UMass to complete $1.45 million in residence hall security upgrades by 2016; more projects planned



Last modified: Sunday, January 03, 2016

AMHERST — Two years after pledging to improve residence hall security, the University of Massachusetts plans to complete projects which cost $1.45 million by the end of 2016 and already has implemented 60 of 87 security improvements recommended by a consulting firm hired in the wake of the gang rape of a former student in a dormitory three years ago.

The rape of the student led to the convictions and lengthy jail and state prison sentences for four young men who were not students and visiting the campus. It also exposed gaps in dormitory security that university officials vowed to address.

“The chancellor made the commitment that this was a top priority for the university,” said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski. “There were clearly some issues we needed to address. There were flaws.”

UMass has 13,000 students living in 51 residence halls, which is the third-largest on-campus residential population in the country, according to the university. The consultant’s report stated that UMass has a long track record of monitoring security performance and taking actions to address weaknesses, but also noted that there was “more work to do to optimize the protection of students and staff.”

“We have made substantial advances during the past two years to improve residence hall security,” Patrick Archbald, interim UMass police chief said in a statement to the Gazette, after it inquired about the status of new residential security measures at UMass.

The university had hired Business Protection Specialists of Canandaigua, New York, in 2012 to evaluate and make recommendations to improve safety in all residence halls. Commissioned by former UMass Police Chief John Horvath, the company’s 214-page report included 87 recommendations, all but five of which have been adopted by the university.

UMass has or is in the process of implementing safety improvements in areas of guest registration, residence hall layout and access, key control and alarm monitoring. According to the university, these new features include:

• The installation of personal computers for residence hall security monitor desks; new software for visitor management and improved enforcement on visitors with judicial bans, trespass notices and campus sanctions;

• Improvements to residence hall layouts in stairwells at main entrances and public rest rooms as well improvements to general lobby and food service access areas — and securing residence halls from residential service desk traffic;

• Repair of door hardware deficiencies and nuisance alarms, replacement of video cameras, ID validation using new software; and the correction of what the university described as “weaknesses” at fire exits.

According to Archbald, the study by Business Protection Specialists helped the university focus on key security upgrades that “work in concert” with many of the university’s existing systems.

In the case of the gang rape at Pierpont dormitory in October 2012, one of the four rapists bypassed residence hall security and entered while the victim was not in her room, while the other three allegedly were signed into the building by a stranger, according to UMass police and court records.

Guest registration

New laptops installed in all 51 residence hall lobbies are linked to a secure server that automates visitor management and identifies people with judicial bans, trespass notices and campus sanctions. According to the university, the database is updated daily and the system also monitors on- and off-campus visits to residents of each hall.

“Before, we were really doing this on a paper basis and that was really difficult to track,” Blaguszewski said. “It’s really moving us into a very modern management system to manage ... an awful lot of visits here on campus.”

Between Sept. 4 and Dec. 3 this year, the system verified the identity of 968,690 residents entering their residence halls and recorded the visits of 177,595 guests. Of those guests, 146,717 were UMass Amherst students and 31,053 were guests with other forms of identification, according to figures provided by the university.

UMass also relied on technical staff working at UMass Residential Life to create the system’s hardware for approximately $100,000, saving nearly $230,000 from the estimated costs of a system bought elsewhere. Other security projects completed include:

• $70,000 for software and programming;

• $600,000 to evaluate and upgrade physical and technical systems in 16 residence halls;

• $60,000 for Knox box security for town firefighters;

• $82,000 to replace about 500 surveillance cambers in residence halls on a rotating basis.

Work in 2016

UMass plans to take on another $541,000 in new work on physical and technical systems in residence halls in 2016 while an additional $512,000 in significant structural changes to older residence halls are being planned. Among the future projects is major reconstruction to the entrances of three older residence halls. Mary Lyon Hall, for example, will get a new, secure entrance built in the side of that building.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made to date and we know we always have to keep working on it,” Blaguszewski said of campus security. “It’s a perpetual challenge in a system this large, but it’s our responsibility.”

In addition, students are using a swipe card system at the main entrances to buildings, which are locked 24 hours per day — and either a swipe card or key at individual rooms. Additional improvements underway include secure separation between lobbies and living spaces in all 51 residence halls. University officials noted that in the five 22-story towers in the Southwest Residential Complex, there are express access lanes into the lobby for building residents.

Building lobbies are currently staffed daily from 8 p.m. to midnight or until 3 a.m. on weekends. In addition to 275 student security staff, 30 police cadets work in the building lobbies during high traffic periods, according to the university.

A residence security hall working group continues to meet monthly at the university, which is charged with tracking the progress of security upgrades recommended by Business Protection Specialists.

The university has chosen not to immediately adopt recommendations that would ban alcohol in all residence halls that house any students under 21, consolidate dispatching, conduct a dispatcher staffing study and replace police cadets with security officers.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


 

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