Stroll through the University of Georgia campus in Athens, and you'll get a glimpse into the future of security at student housing communities. The university uses hand-geometry readers to grant access to its residential buildings. This high-tech biometrics device identifies students by the shape and size of their hands, ensuring the entrance of only authorized residents. "More and more, colleges and universities want the security and convenience of biometrics for their students," says Bill Spence, biometric manager for Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies' Recognition Systems. "Hand geometry is a bullet-proof technology. It is very reliable."
While biometrics is quickly gaining popularity among on-campus dorms across the country (where the cost can be supplemented by the university), many student housing developers can't afford to fork over the big bucks for these systems. Biometric terminals are priced from $1,000 and up. But such a high-tech solution for the general student housing market might not be too far off, says Brent Little, vice president and development partner for Place Properties, an Atlanta-based student housing developer.
"I certainly think there is an opportunity for that [biometrics] to occur in the not-too-distant future," says Little. "What really makes that happen is to get all the bugs worked out and start producing it at enough volume so it becomes accepted in the mass marketplace and the price comes down."
For now, the more common–and affordable–security solution: an electronic key or a smart card, which often tie into the security system used on campus. These electronic solutions, which can be used to secure common areas, individual units, and even parking facilities, offer a number of advantages over the lower-priced mechanical locking system, says Felix Mira, marketing manager for Ingersoll-Rand Security Technologies' electronic security division. At the top of the list: tracking capabilities and reduction in rekeying costs, both essential features in the high-traffic, high-turnover student housing community. "Doors become not just an access point, but part of your security management system," says Mira.
Locking systems, however, mark just the beginning of security offerings at many student properties. Ambling University Development Group, a division of the Valdosta, Ga.-based Ambling Cos., typically offers exterior blue light emergency phones in the parking lots of its properties, in-unit intrusion alarms, and even bedside panic buttons designed for date-rape situations.
Fortunately, the panic buttons aren't used frequently–but any extra upfront costs for the product is more than worthwhile, says Allon Boatright, Ambling's manager of special projects.