Biometric Turnstiles Make Their Debut at the Student Recreation Center
The Student Recreation Center opened its doors in August 2001 and after six million entries, the original turnstiles were beginning to show their age. “ Although we have replaced the card reader several times, they were still unreliable and required increasing amounts of upkeep and maintenance,” says Kacy Toberg, Assistant Director of Operations for Recreational Services. Director Melissa Buchheit adds, “For several years we have been discussing the need for new turnstiles, but it was just in the past year that we were able to solidify the resources to make it happen.”
“We are very pleased with the new turnstiles. They provide greater security by reducing the number of ineligible entries into the facility,” says Toberg. Zari Fleming, a student assistant who works at the service counter, agrees. “Increased security is probably the best aspect of the new turnstiles,” states Fleming. She adds, “Students used to loan their cards to friends to avoid paying the guest fee; we were constantly confiscating cards.” Checking each card to ensure the picture matched the individual presenting the card was a very challenging task, and left too much room for error. Toberg adds, “We are happy that by increasing security, we are helping to protect the investment our members have made into our facility.” Director Buchheit agrees, “Our biometric scanners have helped create a safer environment for our patrons by making sure that everyone in the building should be in the building.” In addition to an alarm that signals staff when there is an issue with a scan, other security measures of the new turnstiles include green and red lights that easily differentiate a successful scan from an unsuccessful attempt.
The new turnstiles are collecting better data. “Some PantherCards had strips that didn’t work well with our previous turnstiles, so we were not getting the most accurate facility usage numbers,” explains Director Buchheit. “With the new data, we know that 5,889 people passed through the Student Recreation Center turnstiles this past August 21, which is now the largest single day total in the Student Recreation Center’s history.”
Another great feature of the new turnstiles is convenience. Service counter assistant Cassy Pierre says, “With the old turnstiles, it was easy to forget your PantherCard. Now you don’t have to worry if you forgot to bring it with you.” For equipment rentals and identification purposes, patrons are still encouraged to continue to bring their PantherCard with them to the Student Recreation Center.
The new turnstiles can also accommodate sport wheelchairs. Sport wheelchairs are slightly wider that a typical wheelchair, and the previous gate was not wide enough to allow passage for some sport chair models. “We’re happy that we can find new ways for our facility to be more accessible to the Georgia State community,” says Toberg.
Feedback among patrons has been mostly positive, but “some members have complained that it takes too long for the biometric scans to open the turnstiles,” says Fleming. Sabra Blackwell, Operations Coordinator for the Department of Recreational Services, explains that “typically, it takes 6 seconds to read a finger. That’s a little longer than the library, for example.” The increased delay is due to additional levels of access required to enter the Student Recreation Center. Continues Blackwell, “When your finger is scanned, the system is checking to see if the individual has signed the required waiver, is a currently enrolled student, or is a Recreation member that has paid their dues. That’s a lot to verify in 6 seconds!” One key factor to remember is that the new equipment is taking a biometric scan, not a finger print. Says Director Buchheit, “No finger prints are taken or stored.” The biometric system takes measurements of specific spots on your finger and the distance between those spots. Those measurements are then converted into a number sequence that is unique to each individual. When a finger is scanned, the number sequence is sent to the PantherCard office where the patron’s eligibility is verified. Of course, patrons still have an option to enter the facility with their PantherCard if they choose to opt out of using the biometric scanner.
Toberg acknowledges that there has been a learning curve with using the biometric scanners. “We are still learning. Our patrons are still learning. For example, people are realizing that standing too close to the gate will set off an alarm.” Other factors that may prevent the scan from working properly include long finger nails or pressing too hard on the touch pad. Student staff also clean the touch pads regularly to prevent smudges that may prevent the reader from scanning properly.
Training sessions for professional and student staff began months before the turnstiles were installed. “The PantherCard Office trained two of our graduate assistants, several other Recreational Services staff and me in May,” explains Brenda Webb, Administrative Specialist, Memberships. “After our training was complete, Sabra Blackwell created a manual and began to train our student staff in July,” says Webb. To alleviate long waits on the first day of school, patrons could start registering their biometric scans in July. “We had a table in the lobby where patrons could create their biometric profile, as well as a computer at the service counter fully dedicated to registering biometric scans,” continues Webb. “We also scheduled extra staff at the service counter so when the first day came, our staff was ready. We were prepared!”
A new service counter was scheduled to be installed at the same time as the turnstile installation. “The timing didn’t work out where the new service counter could be completed by the start of the fall semester, so we had to postpone that phase of the project,” says Webb. The new service counter will be designed so that a student assistant can see everyone entering and exiting the turnstiles and the pass gate. “A lot of careful thought was put into not only the aesthetics of the new service counter, but the functionality as well,” says Director Buchheit. The service counter renovation is scheduled to begin in November and be completed prior to the start of spring semester.
“There were a lot of moving parts to coordinate for this project to be completed. In addition to architects and contractors from the turnstile company, our staff received support and assistance from the Department of Instructional Innovation and Technology, the PantherCard Office, and the project was coordinated by Facility Management’s Design and Construction team,” says Blackwell. After a lot of hard work and collaboration, the Student Recreation Center is ready for its next six million visitors.