Getting Top Grades

Universities learning to use biometrics throughout the campus

From dormitories to sororities, libraries to on-campus dining halls, biometric technology is transforming the way universities nationwide keep students and staff safe. It also is providing an innovative way to market and manage meal plans at campus eateries and provide authorized access to limited areas such as recreation centers, laboratories and libraries. Unlike traditional card systems, biometric technology ensures that users are who they say they are.

For instance, a biometric hand geometry reader simultaneously analyzes more than 31,000 points and instantaneously records more than 90 separate measurements of a person’s hand, including length, width, thickness and surface area, to verify the person’s identification. In conjunction with a PIN number, the registered person can gain access to the facility.

Because universities are often at the forefront of researching and developing new technologies, it is not surprising that they are some of the biggest customers in this innovative security arena.

A Helping Hand in Dining Halls

The University of New Hampshire is a top-tier land-, sea- and space-grant public university serving more than 10,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students. Recognized as a rising star among research universities, UNH retains the atmosphere of a New England liberal arts college while embracing new technologies.

Creating a more efficient way of tracking student meal plans, UNH began investigating biometric technology. After reviewing several options, university officials installed biometric hand readers. UNH currently has 11 units that are placed primarily in campus dining facilities to manage meal plans. The university previously used a “declining balance” card system in its dining halls but switched to an all-you-can-eat plan with the hand readers.

Instead of verifying a card or code, the biometric reader verifies the person who is at an entrance. It looks at the three-dimensional size and shape of a resident’s hand. The results of 90 hand measurements, including lengths, widths, thickness and surface areas, are converted into a nine-byte mathematical representation of the hand, which is stored for later use and verification.

“The hand readers facilitate the tracking of revenues,” said Rick McDonald, the assistant director for Support Services at UNH. “There are three different dining halls, and we can allocate revenue to each hall correctly.”

Students, who are required to purchase a meal plan if they live in the residence halls, enter the dining halls any time between 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m., seven days a week. They enter their student ID number on the keypad and present their hand to be scanned. A turnstile then lets them into the dining hall.

The new system has improved operations at the dining halls.

“The hand readers have helped reduce the incidences of people stealing meals,” McDonald said. “The readers also have sped up service. The checkers can focus on other things. It is a fast, positive way to check people in.”

The system offers increased convenience for students, as well. Before, when students forgot their cards, they weren’t permitted entrance. With the hand readers, students are guaranteed a meal because they can’t forget their hand.

In UNH’s newest dining facility, Hallway Commons, there is an additional reader at the entrance and on the two elevators for the faculty to access conference rooms. The Student Union facility also has a hand reader.

Rec Centers Go Biometric

University of California-Irvine Campus Recreation is just one of many departments that has installed a biometric Schlage HandKey reader to replace card access at its center on campus. With it, each Anteater Recreation Center member has the option to enter the facility without an identification card.

“The number one suggestion from our members was eliminating the need for ID cards,” said Jill Schindele, the director of Campus Recreation. “We took their suggestions seriously and feel that hand geometry is the fastest and most efficient alternative to identification cards.”

Schindele said that hand geometry is different than fingerprinting and noted that the information is not connected to the campus system. Campus Recreation uses this information on an internal network, and it does not go public.

Protecting Students Where They Live

When university officials chose to implement biometric technology at Johnson & Wales University in northeast Denver, they had several goals in mind. First and foremost, they wanted to ensure student safety.

“Only biometric solutions can verify a human being,” said Lindsay Morgan, a member of the Johnson & Wales media relations department. “They let authorized individuals access an area and keep everyone else out. With biometric technology, students who lose an access card or key do not have to worry about an unauthorized individual picking up the card or key and compromising the security of their dormitory. They also don’t have to worry about students loaning out their cards or PIN codes to strangers.”

At the Denver university, readers are currently at the main entrances of each of three residence halls. In Presidents Hall, eight additional readers, two on each opposing wing of the four-story building, are used to open a student’s individual room. Doors are timed so that the ones nearest to a reader open for five to 10 seconds while those further down the hall open for up to 20 seconds.

Students entering the dorm slide their hands into the biometric reader and—in less than a second—the door opens and they enter the dorm. As they arrive on their specific floor, they again slide their hands into the unit and their personal door opens. Students no longer need to worry about locking themselves out, or the $75 fine they would pay for losing a key.

Once implemented at the cafeteria, the scenario will be similar to that at New Hampshire. This application also has been used at the University of Georgia for more than a decade.

Faculty members are now using the readers to enter academic facilities. Eventually, Johnson & Wales plans to use these biometric readers for access to 24-hour computer labs, as well as to check out library books, access the athletic fields and obtain bookstore chargebacks— completely replacing its card-swipe system.

Johnson & Wales networked the hand readers to leverage the university’s existing network infrastructure. Officials can retrieve reports on building access, assess traffic patterns, investigate unauthorized access events and record all events for safety. Doors also can be unlocked remotely, and a special code can be punched in to alert campus safety officials in the event of an emergency. If someone props open a door, security officials are also notified.

Last, but certainly not least, students at Johnson & Wales like the biometric system. The technology sparks a lot of interest, and they know that they are using the cutting edge of building access solutions. They feel safer and unanimously say it is more convenient.

“We believe it will improve our profitability in terms of student retention and recruitment,” Morgan said. “When parents and their prospective children see and understand the safety measures we are taking, it will translate into increased confidence and enrollment.”

West Virginia University also is finding security and success with biometric technology hand readers it has integrated into the access control system at its Boreman North Residence Hall. Interestingly, WVU was the first school to offer degrees in biometrics and forensics identification.

Two sororities at the University of Central Florida in Orlando have turned to biometric technology to heighten security for 200 sorority sisters and staff. Both the Alpha Delta Pi and Kappa Delta sorority houses were experiencing problems with unauthorized university students coming into the houses at all times of the day and night. To eliminate the possibility of an unauthorized individual gaining access without a resident being present, the biometric units offer redundant access to the sororities. Because they operate outdoors, hand readers were selected over fingerprint readers. Each sorority sister must enter a PIN code and then present her hand in order to gain entry.

The Technology of Now

Biometrics are not only more secure, but they are userfriendly, cost effective and efficient, as well. For many colleges and universities, that’s a hands-on lesson well learned. Because biometrics have a proven track record on many campuses, universities are learning where to apply the right biometric technology.

When investigating biometric technologies, university officials find that the most accurate of the technologies have the smallest templates and, conversely, the most inaccurate have the largest templates. For instance, a hand reader has a small template while voice recognition has a very large template.

“Our experts discovered that hand-geometry technology has low false-reject rates and is the best technology for high-volume applications,” Morgan said. “It is also scalable and non-invasive for users.”

By eliminating cards, colleges from West Virginia to California are reducing administrative costs while greatly increasing their levels of security. Never having to worry about keeping track of a card or key is a major benefit for many.

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