OneCard upgrade to improve security across 1.2K campus doors


Zulfiqar Ahmed | Northern Star

OneCard reader in Grant Towers.

By Gabriel Fiorini, News Reporter

DeKALB — NIU’s Board of Trustees approved $1.4 million to upgrade 1200 doors around campus at a meeting on Sep. 23, and students and staff seem to support the possible expansion of electronic building access technology.

“It is the better way to handle access control in a campus environment,” said John Heckman, associate vice president for facilities management and campus services. “It’s a much better system, much more secure.”

Approximately 1,200 exterior and interior doors located in 47 campus buildings require hardware upgrades. These upgrades range from door frame replacement to simple component replacements. 

The project intends to upgrade or replace components of existing electronic lock hardware as new technology is ushered in. This iteration of upgrades comes in anticipation of an update to the NIU OneCard software.

“We didn’t want to get to a point to have those OneCards updated, and then they’re not able to function and open up the doors,” Heckman said

The updates being made to the OneCard are intended to improve security. However, access control hardware installed prior to 2016 is incompatible with the planned OneCard software update.  

“This is a preventative effort to avoid that from happening,” Heckman said. “We knew there were efforts to want to upgrade the OneCard system and when we were researching that, we learned that there could be implications on the electronic locks that we have in place right now.”

Heckman also touched on the university’s desire to expand the current access control system. 

“They (the Board of Trustees) like the idea of doing more electronic locks, and that is a good direction for the campus to go because then you don’t have to rely on physical keys,” he said. 

Many of the doors in residential halls, as well as several academic buildings, are equipped with electronic locks and will be upgraded as a result of the approval.

Heckman elaborated on the advantages of electronic locking mechanisms.

“Physical keys are always hard because if you lose the key, you’ve got to change the lock mechanism on the door and reissue keys,” Heckman said. “Whereas with a card system, you can just go in and change the authorized users.”

Electronic building access technology provides improved security and convenience. NIU OneCards can be disabled if they’re lost or stolen. Electronic locks eliminate the possibility of having to rekey entire floors or buildings when a master key is missing. Key card systems also allow administrators to easily revoke access of graduates and students leaving the university, instead of collecting physical keys.

However, the $1.4 million won’t be used to install any additional key card locks. The money will only be used to update existing locks that already have NIU OneCard access. 

“This project is focused on upgrading the existing electronic locks. It’s the primary objective of the project,” Heckman said. “Future projects we’ll get on to expanding electronic locks in other areas of the campus, but right now we’re trying to address not losing that functionality of what we have in place already.”

NIU hopes to implement electronic lock hardware throughout the rest of the campus.

“I can definitely see if you have the OneCard, it’s like you can keep track of who’s going where,” said Ben Lunaburg, a first-year engineering major. “It’s more security for sure, I wouldn’t mind having that.”

Mykila Williams, a senior sociology major, said the only downside to the upgrades would be how the OneCard office is only open on weekdays and if a student loses their OneCard on the weekend, they would have to wait to get a new one.

“Based on when I was living in dorms and using a OneCard, it was easier for me because it was just easier for me to get in when I wanted to, but at the same time it was also a bad thing,” Williams said.