Securing schools has always been a priority but the need has been underscored in recent years. Harrisburg School District in South Dakota is no exception. It had a physical access control system in place, but administrators wanted a standardized, district-wide security system.
The district has eight buildings, one high school, two middle schools and five elementary schools, says Michael Christopherson, technology director for the Harrisburg School District. There are three building projects in the works as well, a high school addition, an alternative classroom and another elementary school. “We’re the fastest growing school district in South Dakota,” he notes.
The three main priorities of the new physical access control system and security plan was have a way to conduct building lockdowns, add duress buttons and provide better access control to facilities, Christopherson explains.
The district had been using a mix of Cyberkey and 125-kilohertz proximity technology, Christopherson says. Cyberkeys are proprietary key-like devices that communicate with a matching lock cylinder to provide standalone electronic access control without wiring. This system was problematic because every time a change had to be made each lock had to be individually updated, he explains.
Two-years ago, that system was replaced with an access control system from Gallagher that uses 125-kilohertz prox throughout for access to facilities. Faculty and staff are issued cards, as are coaches and volunteers needing access during different times. Cameras were also added to the system so that whenever a point is accessed the cameras turns on.
One of the advantages of the Gallagher system is the ability to program and schedule who should have access and when, Christopherson explains. “If there’s practice on Saturday we can control access,” he says. “We’ve issued cards to the fire department, even the milkman, and are able to regulate access at specific times to specific areas.”
The Gallagher system has worked well for the district in a large part because of the flexibility and the ability to add different functionality, says James Straatmeyer, owner of Integrated Technology & Security, the systems integrator that deployed the system in Harrisburg. “With other systems you often felt like your hands were tied,” he explains. “Gallagher’s system is super flexible; it can do whatever you want it to do.”
The school is able to grant access by adding calendar updates to Microsoft Outlook. For example, if work is being done in the gymnasium of the high school after school hours, a Microsoft Outlook request can be made for the times that access is required. A supervisor would approve that request, a credential would be issued if one has not been and access would be granted for that specific time.
The district was even able to hook its cafeteria freezers into the system. If something goes wrong and the freezer malfunctions, the system will send an alert to the appropriate individual, explains Christopherson.
There is mobile functionality to the system as well. If someone arrives at the district central receiving office, an attendant can be notified on a mobile device and a live video of the visitor can be displayed on the handset.
The duress buttons were another sought after feature with the new system. Each facility has two buttons, one at the main entrance and another in the office. As soon as one of the buttons is pressed, a text message with a link to live video is sent to the administrators in the building as well as the central office, Christopherson explains. Administrators have 30-seconds to determine if a threat is legitimate before the police and fire department are automatically notified.
He adds that the new system met their three original priorities and continues to grow as new needs arise.