April 20, 2019, marked 20 years since the Columbine High School massacre. It was a paradigm-shattering moment that forever changed the way schools around the United States viewed their own status as vulnerable, potential victims. Earlier this year, Arkansas’ Blytheville Public School District, faced with the same concerns of intruder violence as other educational systems around the nation, took a giant step toward self-protection with the installation of a cloud-based wireless access control system.

Kris Williams, director of technology and Title I, said the district had received many requests from parents and the larger community to increase security. “The best way to do that, we felt, was to secure access to our buildings.”

The school district is located about an hour north of Memphis, Tenn. There are approximately 2,000 K-12 students on four campuses. “Our schools were constructed many decades ago with multiple entrances around each building; students had come and gone freely between classes via unlocked doors,” Williams said. During the school district’s monthly lockdown drills, administrators were assigned to manually secure the schools’ entrance doors — the high school has 13 — with traditional locks and keys.

To improve the situation the district decided to install access control technology at the high school and the middle school. “We really wanted something that we could control from a mobile device, both from on campus and off campus,” Williams said.

The search led them to integrator Blue Sky Technologies LLC, Jonesboro, Ark. The company had worked with Blytheville’s schools before, said Brian Duckworth, sales consultant for Blue Sky.

The solution that seemed to best fit the brief provided was ProdataKey io (PDK io) cloud-based wireless access control, by ProdataKey of Draper, Utah. PDK io’s cloud nodes provide access control for multiple doors, separately or concurrently, via a plug-and-play programming interface. Real-time alerts can be sent, and an intuitive interface can show the status of every door in the system. But to Williams and Brandon Harper, director of safety and security, most important was the mobile interface offering full functionality — no different than the web interface and optimized for a small screen.

The installation at the high school was planned for the 13 manually locked doors. The middle school was easier, with only five doors. 

With the new system, the school district’s security and technology departments have the ability to lock and unlock doors and set or modify schedules as needed. They also are responsible for establishing appropriate permission levels for different groups of employees based on their roles and the school at which they work.

During the school day, doors automatically unlock one minute before the class dismissal bell rings and relock one minute after the tardy bell. Total lockdowns of the exterior doors are handled simultaneously and all but instantly through the mobile device or web interface, while teachers lock the interior doors manually. Williams notes that the system also provides a list of teachers and administrators who have entered the building that day. 

Williams and Harper report that the installation went smoothly and there have been no technical issues whatsoever. The high school was completed and went live in February and the middle school in March.