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The Benefits of Open Platform Access Control in Educational Environments

Article First Featured on ISC News

As we return to a post-COVID society, the need for stronger, more streamlined security solutions in educational facilities has never been greater. Open platform access control solutions have numerous benefits, including monitoring several systems through a common interface, and integration with other systems.  In addition to access control, it's important to note that video management is a crucial aspect of security, especially in an educational setting. Therefore, equipping schools with a robust, highly flexible access control solution that allows for extensive integration will significantly strengthen the facilities' infrastructure. 

In 2021, more than 90% of public schools are already using some type of access control and video surveillance systems. While access control typically serves as the primary component of a security system, coupling it with other technologies such as video management, wireless locks, visitor management, and more, allows for a well-rounded solution covering multiple aspects of school security. 

Curious as to how one school leveraged open platform access control solutions in educational facilities, and how each security infrastructure was upgraded to become more robust, more streamlined, and easier to manage? Read below how this growing and evolving school district puts a focus on security while opening the door to future capabilities and integrations.

Big enough to serve you; small enough to know you

This is the mantra of the Littleton Public School District – or more commonly known as LPS – is located just 10 miles outside Denver's bustling downtown and serves several communities within the southern Denver metropolitan area. LPS is the fifteenth largest school district in Colorado, operating three high schools, four middle schools, 13 elementary schools, a preschool, two charter schools, and several alternative programs that span over 29 miles. The district is responsible for more than 15,000 students day-to-day and employs over 2,500 faculty and staff. 

Managing security and access for this amount of people can be a challenge, especially given all other security factors campuses face. Still, the LPS campuses are also open for use within the Littleton community.

"Schools are often not only educational facilities, but also centerpieces of the community," said Guy Grace, Director of Security and Emergency Planning, LPS. "For 15 hours a day, a significant part of our community is in our schools for learning, extracurricular activities, or community use, so we must get the security right. In the past, there were significant challenges that arose when the school district deployed security technology. Often, the older technology did not evolve with new threats, and as a result, became obsolete." 

LPS' former access control provider was proprietary and was not PoE (Power over Ethernet) compatible. PoE describes the cabling that passes electrical power and data, allowing a single cable to provide both the data connection and electrical power to devices such as door controllers and IP security cameras. PoE infrastructure results in lower cost, greater flexibility with installation, and overall more functionality than traditional wiring. As a result, the school district can adapt to and minimize new weaknesses. 

Grace and his staff were adamant about implementing technology to provide an integrated approach to a safer school by utilizing PoE to ultimately achieve a full-edged Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) system. PSIM is a category of software designed to integrate multiple, unconnected security applications and devices and control them through one comprehensive user interface. 

"In wanting to bring this big vision to the school district, we looked at procedures and technologies that would enhance school security and improve the learning environment," said Grace. "One of the most important tiers we wanted to meet was a complete installation of a PoE cabling infrastructure district-wide that would allow us to use non-proprietary systems, which helps us bring the best technology into the district."

As Grace began the vendor selection process for the upgrade, he looked at consistently evolving suppliers. This would allow the district to grow alongside its service providers as new features and technologies became available. "Our overall security goal is pretty simple," said Grace. "We must have quality technology delivering quality results because we cannot have a successful educational experience without safety and security being well taken care of."

Grace and his team sought an access control provider that could integrate with their chosen technology providers and a user-friendly interface that allowed multiple operators to utilize the system. 

The Open Options' cloud-hosted access control platform, DNA Fusion, integrates with other systems and has mobile and web applications. Because of this, LPS also utilizes other elements of the platform to enhance its overall security. "The web and mobile components of the software ensure we can access and manage security from almost anywhere – we receive alerts of open doors, forced entries, etc., straight to our mobile devices or remote desktops.

Grace and his team found the flexibility of programming time schedules and access levels highly beneficial in daily operations across the district. Security differs from campus to campus; for instance, there are time schedules in place for specific doors operated by security officers at the high school campuses, but the elementary and middle schools remain locked throughout the day except for student arrival and dismissal times. Access levels vary by employee, with some having 24/7 access to all buildings while others only have access specific to the building they work in. 

"We do provide access cards to area law enforcement," said Grace. "In a lockdown situation, only police and certain security personnel have access for immediate entry.

LPS believes that a security system must be deployed in a customizable manner for the school and its daily operations that enhance the abilities of teachers to teach and students to learn. In addition, a security system must ultimately have the ability to be deployed and work efficiently around the clock for many different needs. With this in mind, LPS currently has 29 sites utilizing the DNA Fusion platform with plans to have over 150 operators district-wide. 

"We expect the system to evolve for the needs of the district for years to come," said Grace. "Security is never static, so the system must be proactive like the people that use it."

Open for the Future

Access control is a critical security solution for schools and other educational facilities that are focused on protecting the lives of their students and staff. Open platform access control solutions that provide highly flexible integration with other security systems, such as video surveillance and management, are ideal, as these are the two main methods used in educational settings. Ultimately, utilizing a flexible access control solution provides a robust and safe way for students and staff to safely enter the campus, travel between classes, and exit the premises while being given the peace of mind that they are being protected from any harmful influences.

Access Control in the Education Sector

An Open Options & DPS Success Story 

Denver Public Schools (DPS) is comprised of more than 200 schools, including traditional, innovation, magnet, charter, and pathway schools. Serving one of the fastest-growing school districts in Colorado, the DPS safety department is constantly working to create a safe and secure environment for over 90,000 students, 15,000 staff members 24 hours a day, 78 days a week, 365 days a year. 

Led by Chief Michael Eaton, the department has over 140 team members including investigators, armed patrol officers, dispatchers, emergency preparedness professionals, and campus security officers. In addition to training district staff in emergency management, DPS protects their stakeholders from harm and offers guidance to school administrators to enhance school safety in a wide variety of situations.                       

The Challenge

DPS was in need of an access control solution that would be capable of scaling and widespread flexibility, and after much research chose Open Options as their partner. 

The DPS communications center handles over 20,000 calls for service each school year and also monitors all radio communications between their command and patrol staff. The center trains extensively with the Denver Police Department for a wide range of situations. Through their radio communications system, they are able to communicate with every police district in the city as well as Denver dispatch. The center also works in collaboration with jurisdictions across the metro area, the US Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and Secret Service. 

 “At the core of all our efforts in safeguarding our students, faculty, and staff, is our campus security protocols and perhaps most importantly, our access control system,” said Eaton.  As security for a school district has many layers, DPS needed a robust access control system with an abundance of features. 

The Solution 

While an access control system serves as the primary component of a security system, coupling it with additional technologies, such as video management, wireless locks, visitor management, and more, allows for a well-rounded solution that covers multiple aspects of campus security. 

This is where DNA Fusion comes into the picture. 

“DNA Fusion essentially allows us to tie all of our security technologies into our access control system, which plays a critical role in our day-to-day security processes,” said Melissa Craven, Director of Emergency Management for DPS. “For instance, the ability to pull up the live video on an alarm or door forced from the events grid helps us to assess and respond to the issue in a quick and efficient manner.” 

In order to further streamline their security processes and procedures, DPS monitors all the components of their system across campuses from a single location. This significantly cuts down on responses time in the event of an emergency as all decisions related to campus lockdown or other high-threat situations are centralized. 

As DPS looks to the future, they will be adding door position stations to all exterior doors, allowing operators to monitor perimeter security, as well as implementing graphic mapping across their system thanks to DNA Fusion. This will bring all of DPS’s technology together in an extremely user-friendly format, where operators can easily view and address events through strategically placed interactive icons and easily access all card readers, cameras, and intrusion points on the maps. This will drastically improve an operator’s ability to determine a false alarm versus an actual event and will aid in officer safety when responding, as well as asset protection. 

“When looking for a security technology provider, it was essential for us that we found a partner, not just a provider,” said Craven. “Open Options provides a robust access control solution that continues to allow DPS to grow. From installation to the expansion of the system, Open Options has been there, and we look forward to continuing to grow together.” 

Open Options truly believes in the power of flexibility and customer choice that provides options without neglecting the highest security standards. By providing a strong, scalable, and open-platform access control solution for Denver Public Schools they can rest assured knowing that Open Options will protect their most precious assets every step of the way.