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August 28, 2014

New security measures coming to Pgh. Campus

Joshua Cochran, director of integrated security.

Joshua Cochran, director of integrated security.

The Pittsburgh campus is getting new, more capable security cameras and ID card readers.

The approximately 4,000 card readers currently on the Pittsburgh campus and associated facilities, such as Pitt’s South Side buildings, are receiving upgrades so that the University can phase in new ID cards with a different type of scanning technology that makes the cards’ encryption more secure.

The current ID cards have magnetic strips that are swiped through card readers, much like a credit card. The new cards, which will be phased in over the next several years, will have “proximity” technology that allows them to be read when placed next to the reader — similar to what’s used on Port Authority vehicles.

According to Joshua Cochran, director of the integrated security department, work began this summer to replace the current card readers with multipurpose readers that allow cards to be swiped or held adjacent to the reader.

University ID holders — currently more than 60,000 — will be transitioned in the coming years to new “proximity” cards, and the swipe capability on campus card readers eventually will be removed.

Cochran says he worked with Pitt’s card and reader vendor, HID, to create unique encryption for Pitt. “That’s the biggest key to the encryption — it’s not available” elsewhere, he says. “It’s the most guaranteed way to ensure that nobody can duplicate our cards,” or the readers, which only work with Pitt’s cards. “There is no other institution or company in the world that can get the encryption we have.”

Illegally duplicating Pitt ID cards might be tempting, Cochran explains, since they not only provide access to facilities but connect users to bus passes, retail discounts and bank accounts. The new cards will have even more capabilities, such as allowing for log-ins at University computer facilities, thanks to a microchip.

The new readers also will be somewhat more sustainable, running on 85 percent of previous units’ electricity consumption.

The replacement of current readers with multi-use readers is about 40 percent complete, according to Cochran. Residence hall readers were replaced over the summer and the focus now is on the rest of the Pittsburgh campus buildings. The project should be completed before winter break, he says.

The other major integrated security measure to be improved by the department is the Pittsburgh campus’s approximately 1,000 surveillance cameras. Cochran says they are running on older technology — sometimes obsolete systems — that render service and maintenance too difficult. All cameras will be replaced by June 2015. Work is in the “very, very early stages.”

The new equipment will be high-definition digital cameras sending their signals through existing cables. But they will use only 10-15 percent of the electricity used by the current cameras, he says, making the system much more sustainable.

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1