Facility Retrofit: Biometric Entry

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By Anne Vazquez
Published in the July/August 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

As director of facilities, what are your responsibilities at the Peck School of the Arts?
I am responsible for day to day operations, setup, security, oversight of the calendar (in terms of space utilization), front of house staffing for events, classroom technology (all but computers), interfacing with campus units (e.g., UWM Police, UWM Facilities, UWM Legal), writing outside use agreements, and driving long-term facilities goals within the Peck School of the Arts.

Please describe the facilities involved in this retrofit project.
The Peck School of the Arts campus comprises six buildings totaling 532,000 gross square feet. There are 1,800 students at the school; overall, the university has nearly 28,000 students. Peck School of the Arts offers more than 350 dance, music, and theater performances, film screenings, and art exhibitions each year.

What were the motivating factors and goals for this security retrofit?
There had been several incidents involving a flasher in the studios late at night as well as a number of thefts. The students didn’t feel safe working at night, and because of their schedules (balancing work and school) it’s imperative that they have 24 hour access to their studios. The students approached the school and asked for a solution.

The students spearheaded this project, but the facilities department still needs to oversee the operation and maintenance of the new security equipment. What features were you looking to include during the evaluation and selection process?
Our facilities department in Peck School of the Arts is very small (one and a half people small), mainly because many facilities issues are handled at the campus level (i.e., custodial, police, trades). At the time during which we were looking at products our campus did not have in place a comprehensive access control policy, so each unit somewhat fended for itself.

Biometric hand scanner

Photo: Allegion

Because of the size of our department we really wanted to find something that would: fit into our existing infrastructure; be easy from an enrollment perspective (could be operated by our box office student staff); and be easy from a troubleshooting perspective (I don’t have hours to diagnose and solve problems). Additionally, it needed to be relatively low maintenance, and most importantly we didn’t want to use key fobs or cards. We didn’t want to require students and staff to keep track of these types of items.

During the process, we asked Anixter, our integrator, for suggestions of a good solution to stop [unauthorized people] from entering the buildings, where art students can be found working on projects day and night. They, along with a locksmith on our campus, suggested that the students consider biometric hand readers. Ultimately, we installed 13 Schlage HandKey readers on the exteriors of the six building complex. Several others were installed to manage access via certain elevators.

How do you maintain the system? Is this integrated into a larger security infrastructure? How does your department ensure the right people have access? 
Our system is a standalone in all of our buildings except our Kenilworth Square East building where it interacts with a Johnson Controls P2000 system. Since installation, the campus has started moving forward with implementation of an Andover access control system but [Peck] has insisted on maintaining our independent access control devices.

We run the entire system from a server that sits in my office. We have several access control profiles set up in a software program designed for the product. The software divides users by department (e.g., Art, Film, Music, Dance, Theatre, Administration, UWM Facilities, UWM Police) and by their status in that category (e.g., Art Major, Art Student, Art Faculty, and Staff)—each with a different level of access.

In order to enroll, students and staff members have to go to our box office to fill out an enrollment form. There, they indicate whether they are simply taking one course, have majored, are grad students, or are staff. That helps the box office staff determine the correct profile for them.

Each semester, we eliminate anyone who was profiled as just taking one course and send the user lists to each department for auditing. Each department then lets us know which majors, staff, or grad students to eliminate. If someone leaves the campus before the end of a semester, the chair of the department alerts me to remove them from the system.

What have the results been?
From my perspective, I’m very satisfied. The system is fairly intuitive, easy to use, doesn’t require credentials beyond a PIN code and your hand, and it can be integrated with a larger security infrastructure should we wish to do that at some point.

From the user’s perspective, the only complaints I’ve heard have been when a reader needs maintenance. Also, in our buildings, there are a lot of artists who regularly have paint or plaster on their hands, and if a reader’s reject threshold is set too sensitive it will reject them.  

To learn more about UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, visit www4.uwm.edu/psoa/. To learn more about Schlage HandKey readers, visit www.allegion.com/US.

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