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Problems in Passé in Passaic Valley

Stickers that say, “Hello my name is…” may be fine for modern mingling. They are not, however, a firm framework for access control. But for the guards at the Passaic Valley Water Commission, in Northeast, New Jersey, such stickers had become a quick and easy option for registering the more than 50 visitors and temporary contractors entering the treatment facility on a daily basis.

The commission, which serves one million customers, had installed a badging system in June 2004, but it was found to be wanting. “We tried to get it up and running for about three months, but the guards were frustrated by it,” Commissioner Ben Jakubovic says.

That system had essentially been mothballed because it was slow and difficult to use. Processing each visitor took nearly ten minutes, and the system was so complicated that several guards could not operate it effectively.

Besides being needlessly complicated, the system generated only small black-and-white photos that were hard for guards to see as people walked by. It didn’t offer a method for dating the badges either, a necessity for tracking visitors. The system also required brand-specific supplies, including ink and badge material.

Jakubovic knew that he had to find a better way to handle badging. He wanted a product that was user friendly and could print color photo badges. After evaluating several systems, he ultimately chose the Photo ID System from Avery Dennison based in Pasa­dena, California, because it was fast and easy for staff to use and had the features sought. “The learning curve was a lot shallower on the Avery system,” he says.

Training was completed in one session conducted by representatives from Avery. Although not all Jakubovic’s guards were able to attend the training, the untrained guards were taught how to operate the system by the trained guards without any difficulties.

“You do not need highly skilled employees to handle this product,” Jakubovic explains. “I had my whole staff trained up in a couple of days.”

Jakubovic, whose guards have been using the product for approximately six months, was also impressed by the quality of the badges, which include color-coded stripes denoting the day of the week and a bar code that is scanned just before the visitor leaves to remove the user from the system. According to Jakubovic, the color coded stripes “allow a guard or anybody to see from 50 feet away whether someone has that day’s correct badge or not.”

Guests can be registered in advance by the person they will visit. Whether preregistered or not, each guest must stop at the guard desk, give the name of the person being visited, and show a photo ID. The guard takes a picture of the guest, and a badge is printed on a self-adhesive label. From start to finish, the badging process takes less than three minutes.

The system maintains a log of every visitor, which guards can use to generate a report listing all nonemployees in the building in the event that an emergency requires an evacuation. Logs are held indefinitely on a Water Commission network so that if security needs to research who has been in the building on a certain day, it can retrieve those records.

The system has performed as promised for the most part, says Jakubovic. One minor issue is that a visitor’s e-mail address has to be entered before a visitor registration can be completed. Some visitors either don’t have an e-mail address or don’t wish to pro­vide one, and Jakubovic’s staff is forced to create fake e-mail addresses [email protected] to complete the process.

Another problem is that the system allows for large group registrations, but does not require members of the group to be photographed individually. According to Jakubovic, the vendor has said that these problems will be addressed in a later release at no additional cost.

The system was very easy to install and was done by CD ROM. Once the software was running, they only had to plug in the Web camera, printer, and bar code scanner, which were all instantly “recognized” by the computer. “We were up and running in less than half an hour,” says Jakubovic.

The system requires Windows XP Home or Professional (with Service Pak 1 or later) or Windows 2000 Standard or Professional Edition (with Service Pak 3 or later). Microsoft Excel 2000 or XP are also required. In addition, the system must have a PC with a 600 Mhz processor or faster, a CD-ROM Drive, 128 Mb of RAM, 275 Mb of hard-disk space, and a monitor capable of 1024 x 768 resolution with 24-bit color support.

Avery Dennison sells the software by itself for $375, or bundled with a Web camera, camera stand, USB hub, and bar-code scanner for $995. Jakubovic opted for the bundled version.

The only additional expense for the Water Commission was an inkjet printer, which was purchased for less than $100. Jakubovic found the printer flexibility to be an advantage of this system. He chose an Epson printer because the inks used are water resistant, obviously an important feature for the Water Commission.

Jakubovic says the Avery system has saved the Water Commission a lot of time, and “time is money. People are checked in much faster, and they are checked out incredibly fast,” he says. He would recommend the system to any utility or industrial facility that handles visitors on a regular basis because “at a glance, from a distance, you can have a very good idea if someone belongs there.”

—By Marta Roberts, staff editor at Security Management