Mar 052006
 
Authors: Vimal Patel, Elena Ulyanova

With more than 50,000 authorized keys in existence and several doors being left open throughout the night leading to a spike in the number of on-campus computer thefts, CSU officials are shopping around for an electronic cardkey system.

The major drawback: cost.

Changing the university's doors to an electronic system would cost millions, wrote Brian Chase, director of the facilities department, in an e-mail interview.

The department is working on drawing up a proposal so companies could provide service and price quotes, Chase wrote.

In cash-strapped times, administrators wonder whether preventing the loss of equipment – which is in the tens of thousands of dollars in the last few months – is worth the hefty price of an overhaul.

"I know that just to change the standard lock hardware costs hundreds of dollars (per door)," said building services manager Jeff Sutton, adding that a recent change in locks on four doors in the Weber building ran about $1,300.

There are several thousand doors on campus, and the facilities department is responsible for locking 107 buildings.

The cost of changing each door to an electronic system would run in the range of $500 to $1,000. An electronic system would probably encompass all outer doors to buildings and high-value areas such as computer labs and research spaces, Chase wrote.

THE CURRENT SYSTEM

The some 50,000 keys issued go back at least 20 years, said Facilities Manager Sandy Sheahan. They include keys currently issued and those reported lost and stolen over the years.

Everyone who has been issued a key is in a database, she added.

"You couldn't just come to the key desk and say, 'I want a key,'" Sheahan said. "Someone has to approve that you would be using it for university purposes."

 

There are various types of keys. Some open just outer doors, others office doors and a select few are master keys that can open any door on campus. But to acquire the latter, one would have to jump several hurdles.

"That's a type of key that we are very cautious about giving out," Sheahan said. "You would have to go through a criminal background check."

When an employee no longer works at CSU, he or she is required to either return the key or fill out a lost/stolen key report so a record exists.

The keys are also marked "do not duplicate" so they can't be copied, at least not at reputable establishments.

UNSECURE DOORS LEAD TO THEFTS

The main issue, officials have said, is that doors need to be accessed at night by authorized users. Facilities locks the outer doors of buildings every night, but within minutes, an authorized person with a key can unlock the door.

An electronic system would allow officials to automatically lock down all doors equipped with the system. In addition, not only would the system allow a lost or stolen key to be deactivated, officials would also know if someone tried to use it, Chase wrote.

Last Thursday, two Collegian reporters walked into several campus buildings through unlocked doors past midnight and had access to two science labs and at least eight computers.

No CSU Police Department officers were encountered during the 90-minute walk through campus, which also included opening a professor's office door in the C-wing of Clark.

Although an electronic system wouldn't help much in preventing thefts during the day, Chase wrote, it would significantly reduce the number of thefts after hours or over weekends.

The two largest thefts of computers since November occurred in the A-wing of Clark and Rockwell Hall – nearly $15,000 worth of equipment was reported missing.

The time frame isn't exactly clear, but it appears they occurred over Winter and Fall Breaks, according to police reports.

"If (a new system) discourages theft and reduces the need to re-key buildings due to lost keys," Chase wrote, "you can make the argument that it comes close to paying for itself over time."

Vimal Patel can be reached at campus@collegian.com

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