Facilities pursues alternatives to card access

The Mac Weekly

Macalester’s current card access system has malfunctioned regularly this semester, creating both annoyances and safety issues on campus.

Sarah Wescott ’19, a resident of George Draper Dayton (GDD) Hall, is among the many students who cannot use the card access system to enter residence halls.
“[Card access] worked for me for about one day and hasn’t worked since then,” Wescott said. “My keycard doesn’t work in any building now.”

Facilities Services Director Nathan Lief told The Mac Weekly that the card access system currently in use is slotted to be replaced. Lief estimates the replacement process will ultimately cost around $200,000.

The current system, maintained by local maintenance and repair company VTI and running on software developed by Millennium, was expanded in 2014 to include entrances to most residence halls.

Lief said the expansion, which occurred shortly after a $25,000 software update to the system in 2013, has been rough.

“The current system grew organically over the past few decades to meet emerging needs,” Lief said in an email on Monday. “[It] was fine when it was being used on a smaller scale. However, now that the coverage has been expanded we are finding that it’s not appropriate to meet those expanded needs.”

Lief said Facilities Services has received numerous reports of the card access system failing to work properly, occasionally going offline for certain buildings or discontinuing access for particular students or other cardholders.

Due to the system’s inconsistencies and the potential security impacts they may have, Facilities Services has decided to completely replace the current system.
“[The current system] is not as stable as we’d prefer,” Lief said. “We are in the process of gathering stakeholder feedback about system needs. We will then begin a search for a new system.”

Many Residential Life (ResLife) employees, including Kirk Hall Resident Assistant Gianna Bortoli ’19, have heard grievances from students about the faulty system.
“Residents have complained about their inability to get card access to their own residence hall as well as other residence halls,” Bortoli said in an email. “Many of my residents do not have card access into the laundry room area in Kirk … [nor] the door that leads into their own section.”

Students living in GDD have been particularly affected by the malfunctioning card access system. On September 8, a system error left all exterior doors to the residence hall unlocked for an extended period of time before Res Life staff were alerted to the issue.
Tessa Brow, Residence Hall Director of GDD, worked with Facilities Services to temporarily override the card access system in order to lock the exterior doors to the building. After a retesting of the system on September 9 left the doors in the same unlocked state, Brow and others were forced to indefinitely shut down card access to the building.

“The most recent glitch has the panels instructing the locks to perpetually stay unlocked, which is clearly a safety issue,” Brow said in an email to GDD residents on September 9. “Because your security is of utmost importance to us in ResLife and Facilities, we are powering down the card access readers for the building.”
Between noticing the unlocked state of the exterior doors and permanently shutting down the building’s card access system, both ResLife and Security staff conducted extra patrols in GDD, Brow told The Mac Weekly in an email on Tuesday.

While Lief and others begin discussing the search for a replacement card access system designed for larger-scale use, a sign on GDD’s front entrance reminds residents to use their ResLife-issued “DD-1” keys to enter the building.

Many students, including GDD resident Emily Sanford ’17, find door keys an easy and safe alternative to access residence halls.

“I remember thinking that I’d prefer to just have everyone use keys rather than have the doors open to anyone,” Sanford said, recalling the major malfunction in GDD’s card access system in early September.
Some, however, take issue with how the transition back to key-only access has occurred in GDD.
Emily Roebuck ’17, Sanford’s roommate in GDD, worries that signs describing DD-1 keys could make it easier for intruders to gain access to the residence hall.

“There are instructions on the door … about which key to use and how to get in once you find someone’s keys,” Roebuck said.

Meanwhile, ResLife staff have continued to stress the importance of student safety and security, whether or not card access is operating smoothly.

“We have and will always report [card access issues] to Security as…urgent and immediate,” Director of ResLife Coco Du said in an email Tuesday. “Students’ safety and security are our top priorities always.”

While ResLife and students continue to deal with an inconsistent system, Lief is confident that its eventual replacement will be more reliable.

When asked about the future of card access on campus, Lief described his vision of a “stable system that will serve us well for many years.”