Border city moves to enterprise-wide access control solution

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Monday, August 30, 2010

McALLEN, Texas—Like many other municipalities, the City of McAllen, which sits on the border of Mexico, had standalone access control systems in its city buildings. However, having multiple departments charged with controlling access to different municipal buildings proved ineffective, so the city has made the move toward integrating an enterprise-wide solution throughout the city.

“I don’t know that departments said ‘We want an enterprise access control system,’ but they said, ‘We need to secure this building,’ and IT said this is how we can do it citywide,” said Rudy Juarez, IT project manager for the city of McAllen.

Access control systems are deployed in designated areas such as city hall offices, the emergency operations center, IT department as well as the community police training center. It also is deployed in the buildings accompanying the city’s new Anzalduas International Bridge. “The bridge is an international gateway so we have to have restricted access to rooms,” he said. “City hall is open to the general public so we added access control devices to perimeter doors to do away with master keys and unaccountability after hours.” The city used a variety of technologies including magnet locks, electric door strikes and biometric card readers.

The city deployed Matrix Systems’ Frontier  Standard access control software and tested the system in city hall for four or five months before deploying it in other municipal buildings.

But moving to an enterprise system required more than a just a change or addition of technology, it also put the responsibility of deployment on the IT department, not the physical security team. Juarez compared this to the move to networked copiers. It used to be that when copiers broke, staff would call the manufacturer, but once they became networked, it became the responsibility of the IT department. Similarly, when access control was the responsibility of individual city building managers, they were the ones contacted for issues, but now that the city has moved to an enterprise solution, solving problems becomes the responsibility of the IT department.

“From an IT perspective, our background is not in physical security, so there was somewhat of a learning factor to understand how the technology works and how to roll it out and how to incorporate the technology into the work environment,” he said. “It’s still an ongoing learning experience. The system is feature rich and we still have features to work with and understand and utilize.” For example, the city would like to put in place the page and email alerting feature, which would contact the respective authority in the event of an alarm.

This deployment was largely possible, and fairly simple, because the city already had the necessary infrastructure in place. “We have network connectivity to all of our city buildings, mostly through fiber and some through T1 lines. Adding a network-based access control system was like adding more nodes to the network,” he said.

While the IT department was tasked with deploying the system, the human resources department will be in charge of using the system and controlling the issuance and deactivation of cards.

Moving to an enterprise system also saved the city money. When a critical key was lost, the city had to spend time and money rekeying locks and now they can simply deprogram a lost card.

Creating an enterprise system makes everyone’s life easier, said Juarez. It gives personnel a single card to enter all authorized buildings and makes them more accountable for their whereabouts. It also is used to track employees’ time and attendance. The system also provides management with more information about who is in what buildings and when. And because the system can be remotely managed, it gives IT the ability to remotely lock down doors and buildings as necessary.

Moving forward, Juarez said the city intends to integrate its video surveillance system with access control. Currently, the city is undergoing such an initiative during the construction of a new main library and will prioritize other buildings based on their security needs.