their abilities to account for people on their campuses than institutions of higher education.

On the other end of the accountability spectrum, more than eight in ten K-12 respondents are really confident (49%) or moderately confident (35%) they can account for everyone in their buildings. This is probably due to schools being held to an extremely high level of student accountability (in loco parentis).

Concerns With Systems, Support and Staffing

The challenges associated with physical access control have skyrocketed over the past two years, according to this year’s survey. As to why, it is difficult to say.

The Covenant School mass shooting appears to have prompted more respondents to be concerned about their windows and other glass openings, as has Texas’ new requirement that schools must install window security film.

The survey takers who said the design and/or placement of their windows is very challenging or extremely challenging increased 23% from 29% in 2021 to 52% today.

But windows weren’t the only area that experienced a big jump in challenges. Concerns with the tracking of keys also jumped by double digits, with 50% of respondents now saying this is an extremely or very challenging issue for them, compared to 33% only two years ago.

Other challenges that saw a more than 10% increase in survey takers saying they are extremely or very challenging include “Lack of a visitor management system, or the system we have needs to be upgraded,” up from 27% in 2021 to 42% today; and “Our campus layout is open, so it’s very difficult to lockdown our campus or control access,” up from 39% in 2021 to 52% now.

Even “Lack of metal detection or our detectors need to be upgraded” and “Our students, faculty and/or staff are required to carry too many credentials (cards) or keys,” each saw an increase of 8% of respondents (38% and 31%, respectively) who said these problems are now extremely challenging or very challenging.

Campuses also appear to be struggling more with their access control, lock, and lockdown policy and personnel issues compared to two years ago. This year, 14% more respondents said the lack of IT department support/buy-in and cooperation is an extremely challenging or very challenging issue — up from 24% in 2021 to 38% now.

At 49% and 41% respectively, healthcare and K-12 respondents are the ones who are struggling with this issue the most. This trend is particularly troubling because most access control, visitor management, intercom and other related technologies run on the network.

Support/buy-in from management and administration also appears to be slipping. This year, 13% more respondents said the lack of management support is extremely or very challenging — up from 28% two years ago to 41% today.

Healthcare is struggling the most with this issue (54%), while 41% of school survey participants and 36% of college respondents say this issue is extremely or very challenging.  In a similar vein, support/buy-in from students, faculty and/or staff appears to have deteriorated by 12%. Now, 40% of all respondents say this problem is extremely or very challenging for them. Two years ago, that percentage was 28.

Additionally, our current labor shortage may be affecting the staffing and training required to manage campus access control systems. Ten percent more respondents this year say that “Staff don’t know how to effectively manage our access control system(s)” is an issue that’s extremely challenging or very challenging for them (39% now, compared to 29% in 2021).

Eleven percent more now indicate a lack of staffing is an extremely challenging or very challenging issue for them — up from 28% two years ago to 39% today.

This year’s survey also found that 9% more campuses are struggling to develop or maintain appropriate policies to support their access control systems. More than two out of five (42%) said that “Policies supporting our access control system(s) don’t exist or the ones we have need to be updated” is an issue that’s extremely or very challenging.

At 46% and 47% respectively, schools and hospitals are especially struggling with this problem.

Campuses Need More Card Access Control and Biometrics

It appears that the need for card access control and biometrics has become quite apparent to campus protection professionals this year. Now, 41% of all respondents say not having card access control or biometrics is extremely challenging or very challenging for them. That’s 18 percentage points more than in 2021.

When broken down by sector, K-12 survey takers were the most likely to say “extremely” or “very” — 44%, compared to 40% of higher ed respondents and 37% of healthcare respondents.

Concerns regarding “Our access system(s) isn’t integrated with other public safety systems (e.g. video surveillance, intrusion, fire, etc.)” also increased this year. Now, 39% of all participants say this issue is extremely or very challenging, which is 13% more than two years ago.

School respondents were, again, the most likely to say this problem is extremely or very challenging for them: 47%, compared to 40% of hospitals and 30% of colleges and universities.

More than one in three (35%) of all survey participants said maintenance of card access systems is extremely challenging or very challenging, which is 13% more than when we asked about this topic in 2021.

However, healthcare is struggling more with this issue than other campuses. More than half (51%) said this issue is extremely or very challenging for their campuses, compared to 47% of K-12 respondents and 25% of participants from colleges and universities.

Access control software bugs and updates are also becoming more problematic, with 35% of all survey participants saying this issue is extremely challenging or very challenging for them. That’s 12% more than two years ago.

At 45% and 43% respectively, healthcare and K-12 respondents are having a much harder time than their peers in higher education, where 23% said this issue is extremely or very challenging for their institutions.

“Older access system(s) can’t integrate/interoperate with new access control systems” is an extremely or very challenging issue for 34% of all participants, which is 9% more than two years ago. This issue is most pronounced on K-12 campuses, with 45% saying this issue is extremely or very challenging for them, compared to 25% of colleges and universities and 33% of healthcare facilities.

The original version of this post appeared on SSI’s sister site, Campus Safety.

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About the Author


Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration.

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