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Key control on campus

Colleges and university campuses are tasked with providing safe and secure places for students, staff and visitors, with protection of school assets.

In the United States, the University of Wisconsin (UW) in La Crosse has turned to automated key control, for secure storage for keys. The campus can programme user restrictions or parameters for managing keys. Users can only remove a key they are authorised to use by entering a pre-programmed PIN code or scanning their access card or biometric identification. If the criteria entered matches what’s stored in the system database, the key cabinet will unlock and the necessary key can be removed or returned. The other keys will remain locked into place and all access activity is automatically recorded. Key control systems can be integrated with network surveillance and security systems for added control and protection.

The UW La Crosse campus dates back to 1909 and has more than 10,000 students, a combined faculty and administrative staff of about 2,000 and more than 30 buildings. According to Ben Kolpitcke, the university locksmith, automated key control was the way to augment the school’s legacy mechanical keys. He says: “The first time I saw an automated key control system was at UW Madison and it immediately started me thinking about how this type of system could benefit our campus. At the time we were using a manual process for storing and distributing keys. Keys were held in a locked cabinet and each of the masters was embossed with a blind key code stamp. When the user signed a key out, the code stamp was logged in the book so we knew who had the keys and which keys were out but there was no effective way to track or manage usage.”

The university installed its first automated system, a KeyWatcher Touch from Morse Watchmans, in the landscaping department. It is configured with a 64-key module, a see-through polycarbonate door and a magstripe reader so users need only swipe their university issued ID badge to access a key they are authorized to use. The product allows several keys to be secured on a single key ring which, says Mr Kolpitcke, makes it easier for the grounds crew when they use several pieces of equipment (whether lawnmower, loaders.) over a day. Different colours on the key hubs also allow keys to be identified for specific areas or people and the see-through door lets supervisors know with just a glance which key rings or individual keys are out.

KeyWatcher Touch systems were next installed in the university’s custodial, IT and campus police departments plus one of the residential life buildings. All units, except the unit in the campus police department, are configured with magstripe readers.

Mr Kolpitcke says: “We configured the campus police department system with a contactless HID reader, as well as the building perimeter readers, because of our concern that if an officer were transporting a handcuffed individual from the police vehicle into the building, it would be easier – and safer – for them to present the fob and enter the building than to reach for and swipe a magstripe card. With the building outfitted with HID readers, it only made sense to configure the cabinet with the same contactless HID reader.”

At the residence hall, Mr Kolpitcke was able to import the names of employee and student users from the schools’ People Soft software and configure the cabinet to accept the student identity cards. A weekly report of all transactions as well as email alerts when specific keys are accessed was also programmed per the request of Resident Life administrators.

Mr Kolpitcke adds: “The system provides us with a great deal of flexibility. Because the KeyWatcher cabinets are on the network, we can add or remove temporary users from the desktop, limit/program usage, get email notices if a key isn’t returned or when an important key is accessed and even find out where a particular key is located in the cabinet. It just gives us complete control.” The product can allow temporary authorisations for contractors or short-term workers. Then, when a key has been accessed and/or returned by this individual, the supervisors receives an alert. From this information, management knows when the individual is on site, for how long and where they were working – all without having to assign a staff member to accompany them to a job site or track them down to retrieve a key or even temporarily share a key between a staff member and a contractor.

The automatic tracking and alerts have also helped improve security by stemming the problem of staff taking keys home at the end of the day. Key boxes are centrally located within the departments, making it faster for staff to return keys at the end of their shift.

“The key cabinets provide a secure place on campus to store the keys when not in use. It’s a very safe and manageable system.”


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