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Security's Legerdemain

THE PECK SCHOOL of the Arts building at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee must be open late at night to accommodate students who want to work on their class projects. In the past, there had not been any access control system, so anyone could enter the facility, which caused problems. For example, in a series of incidents, a man repeatedly entered the building and exposed himself to students,” says LeRoy Stoner, assistant dean for facilities for the Peck School of the Arts. “After this, students came to us. They wanted access, but they wanted to keep troublemakers out.”

Based on this request, Stoner began investigating access control solutions. He eventually installed the HandKey hand recognition system by Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. Stoner installed the first hand reader in a single facility about four years ago. In the years since then, he has expanded the system to protect five other university buildings, four on campus and one a mile away. The lessons he learned from the first installation have helped him adapt the technology for use elsewhere in the university.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee covers about 73 acres in urban Milwaukee. The university has 26,000 students, 2,023 of whom are enrolled in the Peck School of the Arts, as well as 800 faculty and staff members.

When Stoner began investigating access control systems, he worked closely with the campus locksmith, who was most familiar with standard locks but had also investigated various types of entry control systems used throughout the university. “We have a number of departments on campus using swipe cards,” says Stoner. “But we were encouraged to look at other technologies.”

Other types of access control systems had been problematic, says Stoner. For example, swipe card technology often failed because debris built up on the magnetic readers. It was also difficult to prevent students from lending their credentials to their classmates.

“Because of these issues, we turned to biometrics and hand recognition,” says Stoner. “It is difficult to loan out your hand.”

The HandKey product stood out from the beginning, according to Stoner. It had a simple user interface and did not require a card of any kind. The system also did not need to be monitored. Students who have difficulty with the reader and cannot get into the building must phone campus security. This number is provided to the students by the university but is not posted near the reader.

Even though students had requested the security improvement, they were a little concerned at first when they learned it was a biometric system. Students initially thought that school officials were taking their fingerprints. Stoner educated faculty and department chairs about the system so that they could respond to any questions students might have. He explained that the information gathered as part of the security system was not shared with any other campus department or outside agency. “After we explained how the system works,” says Stoner, “students felt much better, and there were no more objections.”

The hand readers were installed on the perimeter doors and hardwired into the university’s computer network.

Enrolling students in the system went smoothly. Stoner used the school’s box office as the enrollment center. Box office staff members, who were themselves students, were first trained on how to use the system and how to enroll others. The staff then asked students to designate a four-digit numeric PIN and take a hand scan. The PIN is used to tell the system which stored scan to pull up to compare to the live scan. This way the system does not have to search the entire database of hand scans for a match.

Also, during the enrollment process, students provide basic contact information, such as a home address, and telephone number. However, staff members do not collect student IDs or Social Security numbers for privacy reasons. “We don’t cross reference this information with other departments; the record is only for us,” says Stoner.

The staff enrolling the students also provided information about what would affect the system’s ability to make a successful match. For example, they explained that if a student wore rings during the enrollment scan, that student would have to wear those rings when using the access control system. This applies to all items on the hand, including band-aids for example. So if a student had an injured hand, they were encouraged to return and enroll after the injury healed.

Each reader has a traditional keypad and a hand scanner. Students first enter their PIN. After entering the PIN, the students insert their hands to be scanned.

Once enrollment was completed and the system was in place, the building was kept open to the public until 7:30 p.m., after which it was locked, and students who needed access later in the evening had to use the HandKey to get in. Access to the building is provided to all students enrolled in the school of the arts.

As the system went live, one problem that arose was the issue of who belonged in the database. In the spring of each year, Stoner pulls the list of students enrolled in the system and compares them to registration records. The first year the system was in operation, Stoner deleted the students on the enrollment list who were not registered. However, he later found out that the registrar had made some mistakes, and he was forced to reenroll some students. Now Stoner deactivates the student profiles rather than deleting them. Then after a year, if the deactivated students haven’t reenrolled, the profiles are deleted.

Over the next year, Stoner expanded the system to three more campus facilities. Almost two years ago, the university included the Kenilworth Building, a facility about a mile away from campus that is primarily a research and creative studio building within the school of the arts. Doing so meant that the university did not have to staff the entrance to the building. The six-story building is now locked at all times. Students have varying levels of access; HandKey devices in the two elevators determine which floors students can visit.

Because the Kenilworth Building requires greater security than the facilities on campus, movement within the building is controlled by the HandKey as well. The stairwells are kept locked as are the building’s two loading docks. Even custodial workers must be enrolled in the HandKey system.  Currently, Stoner has the HandKey system installed on five campus buildings. Those buildings have 16 readers among them, including two used for enrollment.

Eight of the readers, which are on exterior doors, are equipped with metal hurricane enclosures to protect them from the elements. The screen on which users must place their hands is heated and the pushbuttons where users enter their PINs are covered by a waterproof membrane.

The cost of the HandKey was comparable to that of other systems, according to Stoner. The most significant cost was installation, specifically wiring the exterior door frames where the readers were placed. Placing the readers at exterior doors cost approximately $5,000 per door, while interior door installations cost around $1,100.

Though the system has met expectations overall, Stoner has had issues related to how hands change over time. Some university students go through a growth spurt, he says, and must be reenrolled. For others, illness has been a problem. A few senior faculty members need special attention because they have arthritis, and their scans do not stay current, according to Stoner. For those employees, Stoner can loosen the security level, requiring fewer points of comparison for a match.

Another issue is that debris can collect on scanning surfaces and cause authorized users to be rejected. But Stoner solved that problem by asking custodians to clean the readers on a regular basis.

The system has helped Stoner address several problems. For example, several months ago at the Kenilworth Building, faculty members were complaining that a garage band was using the facility to practice and producing loud music around the clock. Stoner monitored the main entrance and saw someone enter with musical equipment. Then he found out who had entered using the HandKey. Stoner called the culprit and told him that the band could not practice in the building, solving the problem.

Six weeks ago, Stoner had a report that a student was sleeping in the building. Finally, one of the faculty said they thought they knew who it was and that that person had dropped out of school a few weeks prior. Stoner did some research and found out that the individual was no longer a student but was coming in and out of the building at all hours. Stoner deleted the profile, and the student could no longer get into the building.

(For more information: Pat Olmstead, marketing communications, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies; phone: 317/810-3813; fax: 317/810-3989; e-mail:[email protected].)