Streamlined Locks

Dec 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Carol Carey

An updated, versatile guest room lock system at Hilton Atlanta Northeast

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A streamlined, updated door locking system has provided the Hilton Atlanta Northeast with greater reliability, versatility and style in managing guest and employee security. The new electro-mechanical system provides an added level of security at the 272-room facility due to a battery back-up feature that allows encoders to continue checking in guests even when the power is down.

In addition, the software-based system allows management to control employee access to programs and specific areas of the hotel, which is owned by the Dow Hotel Company of Seattle. Together with a DVR-powered video surveillance system installed in 2005, the Windows XP-based Advance locking system by Onity, Duluth, Ga., is providing the hotel with a comprehensive, multi-layered security program that benefits guests, employees and management.

Onity is a provider of electronic locking systems for the hospitality, corporate, education, government and marine markets. The company also provides in-room safes and energy management systems.

Noting that the hotel already had 12 surveillance cameras in place at all entrances, exits and cash-handling areas, as well as at the front desk, Michael McKonkey, regional engineering director for the Dow Hotel Company, has found the streamlined locking system to be a welcome addition to the hotel's security program.

The camera system is housed in the PBX area of the hotel; it can be accessed from any workstation or even remotely through the Internet, McKonkey notes.

Locking system interfaces with hotel's management system

The Advance system, meanwhile, is housed in a central computer room in a dedicated server, where it communicates directly with Hilton's On Q proprietary Property Management System (PMS) through a software interface. Explains Bill Oliver, Onity's vice president for sales and operations, “The hotel's PMS sends a signal to our software when a guest checks in with access parameters such as their room number, the parking garage, the exercise room and pool area. Through our HT22i encoder, the appropriate information is encoded on the guest's mag-stripe key cards.

“We link our server directly to the hotel's PMS with a standard (TCP/IP) network cable wire,” Oliver says.

The PMS system is hard-wired to several other hotel systems, which are also housed in servers located in the main computer room, such as Lodgenet Entertainment's On Command movie-on-demand system, the Xeta call-accounting system and the Micros point-of-sale system, which tracks food and beverage charges.

“Each one of these systems has software that allows it to interface with the PMS system,” McKonkey explains, but they don't interface directly. “The PCs are hard-wired to the On Q system through a router.”

“When the systems communicate, it's seamless to the user,” McKonkey says.

Encoders bring data to the door

Information is passed from the PMS system to the guest cards by way of encoders. Three front-desk encoders program the mag-stripe cards with guest room information sent to them by the PMS system. Another encoder stands alone and is used to read keys, while a fifth, located in the main computer room next to the HT 24W software, is used by McKonkey to create master keys.

A component of the locking system, the portable, handheld programmer allows management to get specific entry/exit information from a particular room. “If we need to compare our video surveillance information with room entry/exit reports, I can confirm from the lock information who was in a room at a particular time,” he says.

McKonkey uses the Onity server to program the portable programmers. “I will go to the computer, put in my security code, access the screen and download information for a specific lock. I'll then close out the screen, go to the lock, and program it,” he says.

The top security level, he notes, is the one that allows a high-level manager, such as an engineering or security director, to determine who can make guest keys and the access levels of employees.

Update results in ease-of-use

The locking system was updated in April. “The hardware for our previous system was older and, over time, we suffered more card failures,” McKonkey says. “The newer systems have fewer mechanical parts, and we were looking for something more technologically advanced. The Advance system contains a circuit board in its lock. If something goes wrong, I simply change the mortise (lock mechanism) or reader (located inside the mortise). I don't have to change individual mechanical parts, such as the clutch.”

The hotel had previously upgraded the software and encoders for its previous system, though not the locks. The new system has resulted in both high performance and high style, Dow Hotel personnel say.

With the Advance system, there is a slot for the reader above the handle on the door. The reader and lock mechanisms are within the core of the door. The card is inserted in a slot on the door above the handle. Explains McKonkey, “the reader is a part of the lock and is positioned through the core of the door. It is connected electronically to the circuit board in the lock.” Cover plates are offered for situations in which holes or marks may have been left from previous locking systems.

At the Hilton, a wing handle design is used with a satin brass finish.

Noting that lock upgrades can present logistical problems for hotels, Oliver states that the Advance installation was done in about a week, with entire floor areas blocked for the upgrade.

In addition to being stylish and attractive, the Advance system provides substantial security back-up through its T22i encoder. Though normally powered by electricity, the encoder has a back-up battery system that can be used during a power outage or if the hotel's PMS system goes down. This feature is one Hilton personnel found particularly valuable.

Controlling employee access levels

In addition to using the Advance system to secure guest rooms, the Hilton also uses it to secure employee access to various areas. “We have locks on certain outside doors, as well as doors to our storage, laundry and mechanical rooms. The program determines which doors employees can enter and, in some cases, the times they can enter. There are several levels of authority among employees, which are built into the system,” McKonkey says.

While the Hilton uses a mag-stripe key card provided by Onity, the locks can also be upgraded to accommodate smart cards.

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