Guest Post: Securing your school: fit for purpose access control

Access control for schools is becoming increasingly important as part of the security provision keeping students and staff safe. By their nature, educational environments present a number of specific access control challenges. As well as supporting swift and safe evacuation in the event of a fire or emergency, there is the need to maintain a non-oppressive environment in the interest of student mental health and well-being, and, in the case of older buildings, to avoid expensive and obtrusive cabling. 

The British Security Industry Association has written a guidance note for buyers purchasing such systems for schools which you can read here

Specifying Access Control Systems to Standards

Whilst it goes without saying hardware elements need to be fit-for-purpose, good system design also addresses specific applications and planned use needs in the environment being managed. An expert provider can explain options available and assist in determining the best choice for specific cases.

For example, a number of different credentials or recognition technologies can be deployed allowing users access to a building’s controlled areas. 

Recognition technologies fall into three categories: 

  1. Something known to the user e.g. a PIN code.
  2. Something carried by the user e.g. a token, a fob or a card.
  3. A unique identifier e.g. a biometric such as fingerprint or retina recognition.

Door controller and software at the heart of a system may be set to determine access rights for individuals at any given time. Parameters can vary dependent on the sophistication and scale of the system, including the number of access point readers and zones being controlled.

Effective installations

As part of the design and specification process, professional installers undertake a comprehensive risk assessment, reviewing identified threats, points of higher exposure and expected people flows. The risk assessment considers means of escape in the event of a fire or security incident, and the most suitable type of recognition technology.

It is normal for components employed in any access control system to be subject to wear and tear. Installers typically share or provide access to activity log reports that help monitor usage and indicate high wear points susceptible to earlier than perhaps imagined failure, ensuring comprehensive preventative maintenance.

Data storage

Record-keeping and data security needs are also considered. Typically, individuals ‘log-in’ and permissions are a point of risk. Failsafe system controls and procedures can ensure recognition log-ins are up to date, with permissions for employees added and withdrawn in a timely fashion. This is basic risk management. Access control systems store personal data that must be held securely.  Data protection requirements, including GDPR, must be embraced by the data controller and data processor(s).

More than the hardware

Buyers need to be confident in their providers working to the highest industry standards, and with the capability to assess risks and interpret the specific requirements of those managing schools. A useful short cut in provider selection is consideration of a prospective provider’s third party certification or approval credentials, in addition to their track record of previous business.

As a certification body specialising in the security and fire safety sector, NSI has an active register of over 1800 approved companies, all of whom have been rigorously audited for compliance against a wide variety of scopes and codes of practice. For installers of systems this means taking into account British Standards as well as other industry best practice. 

The NSI Code of Practice 109 for the “design, installation and maintenance of access control systems” draws on the Equality Act 2010, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, British Standard BS 7273-4 for fire protection (activation of release mechanisms for doors) and     BS 7671 for electrical installations.

Look out for the NSI Gold and Silver mark of approval for Access Control installers.  NSI approved companies are equipped to advise on the most appropriate system given the needs of the school being managed.  For each new Access Control System, they issue a Certificate of Compliance that underscores the installation has been delivered in accordance with the NSI Code of Practice. Working with approved installers competent in end-to-end delivery of the solution means peace of mind for specifier and user alike in delivering secure schools.

NSI approved companies can be found by searching the ‘Find A Company’ directory on the NSI website: www.nsi.org.uk

Richard Jenkins, Chief Executive at National Security Inspectorate (NSI). UKAS accredited NSI is the UK’s leading, independent third party certification body in the security systems, fire safety and guarding services sectors, helping to protect businesses, public organisations, homeowners and the general public through rigorous audit of more than 1800 security and fire safety providers nationwide.

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), is the UK’s sole National Accreditation Body, responsible for determining, in the public interest, the technical competence and integrity of organisations offering third party certification, in accordance with International Standards for Accredited Certification of Management Systems such as ISO 9001 (ISO 17021) and Product Standards pertinent to security and fire safety such as BS 7958 for CCTV (ISO 17065).

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