Biometric Technology: A New Level of Security

Systems that scan handprints, fingerprints, faces and eyes are reshaping the way organizations approach security

By Thomas A. Westerkamp  

West Virginia University students who are looking to get in a pickup basketball game, take a swim or lift weights at the university’s Student Recreation Center don’t need to show their identification cards at the door. Their hands will do just fine.

West Virginia University installed the Schlage HandKey system at the 177,000-square foot facility almost two year ago. The biometric hand-geometry reader, which identifies a person by taking measurements of his or her hand, was made by Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, one of a dozen companies manufacturing biometric solutions today. After punching in an identification code, a student places one hand on the reader. Once the system matches the handprint to the student, it grants access to the center.

“It’s one less thing our students have to worry about,” says Carolyn McDaniel, the university’s assistant director of student affairs for business operations. “They don’t have to carry their IDs around, stick it in their pocket where it can fall out or store it in a locker. The hand geometry allows for self-entry. No one has to look at someone’s card and match it to his or her face. It cuts down on the line and speeds up entrance into the recreation center.”

When it comes to using biometrics, West Virginia University is not alone. Today, several colleges and universities around the country are using hand geometry and fingerprint identification readers in areas such as student centers, food service departments and residencehalls.

Beyond Security

Health care institutions, research facilities, government agencies and the U.S. military are using advanced biometric technologies, such as retinal scanning, iris identification and facial recognition devices, where high-security access control is essential.

But not everyone is using it for security purposes, says Bret Tobey, intelligent openings business development and product manager for Assa Abloy for the Americas. The manufacturer has partnered with several companies that make biometric brands, including HID Connect, Bioscript, L1 and Privaris. Together, Assa Abloy works with end users to meet their needs and wants, he says.

“Actually, we’re seeing a growing number of folks using biometrics more for convenience,” says Tobey, who was part of the engineering team that worked on the hand geometry reader at West Virginia University. “It seems as though biometrics are popping up in places we didn’t expect.”

Several members of the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) are expanding from the lock-and-key sets to a variety of electronic input devices, including biometrics.

Biometrics play the role of authenticator, Tobey says, ensuring “you are who you say you are.” There are several different biometrics on the market, and each company is developing its own unique brand. The most common and least expensive are fingerprint-scanning and hand-geometry-reader systems. Many organizations use these biometrics in conjunction with a keypad or card reader/identifier to provide a two-factor authentication with their access-control systems.

Face-recognition devices take a photo of an individual and compare it to a stored photo. Several different systems and devices are available, and they vary in price depending on the camera and equipment.

Other biometrics, such as iris and retinal recognition, rely on the eye to authenticate a person’s identity. These devices either can read patterns in the iris or in the retina by scanning or photographing a person’s eye. As with the face-recognition devices, eye authenticators are very accurate but more expensive than fingerprint and hand geometry readers.

“I suspect as optics become cheaper and as the quality improves, (iris and retinal recognition) will be a preferred method of all the biometrics,” Tobey said. Despite the cost, the choice of a biometric reader is determined by what is behind the organization’s door that it is trying to protect and secure.

“If it’s really high value, they’ll go with the eye or face recognition,” Tobey says. “When they want a few different devices deployed, then the fingerprint identification becomes a common way of enrollment.”

The ‘Right’ System

When outfitting a facility with a biometric solution, managers must weigh many factors to determine which biometric technology makes the most sense.

“It’s really more an operational consideration than a technological consideration,” Tobey says. Among the questions managers must consider:

  • Are biometric systems being installed to provide security or convenience?
  • How large a population will use the biometric technology?
  • How many openings must be secured?
  • What is the level of risk in each of these openings?

For health care facilities, hand-geometry and fingerprint readers might work well to secure a pharmaceutical lab or medical records room, Tobey says. But they’re not the best option for an infectious-controlled environment. Face- or eye-recognition devices might make more sense, since employees are expected to wear gloves.

Several organizations, including the International Standards Organization and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies are developing biometrics standards. With many BHMA members manufacturing or partnering with companies that manufacture biometric solutions, the association will look to support the standards that organizations are creating to ensure their quality and durability.

“BHMA is getting involved with biometrics and working with the different organizations to promote their standard efforts in the future,” says Mike Tierney, BHMA’s standards coordinator. “Biometric technology is a growing industry in both the residential and commercial sectors, and BHMA wants to stay ahead of the curve.”

Specifying Door Hardware: Striking a Balance

Properly specifying door hardware requires that managers balance a host of issues, including security, durability, appearance, ease of maintenance, and regulatory compliance. With all these competing demands, the challenge of getting specifications right is complex. Focusing on key hardware components can help managers specify products that meet facilities’ increasingly stringent requirements.

Mortise locks are popular options for heavy-duty applications, such as entrance doors. Mortise-lock components typically are housed in a totally enclosed, rectangular, wrought-iron case that fits in a routed opening in the door’s edge. A hole bored through the door’s face accommodates the handle shaft, which is inserted through the face into a square hole in the lock lever and out the other side of the door.

A recent variation of the single-lock point mortise lock is the three-point mortise lock. This lock has the same mortise lock and deadbolt in the center case, but it includes two hook bolts — one above and one below connected by a bar to the center case — that provide more rigid locking and added security for doors in remote locations.

Factors that managers must consider in specifying hinges are door height, weight, thickness and trim dimension. The standard hinge location is 5 inches from the top door jamb rabbet to the top of the hinge barrel, and 10 inches from the bottom edge of the bottom hinge barrel to the finished floor.

A new generation of improved electric-powered hinges link power from the in-house distribution system through the hinge to electrified door hardware. Power remains available regardless of door position, and the position is monitored from remote locations.

Finally, newly built or retrofitted educational, health care and other public buildings are more likely to specify lever or push/pull handles for easier access and regulatory compliance.

Managers can specify silver-based anti-microbial agents in the hardware finish coating. This coating guards against algae, bacteria, fungus, mildew and mold, and it can remain active for the life of the hardware.

— Thomas A. Westerkamp

Spotlight: BHMA

Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) is the trade association for North American manufacturers of commercial builders hardware. BHMA authors 33 ANSI/BHMA standards in the builder’s hardware category, covering everything from hinges to locks to power door. BHMA is involved in international standards, code and life-safety regulations, and other activities that specifically impact builders hardware.

For more information, visit

Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 8/1/2007   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: