SJUK Exclusive: School tragedy underscores key control importance

September 8, 2022


Another mass shooting in the United States highlights the need for tight security policies and protocols with the right tools, says Morse Watchmans.

Doors do not open themselves. Actions that result in access control security breaches involving locks and keys are mostly caused by human error, whether those actions are intentional or not.

Before the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, USA, in May security plans and lockdown procedures were defined and in place by school administration.

But according to the Robb Elementary Investigative Committee Report in July, from the Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee stated: “While the school had adopted security policies to lock exterior doors and internal classroom doors, there was a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.”

The report added: “The school actually suggested circumventing the locks as a solution for the convenience of substitute teachers and others who lacked their own keys. The school district did not treat the maintenance of doors and locks with appropriate urgency.”

As a result, on 24 May, the Robb Elementary perpetrator easily accessed the school building through an unsecured exterior door, and through another interior door with a faulty lock to classroom 111.

In less than five minutes, 19 students and two teachers were shot dead by the intruder leaving a school community devastated and forever changed.

“Complacency pertaining to security plans leads to access control vulnerabilities,” said Tim Purpura, Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing at Morse Watchmans.

In an instant, an armed assailant became an active shooter because access to the facility was easy and available. The tragedy at Robb Elementary could have been avoided, yet how can schools and business enterprises improve access control on site?

“Having the right security tools, regular security audits, staff training, and the enforcement of security policies are vital for any enterprise,” said Purpura.

Investing and improving

Traditional access control systems help to identify and allow employees and visitors to gain access through entryways and other restricted areas on site. Video surveillance systems capture and provide video and audio information to monitor interior and exterior activity of a site.

Existing access control systems and video surveillance systems are capable of being integrated with electronic key control systems.

“It’s a good idea to integrate all security systems that you have invested in so that they all work together to optimise access control security,” said Purpura.

“Essentially, this provides a bigger ‘actual time’ picture of all activity involving the movement of people in the interior footprint and exterior perimeter of a facility, giving security personnel valuable data at all times.”

Most likely, there are hundreds of keys to account for in any business, government or educational facility in classrooms, offices, cabinets, storage closets, infirmaries, mechanical rooms, data centres, sensitive equipment and vehicles as well. The addition of a key control system improves access control overall by accounting for all keys and all actions by people moving about on site.

“While it is important to manage and track the movement of people within a building, all keys need to be accounted for and tracked as well to optimise access control within a facility,” said Purpura.

Key control provides access control

Key control is an affordable access control security product for inclusion into any access control security plan. Cutting corners by not having enough keys and no way to track them exposes the potential for security breaches.

“Keys have been used as a physical access control tool for centuries and the investment of a sufficient supply of duplicate keys that are secured within a key cabinet and tracked electronically is a worth-while investment,” said Purpura.

An electronic key control system operates on intelligent software. Keys are locked into place inside the key cabinet using a locking device, which has an integrated computer chip, so a user can only remove a key to which he or she has permission to use. The other keys will remain locked into place when users enter their access code or scans their access card or fingerprint.

Electronic key control provides accountability by releasing the pre-programmed keys only to credential-verified and authorised users determined by administration and/or security and facilities personnel. Authorised users can access the keys only which they have permission to use.

Administrators for keys will always have current information about the transaction of keys including what keys are out, who has them, and when they are due to be returned. For enhanced security, an overdue key, an open door, or even the misuse of the keypad on a key control system will trigger an alarm and record the incident in the report log.

Networked integration of key control with access control ensures that doors can be opened or locked when needed. The key control system records every transaction and ensures that the last person to take out a key can be identified.

A reporting function provides an audit trail and can be pre-programmed to email, download, and print essential reports in an Excel or CSV format at any time to any networked device.

The integration of key control with an access control system provides important capabilities. “If someone does not return a key on time, the access control system will then deny a person from exiting the facility until the key is returned,” said Purpura.

“This is just another added benefit of these systems working together to reinforce accountability for every action by all personnel who are assigned keys in an enterprise,” he said.

Along with key modules, electronic key control can be designed with locker modules to secure pertinent items such as cash trays, wallets, cell phones, hand-held radios, and small weapons, and card modules to store access control cards when not in use.

Systems can be customised through identifying needs first and then building a system that includes a combination of these modular components and then expanding or reconfiguring a system as needs change. Access to the key control system can be customised as well with options that include a build-in keypad, a fingerprint reader, a magnetic or proximity card reader, or facial recognition biometrics.

Solid guidelines

Besides adding electronic key control and integrating that system with other security and business systems, Purpura offers some guidance for assuring that enterprises have a thorough security plan and solid access control security policy:

• Appoint a security team who will create, amend, and enforce the security policy
• Create a practical and easy-to-implement visitor management policy
• Create emergency management protocol and conduct emergency drills routinely
• Identify what areas of a facility should be included in security and access control audits in the interior and exterior of the site
• Conduct regular security audits and define what should be checked daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly
• Test and check all security equipment monthly to assure that it is all working properly
• Educate employees about the security policy and train employees how to use security equipment. Remind them that working together to enforce the security plan will help mitigate security breaches and potentially dangerous, life-threatening intrusions

Key control and management systems, along with other access control security solutions, help to ensure security and protection for any building or site.

“Complacency and lack of follow through on access control security measures is an open invitation for security threats such as theft, cybersecurity breaches, vandalism, and intrusions,” said Purpura.

“Everyone needs to feel safe and secure while on the job,” he continued. “A proactive approach to access control solutions, includes all the right tools necessary, such as key control, to optimise security.

“Regular audits assures that any enterprise will not incur more risk. Also, getting employees involved and keeping them informed and trained will show them that they are all valued. That’s the key to avoiding complacency and security plan violations to create a safer and more secure workplace.”

This article was originally published in the September 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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