Safety First

Keeping young residents safe is a top priority at student housing communities, and today’s operators have an unprecedented menu to choose from: security guards, lighting, cameras, smartphone-based tools and online message boards, to name a few.
Currie Hall USC

The Currie Hall apartments offer studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom floorplans and provide housing for 444 graduate students belonging to the University of Southern California. The community incorporates security features such as lobby cameras and key fob access. Image courtesy of KTGY Architecture + Planning

Keeping young residents safe is a top priority at student housing communities, and today’s operators have an unprecedented menu to choose from: security guards, lighting, cameras, smartphone-based tools and online message boards, to name a few. Though these tools provide more options than ever, they also add a new level of complexity to maintaining best practices. Owners and managers must take a systematic approach to finding the right mix of established and state-of-the-art tactics, experts say.

Construction, development, operations and management are part of security planning, and the effort must start in the design phase to be effective, contends Matt Maxa, senior vice president of operations for CA Ventures. “The amount of wiring used, the number of cameras, proper angles to cover, how much active control is needed—this all needs to be evaluated at the front end,” he said. “Once the building is open, then you can adjust as necessary.”

Moreover, no two security designs for student housing are exactly alike. “We are always thinking about how to keep a building secure to keep outsiders away,” reported David Senden, principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning. “Depending on the project, we might utilize different consultants that are familiar with the location and know more when it comes to the safety of the area we are building in. Some schools can rely on cameras; others might need technology plus security guards monitoring the area at all times.”

Considering college students’ highly mobile habits and the constant turnover of student housing residents, ensuring that only authorized individuals have access poses an acute challenge. Effectively implementing security technology calls for a conversation among property managers, security professionals, staff and students, asserts Brad Aikin, electronics portfolio leader for Allegion Commercial.

“Once the main objectives are determined, review the technology available and include manufacturers in the evaluation process,” he said. “Additionally, it is beneficial to establish a process and test the system before deployment to determine any potential problems.”

Weighing the benefits

Key fobs are the most popular choice for student housing security access, allowing students to enter and exit through specific doors, depending on whether they are residents of the community or non-residents seeking to use communal spaces. Images courtesy of HID Global

Key fobs are the most popular choice for student housing security access, allowing students to enter and exit through specific doors, depending on whether they are residents of the community or non-residents seeking to use communal spaces. Images courtesy of HID Global

A cost-benefit analysis of security measures is highly recommended, as well. To account for the variety of residents, visitors and management staff who need access to a community, multiple levels of security clearance are also in order. Most student housing communities allow those who live outside of the building to have access to certain areas for amenity and community use, so security measures must distinguish between residents and non-residents.

“There needs to be a clear separation about what parts of the community non-residents have access to, without putting the other students at risk,” explained Senden. “They can still have access to the appropriate spaces—gyms, study rooms, libraries—but there needs to be more monitoring control with how people are entering and exiting these areas.”

The most common choice today for access technology is the key fob, which can be individually programmed to provide for residents, non-resident guests and staff. The devices provide residents with entry to their units, amenity spaces and other common areas that are locked when not in use. Non-residents are limited to specific locations so that they don’t wander unaccompanied into living areas.

Level best

CA Ventures employs the Butterfly MX system at several communities, including Social 28, a 592-bed property in Gainesville, Fla., which serves University of Florida students, and Uncommon Oxford, a 224-bed luxury development  that will house University of Mississippi students upon completion. Image courtesy of CA Ventures

CA Ventures employs the Butterfly MX system at several communities, including Social 28, a 592-bed property in Gainesville, Fla., which serves University of Florida students, and Uncommon Oxford, a 224-bed luxury development
that will house University of Mississippi students upon completion. Image courtesy of CA Ventures

Multiple levels of authorization also streamline property management and expedite maintenance requests. When staff members need to carry out a work order, for example, mobile apps provide temporary access via an employee ID or smartphone, Aikin explained. “These staff members can swiftly finish the task at hand, allowing them to spend more time on other areas.”

One of the more popular access-control technologies gaining traction is the video intercom system. Billed as the first smartphone-based platform of its kind, the ButterflyMX employs a touchscreen program to locate and call building residents.

Cellphones receive video calls and text messages and provide front-door access to residents. A Web portal sends building-wide messages, updates tenant records and accesses recorded video and photos with time-stamps.

CA Ventures has installed the ButterflyMX at Social 28, a 592-bed property in Gainesville, Fla., and Uncommon Oxford, a 224-bed luxury development scheduled to open for the University of Mississippi’s fall 2017 semester.

“Solutions such as wireless Bluetooth and 900 MHz wireless locks are enabling much greater connectivity and real-time monitoring of access within the property,” Aikin added. This is enabling student housing operators greater visibility to ensure access points such as suite entries are properly closed and not prompted, resulting to property theft or other safety concerns.

“Similarly, in the case of emergencies, housing operators have the ability to remotely secure or unsecure all wireless access points in seconds, as well as easily pull the list of users that accessed the building at any given time.”

Checklist items

Uncommon Oxford, a 224-bed luxury development  that will house University of Mississippi students upon completion.

Uncommon Oxford, a 224-bed luxury development
that will house University of Mississippi students upon completion.

Even beyond the latest gadgets, the checklist of student housing security measures encompasses other high-tech and low-tech items. Most communities sponsor online message boards that can rapidly convey vital information about the community and the college. Commonsense items like dedicated storage space for skateboards and bicycles avoid the risk of blocked exits or other potentially hazardous obstacles.

Traveling to and from campus is a potential source of hazards, so shuttle stops and parking garages need to offer a safe space, as well. “Once they exit the community and grab their bike or go and wait at the bus stop, there need to be measures in place to ensure they are still safe when they step out the front door,” added Senden.

On this principle, Puerta del Sol, a 562-bed community for graduate students designed by KTGY Architecture + Planning at the University of California, Irvine, links students to campus through pedestrian and bicycle trails.

Although keeping students safety-conscious is important, excessive security measures can also hinder the experience of young residents.

 “It’s important not to scare them,” noted Maxa. “No student housing operator can guarantee safety, but we do our best to stop incidents from occurring. Too many restrictions can be frustrating for them, so it’s important to create the appropriate balance.”

Originally appearing in the June 2017 issue of MHN.