The evolution of access control in education facilities
The changing nature of Australia’s education system, with developments such as rising tuition fees and the digitisation of the industry, has many implications for the safety and security of students, staff and the public. At the same time, legal consequences and reputational issues arising from any failure to protect and secure people, physical assets and information data, are increasingly severe.
Rapid advances in technology, especially internet and smartphone enabled devices, means that each security challenge has a plethora of potential solutions, including the implementation of wireless alternatives.
The choice has become so wide, however, that it may, in itself, be a problem for time-constrained educational facility managers. The question therefore is simple: how do we adequately protect our young people in educational facilities in a secure and cost-effective way?
Access control in educational premises
At its most basic level, access control is a system for enabling or preventing people from entering or exiting a location, whether a whole site or a single room. A secondary function may be to record the movements in and out of locations and provide a data trail for audit, traceability, compliance or improvement purposes.
The majority of access control systems rely on the person or asset transiting in or out of a location being recognised and validated by a credential. This credential may be something the person has (key, card), something they know (password, pin), or something intrinsic to them (iris recognition, fingerprints).
In many systems, more than one credential may be required and some systems require a second party credential. As more layers and sub systems are introduced, the complexity of integrating the systems and storing, accessing and making use of data becomes greater.
The key drivers for access control in educational facilities include the safety of students, staff and visitors; legal compliance and statutory duties; protection of assets; IT data security and protection; and the need to manage and control security across different venues.
Education access control challenges
Educational facilities present a number of access control challenges that may not apply to other public building or private/commercial spaces, including:
- The age group of the user population, which mitigates against using complicated systems and the need to consider all user groups, must be considered.
- The safety requirement for swift and safe egress in the event of fire or emergency.
- The ‘open’ nature of many educational facilities, with either full public access or permitted group access, is increasingly required.
- At university level, the access requirements are extended to incorporate completely different facilities, such as libraries and accommodation.
- Changing timetables that demand greater use of facilities earlier and later in the day, at weekend and during holiday periods.
- The widespread campus-like geography of many educational premises, often with public access running through the site and difficulty in establishing effective perimeter security such as fencing.
- The age of many buildings, which can make repairs and modifications expensive, and can make cabled systems problematic.
- The skills and availability of non-teaching support staff with the time and ability to implement and maintain an effective access control system, where success is often reliant on human behaviour and habitually following good practice.
- Avoiding complexity, such as the overuse of credentials.
Core issues in implementing effective access control
For many educational facilities the core issues lie in the following areas:
Responsibility. One of the key issues is to establish the ‘responsibility chain’ for security matters. In most schools, the legal responsibility will lie with the governing body and principal. The day-to-day responsibility may then be devolved to a mix of teaching and support staff, including facility managers or bursars/administrators. Some aspects may be outsourced (security) to private contractors.
Unless the responsibility chain is mapped, recorded and communicated, an access control system will fail at the first hurdle. All of the relevant stakeholders are also usually busy, with multiple responsibilities and concerns, so sustaining security as an area of attention is challenging but essential.
“Rapid advances in technology, especially internet and smartphone enabled devices, means that each security challenge has a plethora of potential solutions, including the implementation of wireless alternatives.
Understanding. Many educational facilities managers lack a clear, independent and up-to-date source of guidance and advice on school security and access control. This has two consequences: either security is forgotten until a headline scare or the organisation becomes over-reliant on the specialist suppliers of security systems and equipment.
Finance. There is no question that financial constraints are a major factor in decisions in public sector organisations. In large new educational building projects, installing a purposed designed full access control system is still feasible. If the organisation is looking to overhaul, renew or extend an existing system, however, the investment is competing with many other priorities. At the same time, educational bodies would be unwise to ignore the offsetting financial risk of claims for compensation, which would be inevitable in the event of a serious security breach.
Student experience. Universities, in particular, are increasingly concerned with the quality of student experience. With rising tuition fees and rising competition for places it is important that students not only feel safe but can move freely around a campus with a minimum of fuss. Properly designed access control systems will enhance the student experience.
Options and solutions
Faced with a complex balance of competing priorities, educational facility managers need to navigate an effective way forward to ensure adequate security within the financial and technical parameters of their facilities.
Educational facility managers should implement an up-to-date risk assessment using survey services provided by an access control provider and by engaging in a serious debate within the governing and management structure about the level of risk in different areas.
The risk assessment must start with the likely level, frequency and severity of threat to student security and safety, quickly followed by the safety and security of teaching and other staff, before considering the security of other visitors and users. It is important this risk assessment is informed by credible, relevant statistics and not by headlines, rumours, urban myths or local prejudices.
Having identified the risks, the facility manager should consider the number of barriers or preventative measures that need to be implemented to provide a high level of security. Consider how long will it take to breach each barrier and how quickly an alarm can be raised and a response mobilised?
Finally, look at the likely level of loss and the consequences. While pupil security may be paramount and justify complex access control, it may not be justifiable in real terms to apply the same criteria to assets in the IT lab or sports centre, however valuable.
It is also important to factor in the quality of the student experience by considering the ease with which secure movement can be achieved.
Traditional access control systems have secured about 20 percent of doors, but this number is increasing rapidly with the introduction of cost-effective wireless technology, such as ASSA ABLOY’s Aperio range.
A proven technology that continues to evolve, wireless access control has overcome early myths about its functionality to be regarded as an economical alternative that is energy efficient, easily integrated into existing systems and expandable.
If planned properly, the trend towards wireless technology will reduce the number of credentials in use and running costs for the institution. By developing a strong understanding of the benefits of wireless access control, facility managers have an opportunity to make informed investment decisions that complement the technology’s capabilities.
With keyless institutions now a reality, facility managers should focus on the level of functionality that is needed in different areas to identify cost savings. An educational premise often won’t need full access control functionality on all doors, and wireless technology could be implemented in a staged manner across a campus.
Where a complex has an existing access control system that requires an upgrade to include new additions and extensions ASSA ABLOY’s Aperio range is an ideal option. Aperio complements extensions to existing access control systems, a preferred method over introducing an entirely new one, which can lead to problems in administering a larger system, impacting user experience.
While access control in educational buildings, from primary schools to universities, is a complex and challenging issue, by developing an understanding of the technologies that are available this complexity can be reduced, increasing security levels and improving student and staff experience.
With affordable options like wireless technology, financial constraints no longer necessarily prevent educational institutions from updating to safer access control systems.
This article also appears in the October/November 2016 edition of Facility Management magazine.