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Biometric hand readers tighten their grip on campus access control and security

Validating people, not plastic, sounds good on paper and is, in fact, one of the reasons cited by some colleges and universities for controlling building access-primarily dorms, or sororities/fraternities-with biometric hand readers.  

Johnson and Wales (JWU), in Denver, Colorado, San Diego State University (SDSU), and, most recently, the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando are all using biometric hand readers for access control. Specifically, the three sites have deployed HandReader and HandKey devices from Campbell, California-based Recognition Systems Inc. (RSI), a division of Ingersoll-Rand.   RSI manufactures the biometric readers as well as other time and attendance, security, and personal identification products.

The hand readers use hand geometry scanners that capture 90 measurements of the hand in less than one second.   Measurements include the length, width, thickness and surface area of the hand and fingers.   The result of these hand measurements is converted into a nine-byte mathematical representation of the hand, which is stored for later use and verification. The system can also handle fingerprints and a card reader can piggyback onto the hand reader, providing an extra layer of security or identity.

Johnson and Wales secures its dormitories

At JWU’s Denver campus, the Vizer Group, Broomfield, Colo., integrated Recognition Systems, Inc. (RSI) HandReaders more than a year ago.

“The biometric technology was a solution that validated people not plastic for authorization to a particular facility,” said JWU’s Lindsay Morgan. “The problem with the traditional card swipe system that we had is that students lose ID cards which can be picked up by strangers and thus grant them access to a resident facility. We determined that this was a serious security risk for our students,” she said.   “We wanted to provide a more secure building access solution primarily for our student resident halls.”

All JWU resident students use the HandKey units daily. Authorized students entering the Pulliam dorm slide their hand into the biometric reader and, in less than a second, the door opens. As they arrive on their specific floor, they need to slide their hand into the hand reader in the hall and their personal dorm room door opens.

“We have HandKey devices on the main entrance of each of our three resident halls,” said Ms. Morgan.   “These HandKeys will open a student’s individual room door.   The doors are timed so that ones nearest the HandKey device open for 5-10 seconds and doors that are further down the hall will open for upwards of 20 seconds. All doors are within the visual sight line of the HandKey for that particular hallway.”

The HandKey devices are connected to the university’s switched Ethernet backbone.   Switches are on each floor of the resident halls and each building on campus is connected via a gigabit Ethernet fiber backbone to the master distribution frame in the main administrative building.

Another benefit, from the university standpoint is that the system forces the student to be accountable for who he or she lets into a facility.

San Diego State’s student association controls access to recreational facilities

At San Diego State University, its Associated Students has been using RSI’s hand geometry technology for nearly six years to control access to the Aztec Recreation Center and other student rec facilities. Associated Students is an independent student-directed corporation that provides a wide range of services and programs for SDSU student, faculty, staff, alumni and the general public.  

“The HandKey readers minimize people’s ability to transfer IDs for admittance into our Center,” said Vicki Greene, member services coordinator for the university’s Associated Students. “ID switching is very big in the fitness club industry. The hand readers also allow us to provide better service. No longer do our members have to remember to bring an ID card.”

One of the reasons SDSU went with the hand reader is that they felt it was, “the least invasive of the biometric technologies and seems simple compared to the others,” said Ms. Greene. “We average 3,000 entries per day with highs of 4,600.”

To enter the Aztec Recreation Center a student enters his unique ID number on the HandKey’s keypad and presents his hand for verification.   At the beginning of each school year, Associated Students has to enroll 2,000 to 3,000 new members within a two to three week time frame.

Sorority houses opt for biometric security in Florida

Tighter security and preventing access-card sharing is what prompted two sororities in Orlando, Florida to implement hand scanning. The national security company, Sonitrol, installed RSI HandReaders at two sorority houses at the University of Central Florida. Because they operate outdoors, Hand readers were selected over fingerprint readers.

Both the Alpha Delta Pi and Kappa Delta sorority houses were experiencing problems with unauthorized students from the university coming into the houses at all times of the day and night, said Jerry Ofstedal, Sonitrol’s installation manager in Orlando. As with SDSU, the hand readers require each student to enter a PIN code and then present her hand in order to gain entry.

Prior to the hand readers, the sororities had relied on a proximity reader with a magnetic lock at the front door. Access was gained via an electronic key fob. However, the fobs were being shared or provided to non-authorized individuals. Sonitrol next installed an outdoor access keypad requiring individuals to enter a PIN code in addition to using the electronic key. But PIN numbers were also shared with unauthorized users, said a Sonitrol spokesperson.

Next up was the biometric reader. “Although the residents knew they could no longer pass on their electronic keys for friends to gain entry to the sorority house, they seemed very excited about the increased security protection that the hand geometry technology provides,” said Mr. Ofstedal. “Users were a little nervous at first about placing their hands in the reader, but once it was explained that it was similar to just taking a picture of their hand, they accepted the new technology.”

Coming to a campus near you?

It seems that more and more campuses are reacting similarly to the sorority members in Orlando, accepting new biometric technologies as a viable complement for certain access control environments.   And unlike larger enterprise projects in the U.S. federal government and elsewhere, these campuses have successfully adopted biometric technologies without waiting for the final say on standards and global interoperability. Rather, they grabbed hold of a technology to serve their specific need and are utilizing it to the benefit of all.

Ohio bill to extend campus cards to all merchants progressing, though slowly

The only thing worse, it seems, than watching paint dry is tracking a bill’s progress through the legislative process.

So it is with the bill filed in Ohio that would force colleges to make their campus card program available to off-campus merchants.

HB 162 by Rep. Shawn Webster, a veterinarian from Millville, Ohio, was first introduced last April. It finally passed the House Education Committee, of which he is a member, in October but has not moved any further. Yet. With almost half the representatives-45 of 99-as cosponsors, the bill will probably pass the full House sometime this year. The bill was filed for the 125 th General Assembly that gives it a two-year lifespan.

Representative Webster, a Republican, filed a similar bill in his first term of office during the 124 th General Assembly (2001-2002), but that bill went nowhere.

Jamie Kocinski, Representative Webster’s aide, had no predictions on what the Senate would do with the bill, reiterating the legislator’s same non-prediction he made last year when interviewed by CR80News.

Dean Goumas, Director of Auxiliary Business Operations for the University of Akron, said that while his university is “presently making the Zip Card available to off-campus vendors, we have concerns with the legislation.”

To him, a “one-size-fits-all solution” isn’t the answer. “The various universities throughout the state have differences in the needs of the students, impact of the card program, relationships with off-campus merchants, and agreements with on-campus merchants,” he said.

Jon Gear, director of Ohio State University’s campus card program, BuckID, had similar concerns with the legislation. So much so that OSU has a meeting scheduled with Representative Webster in the near future. The university also makes its card available to off-campus merchants.

“The passage of the bill would definitely have consequences on not only our debit card program but all Ohio public universities that operate such a program,” he said. “I don’t feel that I can go into more detail until after our conversation with Representative Webster.”

According to the fiscal analysis of the bill, it would require “a university that establishes a program providing enrolled students with financial transaction devices (credit cards, debit cards, charge cards, and prepaid or stored-value cards) to allow such students to use the devices to purchase goods and services from three types of establishments: the university itself; private vendors authorized to sell merchandise or services on campus and who elect to participate; and private vendors…off campus who elect to participate.”

The university, says the bill, may also charge vendors a transaction fee up to 4% of the vendor’s gross transaction revenues. Many campuses charge more than this 4% amount.

Universities won’t have a choice in the matter. If they have a campus card program, off-campus merchants must be able to access it. The bill makes no distinction between in-state and out-of-state businesses or, for that matter, the bricks-and-mortar and Internet-based businesses.
CR80News will continue to monitor the progress of this bill as it crawls through the process.   Stay tuned…

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