Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Jersey Schools Look Parents Straight in the Eye!

Before picking up a child at one of three Freehold Borough elementary schools parents will be required to look into a camera that will take a digital picture of their eye. This will establish positive identification and grant them access to the school. Phil Meara, superintendent of the Freehold Borough School District, described the swipe card thechnology that previously operated the doors as "obsolete". The project, funded by a school safety grant from the National Institute of Justice of more than $369,000., makes a clear statement that this school district is serious about child safety! Apparently, the Feds are interested in advancing access control technology in schools.

The Teacher-Parent Authorization Security System (T-PASS), a software application developed by Eyemetric Identity Systems, will control teacher, parent and staff employee access to each of the three campuses. The system will also allow identifying data from Driver Licenses from all 50 states to be swiped into the system to facilitate the identification process. Parents can authorize up to four adults in the system.

While the Freehold Bourough project is an expirement, it serves to illustrate just how serious some school administrators are about the need to improve campus access control. Many (I'd even go so far as to say most school districts) find this critical aspect of campus security to be extremely difficult, even impossible to administer. Yet, in the face of drug crime, sexual assault, kidnapping, and the risk of terrorism, the need for better ways to secure our schools is apparent. Notwithstanding, many schools have all but given up on efforts to prevent unauthorized entry to campuses - or, have not recognized the need to do so at all. The wholly unattended clipboard with a visitor sign-in sheet at the front entrance of a grade school is an all too often sight as I travel in my role as a school security consultant. Ironically, the pen is mostoften chained to the clipboard indicating a greater sense for the need to secure the writing instrument than for the security of the students and teachers. Unfortunately, many security controlls come about as the result of a horrible incident or public pressure rather than through thoughtful adherence to known best practices.

While technology often makes life better, it is not without encumberences. Access cards are often lost or forgotten by those they are assigned to. Electronic locks break and require maintenance. Iris recognition hardware and software software is costly and requires ongoing technical support. Moreover, the concept may be offensive to privany advocates and other segments of the community. While this technology will be that of the very near future, its widespread use in schools is questionable due to the underlying cost and maintenance expense. No access control process is wothout its costs and drawbacks.

Schools are challenged to address this basic security issue and they must start now. We encourage all schools to use those processes that are within their reach and those that are manageable given their recources. Manual processes are better than none at all. Schools that are in a position to afford more sophisticated technology are encouraged to explore those options. Access control has become commonplace as businesses strive to protect property and employees. Yet, schools lag far behind when it comes to protecting our most valuable of resources - our children. If you have not developed a workable solution to this basic aspect of campus security, be proactive and address it now before an incident occurs.


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