UMass to enhance security at residence halls
AMHERST — University of Massachusetts officials plan more than $2 million in security upgrades during the next three years to make the campus safer, including a new electronic sign-in system for visitors at all 51 residence halls.
That new software will be installed as a pilot program at one dormitory during the winter break, and will be in use when UMass students return in January.
Launching this pilot software, which is expected eventually to replace the current pen-and-paper sign-ins at all the campus dormitories, is the first in a series of steps to improve security.
These are among 87 recommendations in a 214-page report prepared by Business Protection Specialists Inc. of Canandaigua, N.Y., which was hired in March to complete a $40,000 comprehensive review of UMass dormitory security.
Commissioned by Police Chief John Horvath, the report outlines how campus security procedures can be improved at the dormitories that house 13,000 students.
The study was prompted by an alleged gang-rape of a UMass freshman in her dorm room Oct. 12, 2012. According to both UMass police and court records, one of the four defendants bypassed residence hall security and entered while the woman was not in her room. The other three allegedly were signed into the building by a stranger. None was a UMass student.
The consultants estimate it would cost $274,000 to install the automated visitor management software in all dormitories.
“That’s been something we’ve wanted to change for years, going to an electronic visitor management system,” Horvath said.
It’s unclear whether such a system would have prevented the incident, but Horvath said quicker transmission of data, collected in real time, would have allowed information to be uploaded into incident reports instantaneously. This software will also allow campus security monitors to have more vigilance over the lobby in each dorm, he said.
UMass wants to make residence halls safe, but not uncomfortable, for students who spend eight months there every year.
Other recommendations include:
∎ Eliminating potential public access points in some dormitories that include stairwells, rest rooms, classrooms and student-run eateries, as well as fixing general lobby “weaknesses,” at a cost of $972,791.
∎ Replacing all video cameras used for dormitory security at a cost of $188,831.
∎ Removing stickers from the ID cards that students use to “swipe” into the residence halls, moving to a safer system in which student information is embedded in the ID card rather than affixed to it, at a cost of $45,325.
∎ Prohibiting alcohol in dormitories where freshmen and students under 21 reside.
Enku Gelaye, interim vice chancellor for students and campus life, said it is important to engage with students so they appreciate the unintended consequences of letting someone into their dormitories without being signed in.
Gelaye said the 350 resident assistants who work in the dormitories have extensive training and numerous workshops are centered around alcohol use. She said the report will be used to make sure that UMass continues to follow best practices.
The independent review reported that UMass is doing many things well for its students who live on campus, including having the doors to residence halls locked 24 hours a day, seven days a week; investing $1.2 million in electronic access controls that replaced mechanical locks and keys; installing more than 1,000 video cameras on campus, 389 of which are in residence halls; and extending campus security staff hours. Horvath said these students begin their work at 8 p.m. and stay on until midnight, or 2 a.m. on Thursdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.