How Turnstiles Control Access at College Rec Centers

Andy Berg Headshot
[Photo courtesy of Auburn University]
[Photo courtesy of Auburn University]

Controlling access to today's palatial college rec centers is a challenge. Effective monitoring and control of traffic into the facility requires a balance between security, providing a great guest experience and ensuring a complete picture of who is in the facility at all times and what they're doing there. One of the surest ways of maintaining that balance is through the use of a tried-and-true staple of facility access control — the turnstile. A deceptively simple but effective solution, today's turnstiles have come a long way, enabling integration with pretty much any management software, while employing a variety of identification types, from mag-stripe to biometrics. Here's a refresher on turnstiles, as well as a quick look at how two major universities have employed these automated sentinels in their facilities.

Auburn University
Auburn uses barrier optical turnstiles at its $72 million, 240,000-square-foot rec center. The facility has three entryway turnstiles and two exits, as well as a mass entry/exit that is used for large groups.

"When it comes to turnstiles, there are definitely two groups out there — some who love them and some who hate them. I'm a love them," says Scott Harper, director of facilities and operations at Auburn.

Harper lauds turnstiles for their ability stop so-called "tailgaters," or uncredentialled persons who slip by on the heels of someone who does have a valid ID. "You have to have a card to get through," says Harper. "Sure, you can use someone else's card, but we're going to catch you doing that too, because you're held up at the turnstile."

Harper says one of the things that makes Auburn's turnstiles so effective is the fact that they're tied in with a bank of cameras, as well as the school's management software. "We have three cameras looking directly down at the turnstiles," he says. "So I can go and we can line up with Fusion, and say, 'Okay, this person checked in at this time.' And I can see who they were, and I can see when they went through, and I've got a camera verifying that it's them."

Harper says it's very hard for someone to refute that kind of evidence. "Because they could very easily say, 'Hey, I didn't even come in that day. Somebody stole my ID.' Well, that's you on the camera at the exact same time your card was swiped, on the same timestamp on the video, so we know it's you."

[Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska][Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska]

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Nebraska's turnstiles aren't currently tied into the school's recreation management software, but the facility hopes to upgrade to those capabilities in the future. However, the turnstiles are still a big help to facility staff.

"For us it's more about the guest experience for our individuals," says Amy Lanham, UNL's senior associate director of facilities and operations. "So rather than having that mass of people coming into the building, wondering, 'Okay, where do I go? How do I get in? What do I do?,' we do it mainly to funnel individuals and have that personal contact with the individuals coming into the building."

The other reason Nebraska's rec facilities favor turnstiles is that they're a good way to direct the flow of traffic, which might seem like a luxury but indirectly affects security. "In our larger facilities we host a lot of events, so trying to focus on funneling people out of the facility can be tricky," Lanham says. "So there's a button they can push and the doors open up and people can egress straight out of there. It's really about setting the direction of the traffic flow without setting up special stanchions or other things that we would need to do."

Along with a future integration with the school's student management software, Lanham says she hopes to one day monitor those exiting the building as closely as they monitor those coming in through the front doors. "We're actually interested in what they do when they're in our buildings and how long they stay," she says. "We want to know, is the common user coming in for a half hour? Sixty minutes? Right now we don't know that. If we were able to capture when people leave, we'd have that data."

Why turnstiles for your rec center?

• Eliminate "tailgating"
• Integrate with cameras and campus management software
• Monitor and manage the flow of traffic through main entry points
• Free front desk staff to do other things
• Compile attendance data to cross-reference with other school metrics, including retention and graduation rates
• Identify who's in the building at all times


Types of turnstiles:

Optical: Consists of two cabinets that employ sensors to detect passage through the lane created by the cabinets.

Optical barrier: Consists of two lane-forming cabinets that employ sensors, as well as a barrier, such as a door or a bar.

Full height: Similar to a ruggedized revolving door, the full-height turnstile blocks the entrance from floor to the top of the turnstile itself, allowing one person at a time to push through the entryway.

Waist-high tripod: Probably the most ubiquitous of turnstiles, the waist-high tripod terminal can be found at most New York City subway stations and many professional sports venues and features a tripod of bars that rotate to allow entry.


This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Turnstiles still a mainstay for rec center access control" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


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