Oct 1, 2002 12:00 PM

In the post-Sept. 11 environment, security and access control have been more than just buzzwords across the nation. Nowhere has that been more apparent than in city governments, such as the one in Jacksonville, Fla.

City officials felt a new urgency amid the rising concern for security. The city had traditionally been open in its approach to the citizens that it served. Citizens needed access to services and officials, but the government also had an obligation to protect both its workers and clients.

Take City Hall for example. A constant stream of people ! from local citizens to contractors doing business to reporters covering the council ! come and go through its doors on a regular basis. Along with legitimate business people, there were also the occasional vagrant and those who just didn't need to be there. There hadn't been any serious incidents, but in the wake of the terrorism, no one could be sure any more.

"They had always wanted to get more security down at City Hall, but the priority was 'We'll get it when we have the budget,'" says Jack Bobeck, salesman with Jacksonville-based Filing Source, an access control and security systems provider.

The company was called upon to provide a photo identification card system for all city employees.

The timing was perfect to install a photo ID system, according to Bill Marshall, Jacksonville's manager of personnel services. The city was in the process of installing a new Oracle Human Resources Information System that would create a citywide database of employees. This software would enable managers to make strategic decisions based on statistical data. At the same time it could also store each employee's photo along with a new identification number.

"With the issuance of new employee numbers and the ability to retain a digital picture of everyone within that system, it made sense to go ahead and put together a new ID card," Marshall says.

The city's existing badge system consisted of various designs that depended on where the employee worked. Many employees didn't even wear badges.

The new system would capture everyone associated with government, from the mayor and city council to maintenance workers in far-reaching parts of the consolidated government of Duval County ! 6,000 people in all.

Marshall and his staff had to decide what system and installer to use. They wanted a company that could provide high-quality equipment and help them get over the hump of photographing and badging the current ranks of employees.

They finally settled on Filing Source, the company which was the local source for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Fargo card printers and encoders. Filing Source was willing to do more than just sell the equipment. "One of the things they needed was to have someone take pictures of the employees at different locations around the city," says Bobeck. "No one else was willing to do that."

The task was no small undertaking. Jacksonville covers a large geographic area, with three central locations downtown and dozens of other facilities, including the motor pool, parks and recreation, and other offices.

The company agreed to set up locations around the city so that employees could easily come in without disrupting their workday. They also wanted to accomplish the task and get the system up and running in less than 90 days.

Marshall chose Fargo's DTC520 Card Printer/Encoder. The system could handle dual-sided cards and print custom designs in color. "We wanted a system that could take digital photos and, by using the software, be able to produce picture IDs in a very short period of time," Marshall says.

Being able to design its own cards was important because the city had a great deal of information it wanted to display ! both to the employees and to everyone who encountered them.

In addition to an employee photo and ID number, they had to include the logo of the City of Jacksonville, the city's mission statement, and information about the Sterling Award ! an honor awarded to the city by the governor for significant improvements and achievement of performance excellence in 2001. The prestigious award, based on the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, has been given to only one other Florida city since its creation in 1992.

The cards also come with a barcode and a mag stripe that may be used when the city decides to upgrade to a reader system for access to buildings or the new computer system.

With the equipment chosen, officials were eager to get started. It was already November and they wanted to be up and running by January. The printer and encoder had not even arrived when Filing Source technicians set about taking photos using a Kodak digital video camera.

"We went ahead and photographed all of our people," Marshall recalls. "We were able to store the digital images and information in a [Microsoft] Access database."

Technicians were able to take employee photos at remote locations and, instead of storing them on the camera, they immediately downloaded them to a laptop computer. From there, the images could be transferred to the waiting Access files. Safely stored, the information could easily be merged into the printer's ID software system.

In less than the prescribed three months, every city worker had a picture ID. Cards were also created for vendors and contractors who had frequent business on city property, as well as for journalists who covered the mayor and council.

The card system cut down on the hassle of employees checking in with security guards, who were not always able to determine by glancing at their badges whether they were in the right location.

"It gives the people at City Hall a little bit more security," Bobeck says. "If someone doesn't belong there, they're really not going to get in unless they have a valid driver's license and have legitimate business."

Since the system went live in January, the city has taken over the process of making the ID badges. Each week 20 to 30 new workers receive their cards during a required orientation process. They also handle a small number of lost badges.

City officials say the system has worked well for them. The only hitch came when they discovered the plastic badges' sleeve was leeching the printing off a number of cards. Fargo, which provided the sleeves as well, was able to replace them.

City officials say the system is doing its job, and stands ready to handle upgraded access control as Jacksonville moves toward a safer and more secure environment.

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