Automated access and parking for university campuses

November 2006 Access Control & Identity Management

Safety and security on American ­campuses is a topic of wide US national debate these days – there was a case in the last week of September in which ­students were held hostage and one young woman lost her life.

Nowadays - at educational institutions across the world - various facilities like research labs, libraries and computer centres, are being added to them. The pace of development creates a need for stronger security and proper parking on the campuses, which goes a long way in protecting an image of a safe and secure environment for students, faculty staff and visitors at the university.

Safety and security on campus

Safety and security are important issues in the minds of parents when selecting a university. The smallest news on breach of security makes headlines and causes a lot of grief at all levels. So administrators at university campuses need to be concerned about incorporating sufficient controls to protect lives and avoid bad publicity.

The very first option of a campus is the parking area. Controlled parking implies security, monitoring and order. Uncontrolled parking implies potential chaos and safety risks. The same is true of buildings and dormitories. Good access control offers peace of mind to the students and parents, whilst no access control creates a lot of worries.

This is why strong access control and parking control are almost standard at all campuses today.


Some campuses are larger than a small town so they have all the same problems of a bustling community with a large array of users. Colleges and universities are unique in their access requirements as they house different schools (for example arts, engineering, IT, physics etc), each requiring its own specific needs to secure its assets.

Handling a population of students poses special problems. Security is only as good as the users who want to make it happen.

Large volumes. This one factor affects almost everything. Even with 99,999% reliability, a university with 40 000 students will experience four major problems every day! To ensure 99,999% reliability at the overall system level, the reliability of each component has to be much, much higher than that. Also, this high volume creates special problems with traffic - both the vehicle level and at the pedestrian level.

Transient nature/high turnover. The problem is much higher than that in the sense that as many as 50% of the student bodies need to be requalified every three months. So in a large university with 40 000 students, the system has to be ready to handle changes on 20 000 students every quarter.

Vandalism. Deliberate attempts to defeat security is a serious problem. An equally painful problem is random and arbitrary vandalism. Anything exposed is likely to be damaged or destroyed, simply on principle. Even the day-to-day handling is likely to be much less careful than in other applications.

Distributed nature. A large campus can have 100 large buildings and 200 small buildings. Some students have access to 2% of these buildings and others may have access to 4%. Faculty staff may have access to 7% of the buildings. Then comes the issue of time zones. Keeping up with all these requirements and restrictions is a major challenge and requires both a good communication system to each of the components and also requires a good data collection and distribution system in the complex.

Special events. A sports event could double the population on a campus and affect parking and security procedures. The start of a new semester also poses its own share of challenges as most students would not have received their duly programmed cards. And the incoming student bodies have to be re-trained on the systems all over again.

Multiple use cards. More and more universities are opting for a single card that can be used in multiple applications, like the canteen, bookstore, library etc. Generally a magnetic stripe card works well in such applications since Track 1 or Track 3 can be used for security and Track 2 can be used for banking and other financial control purposes. With a chip on the card, they can be used as debit cards and have the ability to be recharged at an ATM.

Access requirements

In general, there are three user groups on the university campus - students, staff/faculty and visitors. Access control solutions have to be designed with primarily these three groups in mind.

As many doors are locked and unlocked repeatedly during each day, the recommendation is for access control systems complete with card readers and system management software.

Card readers allow students and faculty members to move freely through doors that generally remain locked. Programming features allow cards to be added to and removed from the system with ease.

Access control software makes it easy to lock and unlock doors on a schedule programmed into the system, while maintaining a record of whose cards accessed which doors at what times.

Access control technology also erases the problem of lost keys. If a card is lost, the system manager can de-activate it upon receiving a report of the loss.

Access control technology can extend control over any and all doors within a building or entire campus. Intrusion control alarms work side-by-side with access control. When a student has an authorised card, no alarm sounds. However, when someone attempts to gain access with an unauthorised card or forces a door, the system will set off an alarm at a computer controlling the system.

CCTV can also be used with the systems as a deterrent; to gather information on events in progress; and to record information on what happened.

A security system that incorporates telephone entry as well as card access control is recommended for visitor access needs to both dormitories and campus buildings.

Parking requirements

Parking solutions at universities have to be designed with the same three user groups in mind.

Students' parking and faculty parking is universally card controlled, although the cards are programmed for access to different parking areas. Visitor parking is generally ticket-in and cashier-out parking.

From the University Handbook - How to Design Automated Access & Parking System for University Campuses,

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