Ever Vigilant - Safety and security in residence halls is a top priority for college campuses of any size

Ever Vigilant

Safety and security in residence halls is a top priority for college campuses of any size

Security and safety in residential halls is a top priority for college campuses of any size today. Students move into dorm rooms and on-campus housing with personal property of considerable value, including computers and other electronics. In addition, personal safety and protection are critically important elements of campus security programs.

Locking systems, access control programs and notification systems have become essential security elements for many campus residential halls. A well-secured residence hall begins with all doors, including perimeter and room entryways being controlled by a system that records and monitors everyone who enters or exits the building. The exterior doors can remain locked part or all of the time and should require identification for entry into the facility. There will also be access control systems on each floor, security cameras by all entrances and appropriate interior and exterior lighting.

There are two main types of locking systems and access control—networked and offline. Networked, or online, access control systems have methods to monitor events and record what happens at the point of entry. With networked access controlled doors, latches can be electronically controlled and locked down by the campus security system if needed. Offline systems operate independently and rely on cardholder identification and access information to be programmed into a reader device physically located at the door or stored on the credential itself.

With either system, doors must be able to be readily opened by a push from the inside and meet a number of other safety requirements. They cannot include delayed egress locks but otherwise may be installed in virtually any school building.

Whichever type of access control or locking system is installed, the convenience and security increases for students and the cost and effort to maintain decreases for campus staff.

“On a college campus, mechanical keys are easily lost or misplaced and they don’t allow us to track egress and access in the manner we’d like,” said Kenneth Boyer, associate vice president and director of auxiliary services at Mercer University in Piedmont, Ga. “Plus, mechanical keys make certain maintenance functions more labor intensive. For example, when a key is lost, we have to rekey the lock. The labor spent on each individual lock can be very time consuming and costly.”

Additionally, the university desired a system that integrated to its one card platform.

“We wanted to integrate security and access control with other functions students and staff perform on campus, including purchasing meals, copying, checking out books, using vending machines and more,” Boyer said.

Mercer University’s system shows how an open architecture smart credential allows for increased functionality but on your terms and with the systems of your choice. Other applications can be integrated with the card and additional functionality can be added as the campus grows and needs evolve.

Likewise, at Colorado Mesa University (CMU), residence halls have followed a migration from keys to keyless access control. Initially, offline locks were used in most applications. One building uses offline Schlage electronic locks on pod entrances and mechanical SFIC Everest locks on the four bedroom doors in each pod. The high-security keys prevent unauthorized duplication, while the electronic locks on the pods eliminate the need for multiple key levels and frequent re-keying.

As student preference for keyless entry increased, the electronic locks were used exclusively on the next building. While access data is managed within a software application, the actual user rights data resides on the card. This eliminates the need to update each lock whenever there is new data. Audit trails and other data still can be downloaded from the lock and transferred to the computer. The offline locks can manage an unlimited number of cards and require no hard wiring.

In its latest residence halls and academic buildings, CMU is moving toward the newest generation of electronic locks. The Schlage AD Series locks are designed so they can be upgraded easily to another configuration, such as a newer reader technology or communication method, if needed by simply replacing a module instead of the entire lock. The new Bunting Residence Hall was equipped with more than 500 Schlage AD-250 locks, which perform the same function as the previous style locks used in existing buildings. Both are offline and have access rights stored on the user’s card.

Cards Are Only the Beginning

Automatic door closers and locking systems are self-locking, reducing incidences of unwanted access into dorm rooms and residence hallways. Video cameras can record everyone entering or exiting the building and provide a visual deterrent to would-be criminals.

Sometimes, the Biggest Problems Are the Students Themselves

An almost universal problem with residence hall security focuses on student apathy toward security procedures and a lack of awareness about potential threats to their personal or physical safety. Students and staff members oftentimes prop open interior and exterior doors. Some residents allow nonresidents or persons not known to them to enter a building without proper identification. They provide access codes and keys to other people without concern for the safety of themselves and their fellow residents.

One method for preventing access to groups of nonresidents is to install a locked vestibule (or mantrap) where only one person can enter at a time. Anti-passback features on access cards force cardholders to use their credentials to exit and enter. The card is only valid when used in the correct sequence. Photo identification on cards enables resident assistants to check photos on the access credentials.

Central to the success of a residence hall security program is ongoing training of staff and students, as well as strict enforcement of campus security policies. Safety staff may be assigned as liaisons to residential halls. Student-led committees may help to establish security rules that are consistent with campus guidelines. In some cases, financial penalty systems may help to curtail security violations.

Fire Prevention in Residence Halls

Every commercial building, including residential halls, has one or more fire doors on the premises. They protect both human lives and property by containing fire in one part of a structure. They also prevent smoke and fumes from passing from the area of the fire to other parts of the building, while still making it possible for people to escape.

Fire doors are typically installed in conjunction with fire walls. Both fire doors and fire walls are made of materials that are not easily combustible. They are usually mandated in all buildings in North America. Smaller buildings may only have one or two fire doors/walls while larger properties may have dozens or even hundreds of them.

Fire doors must pass a series of laboratory tests in order to be certified as such. Once tested, they receive a rating based on their ability to prevent the spread of fire over a specified period of time at a particular temperature. For example, a fire door may be rated for “three hours.” This means that the door has been tested by subjecting it to fire with a temperature of 1,925 degrees Fahrenheit and the door withstood combustion for three hours.

All individual components of the door, therefore, must also be able to withstand the same type of fire as the door itself. This includes door hardware like closers, latches, thresholds, hinges and locks. Doors that have been tested prior to sale are produced with components that meet the same standards as the rest of the door.

However, problems can arise when components need to be replaced after installation. Campus maintenance crews are sometimes unaware of where fire doors are located within facilities or how existing fire doors are rated. This can lead to potential problems when it comes time to replace components like locks.

Maintenance supervisors should familiarize themselves with the types of doors that are installed in residential halls. Three-hour fire doors must be outfitted with three-hour fire rated locks. Failure to do so will likely lead to fire breaches, resulting in property damage or loss and possible human injury or even death.

One common area for fire doors are openings leading to stairwells. Multi-storied buildings are usually enclosed by firewalls. Entrances to and exits from stairwells take place through fire doors. This prevents fire and smoke from entering stairwells, allowing people to escape. It also helps prevent fires from spreading between levels.

Certain exterior walls on buildings may also be made fire resistant. Local building codes usually determine if and which exterior walls must be non-combustible.

Fire code provisions include:

  • Egress doors shall be readily opened from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort.
  • Doors shall be arranged to open readily from the egress side whenever the building is occupied.
  • Locks, if provided, shall not require the use of a key, a tool, or special knowledge or effort for operation from the egress side.
  • Key operation shall be permitted, provided that the key cannot be removed when the door is locked from the side from which egress is to be made.

In addition to the these requirements, fire and safety regulations mandate that doors in spaces that can be occupied by more than 50 people—usually 1,000 square feet—must be equipped with panic bars.

Protecting Your Residence Halls

To assure that you provide the best possible protection to students themselves, their property and the college’s facility, begin by calling your manufacturer. Typically, you will find that they have staff specialists who have been involved with scores of university residence hall projects. Very quickly, you can learn what would be best for a college of your size and type.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Security Today.

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