More than 82% of college students are concerned about their personal safety on campus. More than half report being very or extremely concerned. Is your residence hall safe enough to put students at ease? Can parents feel confident that their child is safe at school?
If any of the following five factors apply to your on-campus housing, you might have more work to do to improve your residence hall security.
1. Having Residence Halls
Simply being a higher education institution with residence halls makes it more likely to experience crime. It makes sense – with more people spending more time on campus, there are more opportunities for crime to occur. Visitors are more common as well.
2. Proximity to a Large City
It's no secret that the bigger the city, the bigger the crime. That criminal activity trickles onto campus.
3. High Alcohol and Drug Use Rate
Campuses with high levels of substance abuse are more likely to experience elevated crime rates. When someone is impaired, their judgment suffers, making them more likely to break the law.
4. Employee Turnover
Higher education isn’t immune from the Great Resignation. Like in so many other industries, people are burning out and quitting to pursue other opportunities. As remaining staff members spread themselves thin to fill in the gaps and new employees familiarize themselves with their new roles, it’s easier for security issues to fall through the cracks.
5. Ineffective Key Control
Do your key management systems and policies give facility access to the people who need it when they need it? Are you able to prevent unauthorized people from taking keys? Are you able to track which keys, access cards, or fobs employees are using? If you answered no to any of these questions, you have security gaps you need to close.
How to Improve Safety and Security in Your On-Campus Housing
You can’t change the first two factors — you’re not likely to permanently close your institution’s residence halls or relocate your well-established campus to a small town away from big-city crime.
You can address substance abuse and employee turnover, but they’re difficult to combat since they involve people’s independent choices.
Creating a safe living environment with effective key control is within your power.
However, creating a safe living environment with effective key control is within your power. By managing keys with an electronic key control system that controls user access, your school can cut down on incidents in which keys are either lost or end up in the hands of unauthorized individuals. Here are a few examples:
- Storing keys securely prevents unauthorized people from taking keys, like at one Texas school where someone used a master key to burglarize several rooms. Securing keys is especially important if you have gaps in front desk coverage due to staff shortages.
- Establishing access levels for users ensures staff members can only take keys essential to their job functions. This helps prevent someone from using a key to access resident rooms for reasons unrelated to their jobs.
- Having an electronic, automatically updated key log helps keep track of who’s using keys, when, and why. This is especially important if a key goes missing. For example, one student turned to Reddit for advice after their roommate came back to their room to find the door unlocked with a master key in the lock. The student turned the key in to the RA, who didn’t recognize the key. The roommates didn’t know why someone had been in their room and felt uneasy about the privacy breach.
- Setting up text and email alerts allows campus officials to be immediately notified when someone doesn’t return a key on time so they can investigate and address potential security breaches promptly.
There are some uncontrollable factors that leave your residence halls vulnerable to crime, but don’t let that stop you from doing everything in your power to give residents a secure place to live. Don’t let your key control practices add to students’ — and their parents’ — worries about personal safety.
Quiz: Is your campus housing key control effective?
Answer the following questions and tally your responses by counting the number of times you answer 1, 2, 3, or 4.
1. Does your residence hall have and enforce a written key control policy?
Yes, but we could do better about sticking to it.
We don’t have a key control policy because we use electronic access control.
We do not have a written key control policy.
2. How do you know who’s removed or returned which keys and when?
- We use an electronic key control system that digitally tracks when an employee checks out or returns a key.
- We require employees to update a written key log with details such as their name, the date, the time, the key removed, and the reason.
- We use digital locks, so we’re able to check the access logs to see when a door has been unlocked.
- We rely on the honor system.
3. How do you know when someone hasn’t returned a key in a reasonable time frame?
- We use an electronic key control system that notifies us if a key hasn’t been returned within a specific time frame.
- We check our manual logs and/or visually inspect our keys to see which are missing.
- We don’t have to worry about traditional keys since we use electronic access control. If someone doesn’t return their access card or key fob, we can revoke access electronically.
- We don’t usually find out a key is missing unless someone needs the key and it’s not there.
4. Do you allow vendors to use keys?
- No. If a vendor needs to work in a resident’s room, an employee must accompany them.
- We’ll only let a vendor use a key if the room they need to work in is uninhabited.
- We don’t give vendors keys because we use electronic locks.
- We let trusted vendors use keys.
5. Could someone gain unauthorized access to your keys?
- It’d be difficult. Our keys are securely stored inside an electronic key control system that requires unique user credentials.
- It would be hard, but not impossible. Someone would have to access a locked room and/or cabinet.
- We use electronic access control, so someone would either have to hack the system or steal someone’s user credentials.
- Our keys are out of sight, but they’re not locked up. If staff members aren’t diligent about returning keys or aren’t always at the front desk, someone could potentially swipe a key without our knowledge.
6. What level of access do employees have to keys?
- Their access to keys is determined by role and shift times. They don’t have unrestricted permissions.
- They use keys whenever they need them, and we reference our key logs to track key use.
- They don’t use keys because we have digital locks.
- They have unrestricted access to keys.
Check Your Results
[MOSTLY 1’S] A+! Your key control policies are helping create a safe living environment for residents.
You store your keys in a secure spot, such as inside an electronic key control system that’s kept in a locked room. Employees must request access to unit keys individually, and their access rights are restricted by their role, shift time, and office hours. Whenever employees remove a key, you know who removed which key, when, and why, thanks to your up-to-date digital audit trail. If someone doesn’t return a key when they’re supposed to, you follow up with them immediately. Keep up the good work!
[MOSTLY 2’S] You're heading in the right direction. You have some key control policies and processes in place, but you have some room to improve.
You know that key security is important. However, failing to enforce your key control policy, relying on honor-based manual logs to track key activity, or keeping keys in an insecure place can lead to access abuse or stolen keys. Take the time to re-evaluate your key control practices and improve your residence hall security.
[MOSTLY 3’S] You've implemented electronic locks, but key control is still important.
Keyless entry systems might seem like they eliminate the need for key control, but that’s not necessarily the case. Whether you maintain backup keys to use in case of a power failure or use security tokens such as fobs or cards that function like keys, you need a written policy for managing these keys or security tokens. To hold employees accountable, it’s also important to restrict who’s authorized to program security tokens. Always avoid programming master versions of cards or fobs.
[MOSTLY 4’S] Your key control practices are putting your residents at risk.
Whether it’s letting vendors use keys or keeping keys where an unauthorized person could remove them, your key control practices don’t create a safe and secure environment. To protect your residents, get control of your keys ASAP.