10 Ways to Enhance School Access Control

Schools around the world have to adjust to ‘the new normal’ brought about by COVID-19. This means modified operating hours, temporary closures, staff working remotely and changing visitor and occupancy policies. As school districts adapt, the need to keep in mind how their security systems can mitigate risks and reinforce district policies.  School access control is important.

For example, while organizations are increasingly concerned about managing who is on-site and when, access control systems can be critical.

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Today we’ll be discussing 10 simple ways that organizations can enhance their school access control – both during this transitional period and beyond. 

1. Install door contacts at every exterior door.

Door contacts notify your security system when a door is open. Though this seems like a basic way to increase security, it’s actually less common than you think. While many organizations choose to install request-to-exit sensors and access control card readers, they often don’t include door contacts. These contacts ensure that your facility is properly secured. And, as they’re relatively inexpensive, they can be a cost-effective way to enhance your school access control.

2. Identify and limit entrances to ensure school access control.

One of the first things to pay attention to when discussing school access control is exactly where your entrances are. Each entrance is a potential vulnerability. Though for some organizations, like schools, it makes sense to have multiple entrances, each one literally opens the door to potential threats. 

Identify your main entry points and limit your entrances. You should only keep those that are absolutely necessary, as this will allow you to better monitor and control the flow of people entering and exiting your facility.

3. Remove entry hardware from all exterior doors not designated as an entrance.

After limiting your entrances, the next step is to secure all other exterior doors. Installing exit-only hardware  like cover plates on these doors is a simple and cost-effective way to do that. This is a relatively simple stick for organizations to take when they’re looking to increase their perimeter security.

4. Remove and dispose of any visible door props near exterior doors.

Prop objects, like a rock that props a door open for smokers, can significantly impact the effectiveness of your access control. Make sure you’ve removed any objects from the perimeter of your building which could act as door props. Installing door contacts on all exterior doors will also help to notify your security system when a door is open.

5. Modify your hours of operation within your access control system to reflect new COVID-19 policies.

In response to COVID-19, many organizations have either temporarily closed, or modified their hours of operation. These operational decisions and threat mitigation policies should reflect in their access control system. Closed schools and campuses should revisit their lock/unlock and alarm open/close schedules. This makes sure that the premisis is properly armed. Schools who have staff working from home should also suspend those individual’s access cards to reflect the change. 

6. Audit your access privileges.

Now is a good time to audit your access privileges. This way, you can make sure that the right people have access to the right areas of your facility, at the right time. Best practice for access control is to take a “Zero Trust” approach, which is exactly what it sounds like – organizations shouldn’t automatically trust anyone within their perimeter. While “Zero Trust” is a cybersecurity term, it is easily applicable to physical security. Basically, it means that no one should have more access than they need.   

Take the time to review exactly who has access to where. Revoke access for those who shouldn’t have it. Especially if you have any individuals whose cards should have expired but are still active in your system. These could be vendors, contractors or staff.

7. Collect spare keys, especially master keys.

Just as important as auditing your access control, you need to limit the number of people who have spare or master keys. Good key management is essentially for securing your property, assets and people efficiently. You should start by identifying what keys you have, where they are used and exactly who has access to them. Any requests for keys should be submitted and approved in writing – this provides a paper trail for your key records, which should be shared with your HR department. One of the biggest problems with key management is retrieving the keys of staff who no longer need them because they’ve left or moved to a different role. HR is the perfect department to deal with this.

Another important aspect of key control policy is outlining the process for reporting stolen or lost keys. You should encourage employees to report these immediately and provide a process for updating the key issuance log. 

8. Create custom and distinguishable alerts for sensitive areas.

Security and IT experts often receive hundreds of alerts every day. Alert fatigue, or becoming numb to these alerts, is extremely normal. One way to prevent this, and make sure no high-priority incidents go unnoticed, is to create a custom alert for specific doors or areas within your organization. All you need to do is add these sensitive areas to a group within your access control system and assign a higher priority alarm level and distinguishable color to these alerts. Then the security team will know that any alert of that color should be prioritized.

Though this won’t decrease the overall number of alerts the receive, it will help them to prioritize incidents, ultimately improving security.

9. Check all mechanical hardware of your doors.

Make sure that all doors, frames and hardware are both structurally sound and code-compliant. Clean the surfaces of your door hardware with non-corrosive solvent and make a note of whether physical or opening hardware – including the frame, threshold and hinges – are in need of repair.

10. Update your access control software.

Your access control system should stay up to date, in order to unlock security patches and new features and functionality. The importance of doing so was highlighted this year when Mercury Security issued a notice that a few of the LP intelligent controllers would not be able to properly handle leap year time calculations. This is a problem that would have “unknown effects on the functionality of the access control system.”

Though this seems scary, the solution is simple. Keep your firmware up to date. In most cases, simple updates can address many security vulnerabilities and ensure your system is functioning properly.

As your organization navigates the continued impact of COVID-19, these tips can help you identify opportunities for improving your perimeter security and enhancing your school access control.

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