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Inside Iowa State
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December 14, 2001

Security cards have made an impact in three years

by Anne Krapfl
In just three years, 43 campus buildings have received security card readers, a state-of-the-art alternative to door locks and keys. The plan, Rob Bowers told a P&S open forum Dec. 6, is to outfit 16 more buildings in the next five years. Bowers coordinates campus security, including the card access system, for the department of public safety and was asked to talk about his work at the forum.

University departments have spent $1.5 million in each of the last three years on the new system. The security card system is standard in new construction projects; in fact, Bowers is on board early in the building planning process to ask architects to address all sorts of security issues. (For example, don't place pay phones outside restrooms, as had been standard practice for years. It gives would-be assailants a seemingly legitimate excuse for hanging out.) Existing buildings also have been retrofitted with the new system; the cost is borne by departments in those buildings. To get a rough cost estimate for your building, contact Bowers, 4-5787.

How it works
Based on a department's request, employees in that unit receive non-descript white plastic cards that have been programmed with many variables: name and department name, days of approved access to a building, hours of access during each day of the week. Card readers installed at exterior doors (and subsequent interior doors, depending on the level of security desired) let approved employees in. Bowers said cards can be reprogrammed in the DPS office without physically being brought in.

Bowers said a centralized security system for the campus is efficient and offers "real-time security." If someone with a stolen or expired card tries to enter a building, DPS officers know it immediately and respond. In the past, when departments or buildings installed their own security systems, there was lag time between the time an alarm sounded and when DPS officers were contacted and arrived at the location. Other benefits include:
  • Crime tracking. If an item is reported stolen from a secured area -- for example, a residence hall lounge -- a suspect list can be honed based on who entered that area. A computer in DPS keeps a record of who enters which buildings and building areas.
  • No re-keying charges. When keys are lost or stolen, potentially expensive decisions arise about whether the affected door locks need to be changed and all impacted employees issued new keys. Stolen cards can be de-activated.
  • Instant card updates. Privilege changes to cards can be made instantaneously and expiration dates can be placed on cards when they're issued.
The department of public safety currently has a five-year service contract with the Baker Group, a Des Moines electrical contractor. A long-term goal for the university is to install and maintain its own system, Bowers said.

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