When the 15-year-old access control system at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (CCFL) in Florida began to fail, Senior Systems Administrator Benny Brown knew it was time for a change. Repairing and maintaining the current access control system in the eight buildings that make up the CCFL megachurch and the pre-K to 12th grade school was costing too much, and the system was so old that manufacturers said the new system would have to be designed from scratch.
“That opened the door for us to shop the whole market for access control products,” says Brown, who started looking for a new solution in May 2014.
CCFL wanted to move beyond a network-based system to a Web-based portal for programming and management, as well as to find something that could take advantage of the extensive network structure across the sprawling 75-acre campus.
“Our campuses use Macs, PCs, and even Linux, and compatibility with client applications is always a little bit of a concern,” Brown says. “Having the management be Web-based alleviated a little bit of that.”
Brown also wanted to find a solution that would help CCFL maintain its open-campus feel for both students and parishioners. About 2,500 students attend the school, 20,000 worshippers come to services on the weekends, and 1,000 faculty and staff keep the operations running. “We try to keep the campus open and inviting, we want people to come make use of the facilities and feel comfortable being here,” he notes. “During the school hours, we typically need to keep the areas where the kids are a little more locked down and strict.”
In 2013, Brown met a Viscount representative at the ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits in Chicago, and he reached out to him when it became clear that CCFL needed a new access control system. After working with Viscount, CCFL settled on purchasing the company’s Freedom platform, a server-based software application that communicates over IP. “It checked all the boxes for us,” Brown says.
Brown notes that the Viscount Freedom encryption bridges are compact and function through power over Ethernet. Since the application software is completely Web-based, Brown was able to set up multiple access groups and schedules—he can control the access of certain badgeholders throughout different parts of the campus at different times of the day. This flexibility is important on an open campus like CCFL.
“We need our schedules to be dynamic and have the ability to mark certain controlled areas and lock them at a particular time, and even have temporary unlocked periods within that schedule for certain areas, depending on whether the school is having a function where parents will be coming in,” Brown explains.
Viscount’s platform makes receiving real- time updates much easier and more consistent, he says. With CCFL’s old solution, each building’s system would have to be updated individually, which could take hours.
“A lot of times the log on our control panels didn’t get updated until that controller decided to communicate everything back across the network, or the controllers would just lose contact with the server,” Brown explains.
This was a problem when CCFL enabled or disabled a badge for access, because it took up to two hours for the changes to be pushed out to all of the control panels.
“The beauty with Viscount is their encryption bridges literally only act as a translator between the reader and the IP network, so their server makes all the decisions,” Brown says. “We make changes on the database in the server, and it’s instantaneous—we don’t need to worry about pushing that information out all over the campus.”
Brown says his team was able to install 60 Viscount Freedom encryption bridges on the new system by the start of 2015. He has set up 105 controlled areas throughout the campus and church on 31-week schedules to correspond with the school year, and about 1,625 cardholders are in the access control system.
Right now it’s mainly staff that use the badges, although Brown says he’d eventually like to extend their usage to students as well. Badges are also given out to vendors and contractors who come to the campus on a regular basis and have passed background checks.
The system was installed throughout both the school campus and the church, and Brown says it has less to do with letting people in than keeping unwanted criminals out in an emergency. The solution allows Brown, or anyone with enhanced credentials, to swipe their card and lock down every single door in a certain building or hallway, or even throughout the entire campus.
“It’s unique and allows you to be creative for whatever situation or policy your security team wants to implement,” Brown explains. “It’s very flexible, and you can pretty much tailor the access control system around what you need. I have controlled areas for each of our buildings, so I can lock each building in its entirety or conversely unlock each building from the management portal itself.”
Brown also says that the access control system comes in handy when there is a special event or after-hours gathering, because he can keep all but a few entrances secure to control the flow of visitors. And if a staff member needs access to a building after hours, he can unlock specific doors from an app on his mobile phone.
Overall, everyone who has been involved in the installation, management, and use of the Viscount Freedom platform has been pleased, Brown says. Compared to the old system, there is virtually no downtime. CCFL’s security team has quickly been able to learn the system, and can view constantly-updating access logs as well as control access points through the management portal.
Brown says he’s hoping to work with Viscount to take advantage of technology, such as QR codes or near field communication (NFC), which would enable staff, students, and visitors to use their smartphones to gain access to the campus.
“That would allow us to keep the schools locked a little more consistently during events, and we would have a better idea of who is on campus at any given time,” Brown notes. “We can pretty much limit access to parents, family members, and known volunteers without actually having to issue a badge. I’m looking forward to when they have that perfected.”