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Education

Key to college access

Security measures on campus are evolving at an accelerating rate, writes Fernando Pires, pictured, VP, Sales and Marketing at Morse Watchmans.

Not only is security technology changing and developing, from access control to video surveillance, but also the recognition of the need for stronger security measures to create a safer environment on campus is greater than ever. Some of the most significant changes are in the realm of access control. Many schools have gone to an automated system using cards which may be scanned or swiped to gain access to a building or room. Still, on every campus there will be a large number of physical keys that are in use, both from legacy systems and in new construction that is not a part of the electronic access control system. There is still a tremendous range of conventional applications for key or lock systems and these devices are exceptionally cost-effective.

The typical functional use of a large number of physical keys in any facility will be to keep them together in a single controlled location. The term “key box” once referred to a cabinet that hung on a wall and in which keys were hung from hooks. This is where the significant evolution has come in the use of physical keys and the need for a higher level of access control, which has driven technology advances in the form and function of key boxes. Today’s key management systems are themselves fully integrated access control systems which communicate across the converged network and provide campus executives with a wealth of information that can be used to manage and improve security on the campus.

The first line of defence in key management is controlling access to the keys themselves. The key cabinet will be locked, with numerous types of access control available to be integrated with more advanced key management systems. These include a built-in keypad where users can enter personal codes, biometrics such as fingerprint readers, hand readers or iris readers, and magnetic or proximity card readers. However, each of these solutions will do much more than simply open the door to the key box.

In the more advanced systems like our KeyWatcher, each key is locked into place inside the box using a SmartKey which has an integrated chip, so a user can only remove a key to which he or she has permission to use. The other keys will remain locked into place when the user enters his or her access code or scans their card or fingerprint. In this way, the system automatically controls who is able to use which keys. Our system assists the user further by lighting up the location of the key or keys he or she can remove once the code is entered and the box is opened.

In addition to guarding the actual physical keys, the key management system of today can be integrated into the overall security solution on campus. Our key management systems are scaleable; multiple cabinets can form a single fully integrated system to hold hundreds of keys and other items in multiple locations, and it can all be controlled from a single PC interface. By integrating management software, users can control the system and maximise its reporting and programmable access capabilities. For example, system managers can establish permission levels for each user code and monitor data from any desktop connected to the network. Since each individual key is secured to a Smart Key locking mechanism with built-in memory chip, data from the chip is stored every time a key is inserted into a key slot and there is a remotely accessible data trail for every key in the system. Security managers can view reports with data on every key that has been removed, how long it was out, who removed it and which location in which box it was returned to. Also, priority email alerts can be sent to security managers under a range of pre-set conditions. The software can run activity reports, sort based on different criteria, view and print reports and more.

All this and more makes it possible for system managers to generate useful and practical management reports, then analyse the information to maintain maximum control of access and security issues. Alarms can also be triggered for certain predetermined circumstances such as the use of force to gain access or remove a key, invalid user codes, a door left open for more than 10 seconds after use, power failure, a key missing or not returned on time or a key returned by the wrong user, et cetera. Although the basic premise and purpose for key management systems remains quite fundamental – to secure keys – the technology inside these boxes is quite sophisticated.

Now key management systems have evolved to provide solutions beyond key control. One upcoming trend will be a move from physical keys to other items to which access needs to be controlled. For example, some campuses have established a policy where security officers’ firearms must be locked and controlled when not in use. Other devices such as radios, cell phones, hand-held computers, etc., that are used by different personnel through the course of any given day are also both expensive and represent potential security breaches if stolen or misplaced. There is an increased demand for systems that provide management with a cost-efficient means of securing and tracking these items. We now offer modules for our KeyWatcher key management system that include lockers which can hold and control access to firearms and small devices with an audit trail to record when they are removed and by whom. Also, as access control systems continue to proliferate, the access devices themselves, such as magnetic cards or proximity devices, need to be secured in the same way as physical keys do. More advanced systems also accommodate these devices with specifically designed modules that can be used in any combination with standard key or locker modules.

Ultimately, the goal of a key management system is the same as any other security solution: to make the campus a safer place for students, staff and visitors. Recent tragedies have increased awareness of this need and schools are working to find funding for the sophisticated access control and communications systems that will address it. However, as campuses have extensive legacy systems in the form of physical keys, it makes tremendous sense from a cost as well as a time standpoint to find ways to keep these systems in place while increasing the level of security they offer. Key management systems are the perfect solution to this acute need. They provide an immediate improvement to campus safety and security, are much more accessible in terms of managing costs, and are extremely easy to implement. This is why the adoption of key management systems is growing at such a fast rate on campuses – it simply makes good sense.


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