Entry system fault raises questions

A new entry-access security system for residence areas was billed as more secure than previous versions, but a malfunction that has yet to be fixed has prompted discussion about the system's effectiveness and residence hall security in general.

The updated system, installed over the summer, boasts student-specific access permission for individual buildings. As of mid-October, however, the PIN feature, an integral part of the security system that requires students to enter the last four digits of their Geneseo ID numbers in order to gain access to their own hall after 7:30 p.m., is only working in the Saratoga Townhouse Complex.

The features that restrict hall access to on-campus students, and hall-specific students after 7:30 p.m., are still working.

The PIN system was implemented so that security would be based on "something you have and something you know," said John Haley, systems manager in Administration and Finance. The feature was meant to eliminate the possibility of a misplaced ID card being used to gain access to a residence hall.

Haley said that Stanley Security Solutions, the vendor of the new system, is supposed to provide Geneseo with an "import tool," a computer program that runs the entry system. Stanley has now offered two import tools, Haley said, and neither has worked as the company said it would.

Haley declined to offer an estimate of when the feature would be up and running, as prior estimates have proven inaccurate. "We are working with the vendor to resolve this issue but it is important to understand that this does not compromise security," he said.

The fact that the PIN codes are encrypted in the system - staff cannot see students' codes - complicates the issue, as the codes will need to be reset when the feature finally starts working. The security system used in years past was replaced after its supplier went out of business.

In an unofficial test of residence hall security, students working for The Lamron attempted to gain access to each residence hall between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., when dorms are supposed to be inaccessible to non-residents. The system worked technically well: only one door, in Monroe, was able to be opened and this set the alarm off.

Security measures were sometimes rendered ineffective, however residents who noticed the students trying to open the door graciously invited them into the halls.

"We all need to take an active role in security," said Haley, admitting to a "fine line between convenience and security."

Currently, the doors operate on a timer; they are unlocked for several seconds after a card is successfully detected. University Police receive a notification if a door remains open for an extended period of time, but there are no explicit barriers which prevent anyone from entering a building as residents exit.

"I don't necessarily know that any card system is perfect," said Niagara Hall Residence Director Allison Moesel. She emphasized that while "the card system we have works very well," students must inevitably shoulder some of the responsibility when it comes to restricting entry to residence halls.

Some students, however, question whether enough security measures are being implemented in the building itself.

"The new card access system is a joke," said one resident assistant who asked to remain anonymous, because RAs are prohibited from discussing disciplinary incidents. "It has not improved dorm safety nor limited the number of card access problems. In truth, the new card access system has made dorms less safe…the new card system constantly is going down and not working properly. Also, students who do not live in dorms have been able to get into them and have torn down floor decorations in addition to other incidents. Geneseo's new card access system was nothing but a waste of money and another trouble that Residence Life has been forced to deal with."

Freshman Kelsy Cocozzo agreed, pointing out how easy it is to bypass the system. "I think [the current system] is fairly useless because I always forget my card and I just walk in behind the person in front of me."

Each student's ability to enter specific buildings at specific times is controlled online, Haley said. Soon this system will allow students with permission to enter predetermined academic buildings after hours. Science departments are already using this system for students who need to conduct research or complete their jobs at times when the Integrated Science Center is closed. No door will be locked from the inside.

Haley is also working on integrating the system with the BANNER student information system, a computer service used by many colleges to organize information about courses, students, faculty, staff and alumni. Once this is completed, students who are relocated to new residence halls during the year will have their settings changed in one simple step so that they will be able to get into their new hall.

Haley reported that Geneseo is "working hard" to resolve the PIN issue and continue to expand and improve existing security measures.

While the card entry system has problems, some students feel it is doing an adequate job. "I think the security systems we have are appropriate for the college," said freshman Alex Levy. "Anything more would be over the top."