The free flow of people — from classes to labs to dorms to many other places — is important on every higher education campus. While protecting students, staff, and property are among your highest priorities, doing so can be challenging when someone can easily access much of campus.
Though COVID might have changed how many people you have on campus on any given day, a variety of people still need routine access to housing units, fleet vehicles, offices, and laboratories.
However, an open campus doesn’t have to mean an unsecured campus. Maintaining operations should never come at the expense of relaxed access restrictions or key control practices.
Consider the results of audits at multiple higher education campuses in Utah. Not only were many doors found unlocked or even propped open long after normal campus hours, several campuses had chronic issues with keeping track of master keys. At one campus, almost 100 master keys had been lost in a five-year period, but only two buildings had actually been rekeyed.
You might think that replacing physical keys with magnetic cards or PIN pads is the answer to the problem, but those methods have similar security risks. At one Texas campus, a man was arrested after using a stolen master key card and PIN to enter a student’s dorm room. As you can see, even a campus with advanced access control methods can face access abuse problems.
To help you keep control of the access on your campus, follow these three tips.
Control the Keys, Control the Access
Physical keys, PIN pads, magnetic cards, electric fobs — there are likely a variety of access methods already spread out across your campus. No matter what system you use, it’s important to limit the use of master keys and keep any physical tokens, like keys or cards, secure when they’re not in use.
How you assign keys and keep track of them is also critical. Allowing loose access to keys and not knowing who has them opens your campus up to risk and can have major consequences, from the financial implications of large rekeying projects to the theft of valuable university assets.
Keys should be assigned as they’re needed and kept secure when they’re not. Consider using an electronic key control system that automatically tracks key access by authorized users without slowing down the checkout process. This eliminates the need for tedious and often wrong access logs while giving you a quick way to know who took keys and when. Strict time limits and alerts can help you follow up and ensure people return keys when they need to.
Track Long-Term Keys
Of course, it’s not practical to secure some keys or cards on a daily basis, such as individual housing or office keys. If keys do have to be assigned on a long-term basis, be sure you have a method for tracking who is responsible for them and a way to ensure they’re returned.
Look for a key control solution that offers the ability to track such long-term keys rather than requiring people to check out and a return a key every day when it’s not practical. After all, you wouldn’t want a professor checking out the only key to their office every day.
Long-term keys do have their own security limitations since you must trust the keyholder to be responsible for its protection at all times. However, appropriately tracking such keys gives you an easy way to quickly know who is supposed to have the key. It also helps you follow up when it’s time for a key to be returned, such as at the end of a semester.
Don’t Forget Your Spares
Spare keys, especially for long-term keys that are already checked out, are critical for day-to-day operations. While a graduate student might have a key for a locker with dangerous chemicals for research, there will often be instances where somebody else needs access on a short-term basis.
Letting even a couple copies float around your campus can negate any other key or access control measures you’ve taken. To close this security gap, be sure you can account for all spare keys by entering them into your electronic key control system as soon as they’re made. Run routine reports to make sure none have gone missing.
As you can see, managing access on a relatively open campus is a challenge. But there are steps you can take to better protect your students, staff, and assets. While you might be considering key control for your campus, ask yourself this question: Are any departments on your campus making dangerous key control mistakes?