Canadian Security Magazine

Municipality works toward one-card access solution

By Rosie Lombardi   

News Public Sector

In many cities, a hodgepodge of different access control and alarm systems has been installed over the years at municipal buildings. Many of these older systems use unwieldy, standalone technology that requires municipal staff and facilities managers to employ a multitude of cards, codes and steps to unlock doors or perform other simple access control functions.

But newer and more integrated solutions are available to eliminate these headaches. The City of Abbotsford in B.C. has been evolving toward a one-card, centralized solution for the past six years and has plans to transition more buildings in the future.

The evolution started in 2004, when the old magnetic stripe card system at Abbotsford’s City Hall was replaced with a proximity card system provided by Mississauga-based Keyscan Access Control Systems.

“Abbotsford’s municipal staff often had meetings and dealings outside of business hours, so they were looking for a solution that would allow them to tighten access control so the people who were supposed to be there could come and go, but not have free rein once they were inside,” says John Rose, president of Rose Security, a Keyscan dealer and installer based in Port Moody, B.C.

The old system didn’t allow him to differentiate between different categories of municipal workers, says Victor Pankratz, civic facility manager at the City of Abbotsford. “We wanted to give different levels of access so contractors could get into specific areas at specific times, limit part-time staff to office hours during the week and give regular employees full access to all the building.”

The city put the project out to bid, and Keyscan was selected for City Hall, says Rose.

The city implemented the Keyscan system at seven fire halls shortly afterward. Abbotsford’s Exhibition Park area, which has about 10 buildings, was later outfitted with Keyscan for a different set of users.

Over time, Abbotsford has installed Keyscan in 25 municipal buildings, says Pankratz.

Project and features
A common problem in many municipal buildings that have security features that were added piecemeal over the years is that intrusion alarm systems aren’t integrated with older magnetic swipe card readers, says Rose. “If they’re not integrated, then you have to punch in a code to turn off the alarm system before inserting your card to avoid setting if off.”

Staff have trouble remembering these unique numeric codes, especially if they need to access several municipal buildings. And people have trouble remembering codes for one-off events. A related issue is that people may not know if the alarm system has already been turned off by someone who’s already entered the building and may inadvertently turn it back on when they punch in the code. With integration of the two systems on one card, it eliminates the need to enter alarm codes, and a graphic display tells people if the alarm system is on or off.
Another useful feature is “present three,” which unlocks a door and leaves it unlocked for a period of time if a card is swiped three times.

By far the most useful feature is remote central management of almost 25 buildings. “Through our network, if a contractor can’t get into a building, I can open the door for him remotely. I can look at each building and see if doors are locked or not, and all the logs come to me centrally. And I can identify people by their names, which is friendlier than the old system, which listed people by an assigned number,” says Pankratz.

Rose says Keyscan has some fail-safe features that kick in if the network is down. “Each building has a control panel in place so the system can continue to operate normally on a standalone basis even if a cable is cut or network connectivity is lost, which happened a few weeks ago at Abbotsford.”

Some access control systems don’t have back-up controllers in place, he adds. “You would be surprised, but some vendors set them up so they’re completely network-dependent. If the network goes down in those instances, the doors are lost and people will either be trapped in or locked out of buildings. More and more IT guys are running security today, and they live and breathe networks but they’re not up 100 per cent of the time.”

Rosie Lombardi is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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