Rec Department Goes High Tech to Control Access

Beginning this fall, Montgomery County, Md., plans to use biometric finger vein scanners to control access to its pools, weight rooms and community center programs at each of its 33 locations. According to reports from The Gazette, a news source serving numerous Maryland communities, the scanning system will replace an existing identification card system, saving the county an estimated $50,000 a year.

Although biometric scanning is not new in recreation center applications, it seems few jurisdictions have embraced the technology wholeheartedly. Part of the reason could be the backlash from patrons.

"I just wouldn't come here anymore," 54-year-old personal trainer Rose Campbell, a regular user of the county's Potomac Recreation Center over the past 22 years, told Gazette staff writer Cody Calamaio. "Who in their right mind came up with this? Is this anti-terrorism or something? This is America for God's sakes. It's America and we go to the gym with our little access cards."

Although not all patrons may share Campbell's passionate disdain for such a security system, many do remain wary of any scanning device that encroaches on the body. Much of that may be blamed on a common misconception, as James Reyes, general manager of the Active Communities Division of the Active Network - a leading marketing and software company that boasts a long roster of clients in municipal recreation - told AB for a recent story on access control.

Reyes said many facility users believe, using the example of fingerprint scanning, that a replica of the fingerprint is being stored by the facility. In fact, the scanner takes an optical image of the finger. Then, using a digital coding formula, that image is translated into a series of numbers, a code. "Basically, that becomes your biometric template," Reyes told AB, adding that the original optical image is then discarded.

From there, the scanner interfaces with the access control or membership management software, which integrates the same way that it might with a barcode scanner or a magnetic strip, allowing or denying access, for example. "From the perspective of fitness clubs, a campus recreation center or a military base, an advantage is that you're not linking to a specific membership card that can be lost, forgotten or stolen," Reyes said.

Montgomery County recreation officials have been quick to point out that the data collected through their vein scans - in which images of an individual's vein patterns are collected as an infrared light passes through and is absorbed by hemoglobin, mitigating the common problem of topical skin issues in fingerprint scans - will not be available to other county departments or police.

Robin Riley, a division chief in the county's recreation department, likened the transformation to the move from paper sign-ins to ID card scans years ago. "At one of the senior centers, they were passionately against it and now they love it," Riley told the Gazette. "They can't wait to get their card scanned."

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