System upgrade

by Catalina Myers  |   


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Kim Mahoney, associate vice chancellor of Facilities and Campus Services, and her team are busy this fall transitioning all of UAA’s Anchorage campus buildings to a new online access control system that will allow students, faculty and staff to access buildings with a swipe of their WOLFcard. (Photo by James Evans/ University of Alaska Anchorage)

While most students, faculty and staff are busy attending classes and meetings via Zoom, Kim Mahoney, associate vice chancellor for Facilities and Campus Services, and her team have been busy ramping up a project that has been in the works to transition the university’s current key access system to a new one. The current system is getting a major upgrade, with up-to-date technology and better safety.

For Mahoney, this is all in a day's work, having spent more than 20 years with the State of Alaska, managing design and construction for public buildings. She moved to the university in 2017, spearheaded several safety initiatives that served UAA well in preparation for the  November 2018 earthquake, which rocked Southcentral and caused the university to shut down campus for a mere five days. It’s been a fast and furious three years on the job. She said she’s been focusing on safety, providing encouragement to her staff and looking for ways to keep her department’s costs down.

“It’s really important to me, in my role here, to ensure that we provide an environment of excellence for the university, its students and all of the people in our community,” she said.

Mahoney said she and her team along with other university departments: Information Technology Services (ITS), University Police Department (UPD) and the WOLFcard office have contributed to the monumental efforts to replace and upgrade the campus access control system. The project is underway in September to replace the current key access technology across campus — the technology that allows users access to a building, classroom or office using a swipe key, such as a WOLFcard, or a fob key — and upgrade to a whole new system and vendor. 

According to Mahoney, the technology has existed for years and the university has been working toward transitioning all buildings on campus to an access control system. Although this project was already underway when she arrived, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the importance of creating an access control system not only for safety but also to make it easier to keep track of who is going in and out of campus buildings. Mahoney said newer campus buildings, such as the Engineering and Industry Building, are already fully equipped with this technology and that the focus has been bringing older buildings up to date. 

Mahoney said once a new vendor is chosen to host the access control system, she and her team’s work begins as they slowly start transitioning buildings from the old to new system — sometime around November. They will focus on transferring existing access buildings to the vendor’s new software, all of which are expected to be done by the winter holiday break this year. Starting in January, her team will expand to bring older campus buildings that don’t currently have access technology up to date and equip them with the new access control system. 

“The whole project, for upgrading to this new technology and expanding to all of our buildings, we’re hoping to have completed by May,” she said. “By fall 2021, we should be fully on this new program.”

With the project taking the majority of the academic year, Mahoney said she and the access control transition team will also be concentrating on communicating to students, faculty and staff the importance of carrying their WOLFcard with them to gain access to buildings on campus this fall and through the new year. She said COVID-19 has helped prompt the campus community to do this currently when traveling to UAA, but said that in the future, carrying one’s WOLFcard to access buildings, classrooms and offices will become the norm. She’s encouraging the campus community to get into the habit now.

“As the project moves forward, we’re going to be changing the technology, which will actually require us to distribute new WOLFcards to everyone,” Mahoney said. “The card will look similar, but there will be dual technology built in to allow it to work on the old and the new system.” Mahoney said she and the access control transition team are still working on distribution methods, but said most likely all students, faculty and staff at the UAA campus will receive a new WOLFcard directly from the new vendor in the mail.

Campus WOLFcards will function as a key for students, faculty and staff to gain entry into campus buildings and that as the new card-swipe system is introduced, hard keys to buildings will be phased out. This new key card access system will also save time and money — no more checking out or having to replace lost keys, or the worst-case scenario, having to re-lock and re-key an entire building because of one misplaced key. The new access system will also allow building managers, Facilities and UPD to easily organize students, faculty and staff names into a database and immediately activate or deactivate WOLFcard to allow access to buildings, classrooms, labs and offices. She said it will be a much more seamless process for everyone.

“The project we’re deploying now will replace the existing system with new upgraded and supported software and it will provide new access control to buildings that currently have none,” Mahoney said. On the campus safety side of the equation, Mahoney said the new system will allow UPD to lock buildings down individually or campuswide remotely from their dispatch center with a “hot button” in the event of an emergency, such as an active shooter. “It will be very easy to isolate and control what and who has access in that scenario and from a safety standpoint, this provides a lot of flexibility to our UPD officers who are commissioned to keep us safe.”

Additionally, she said most campus buildings are currently on 24-hour restricted access for the fall semester due to COVID-19, but that almost all buildings on campus are being used during the school week for various reasons. The WOLFcard access system allows her team and UPD to provide better safety for students, faculty and staff when there are fewer people on campus. In times when the community is not facing a global pandemic, Mahoney said having the ability to only grant access to people who need to be in certain buildings or classrooms will help improve overall safety on campus by ensuring that only UAA students, faculty and staff will be able to gain access to buildings and classrooms rather than someone who has wandered onto campus and may intend to cause damage or harm.

“This project, to replace and upgrade this system, has been our number one priority from a security and standpoint view on our campus,” Mahoney said. “Safety and security are where we’re starting to support our campus community. Having a mechanism allowing people to have access to buildings who are supposed to have access has been the premise behind the idea of an access controlled system.”

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