Improving school security with wireless locks

This is the North County Road Middle School’s exterior perimeter and entrance way. Photos courtesy Allegion
This is the North County Road Middle School’s exterior perimeter and entrance way. Photos courtesy Allegion

by April Dalton
A Long Island, New York, school district developed and implemented a comprehensive plan to upgrade security in their schools. Working with local architect Michael J. Guido, the key initiatives included redesigning the entrances to provide a single point of entry for visitors and updating the hardware to provide better access control.

For Miller Place Union Free School District (UFSD), a major concern was the presence of exterior doors on most elementary and middle school classrooms. While primary access to the classrooms was through corridor doors, exterior doors were used for playground access and posed a potential security problem. Not only did unauthorized access need to be controlled, but the possibility of students wandering outside from the classroom undetected also had to be eliminated.

“A six-year-old could sneak out the back door into the woods, and the teacher might never know it,” Guido explained. “We put door position switches on those doors, combined with card readers, so the main office is notified any time an unauthorized door opening occurs.”

Proximity card readers at each exterior classroom door let a teacher open the door to take the class to the playground without triggering an alarm. To allow emergency egress, the doors are never locked from the inside, but opening a door without a card notifies the office immediately. More than 100 doors at the elementary and middle schools have been equipped this way.

All visitors are required to sign in as a part of this school’s visitor management procedure.

Each interior classroom door from a hallway has been retrofitted with a wireless electronic lock with integrated reader. This electronic lock allows the principal to lock down all classrooms simultaneously in an emergency. This is faster and easier than relying on teachers to find their keys and lock each door independently. Since exterior classroom doors are always locked from the outside, the building can be secured completely in a matter of seconds. Electronic locks are also used on school entrance doors.

The locks and card readers provide online, real-time access control. The locks combine all the components required at the door into one integrated design that incorporates:

  • electrified lock;
  • credential reader;
  • request-to-exit switch;
  • door position switch; and
  • tamper guard.

As the locks are modular, they can be upgraded without taking the lock or hardware off the door. Most of the electronic locks are wireless, which simplified installation and reduced costs.

“Most of the buildings are 40 to 50 years old, so pulling wires to all the doors would have been difficult and expensive,” said plant facilities administrator Dennis Warsaw. “Using wireless locks made the difference between affording the whole job or just half of it.”

At a high school, a similar access control system was used, with a wireless lock or card reader and a door position switch on each door. This secures the building and prevents students from blocking a door open, or letting in a friend undetected. The school has one exterior corridor that students use between classes.

“The students would exit a door and enter one on the opposite side of a courtyard, so we had to build a corridor with a security vestibule,” said Guido. This prevents any unauthorized individuals from gaining access.

The wireless locks enable the access control software to maintain an audit trail of when cards were used and by whom. While this has not been an issue at Miller Place yet, it can provide information on the last person in a room if something is missing, a door is left open, or other security concerns need to be addressed. Unmarked proximity cards are used for the access credentials.

“We give them a card with nothing but a number, so if they lose it, anybody who finds it won’t know where they can use it,” said Warsaw.

Another issue was the need to create a controlled single-entry point for visitors. At most schools, a secure vestibule was created in close proximity to the office. Visitors must present identification before being allowed to enter. Upon entry, the visitor must present a driver’s license to be scanned. For future visits, the person’s information is maintained in a database, which makes it possible to verify identity. Other data can also be updated, such as custodial parent issues or security concerns that would affect granting or denying future access.

With the combination of electronic access control and building design modifications, security at Miller Place schools has been upgraded to provide greater peace of mind and confidence for parents, staff, and students.

Noblitt_April April Dalton-Noblitt is the director of vertical marketing for Allegion. She can be reached by e-mail at

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