Apartment dwellers and those living in school dorms (a.k.a residence halls) put too much trust in the controlled access entries to keep unauthorized people out of the common areas of their buildings. While they keep the honest people out, a person determined to gain entry will usually be able to do so without much trouble. Why?
When entering or exiting a locked building, people would rather not be rude and tell strangers to let themselves in. They’ll generally let the other person run and catch the closing door or even hold it for the stranger, even when they know they shouldn’t.
It’s simple human nature in civilized American society. Even when people are very clearly instructed not to grant access to strangers, they still do it.
To enter my gun club, an outdoor facility, you must use a key card to open the gate crossing the access road. Members are told repeatedly, let yourself in, then let the gate close behind you. One day, I arrived early and setup. My wife showed up after me. I was going to run up to the gate and card her in. But by the time I had gotten up there another club member courteously let her in, despite not knowing her.
At my storage unit facility, I once had a stranger (to me) start following me through the gate after I opened it with my code. I stopped after clearing the gate, hoping it would close in front of the other vehicle because, by contract, I’m not supposed to allow others except my guests into the facility. I expected the other person to remember that obligation too. But he didn’t. Unfortunately his bumper blocked the optical sensor enough to keep the gate from closing. After an awkward minute or two of waiting and realizing the gate wasn’t going to close, I moved on not wanting to spark a confrontation with a stranger. I did my darnedest to follow the rules, but between the guy behind me not following them and the gate being blocked from lowering, rules got broken. In all likelihood, he was authorized to be there. But it’s not supposed to be my place to make that decision.
When entering hotels, late at night after the non-lobby doors are locked to guest only, I can’t count the number of times the person entering in front of me has held the door open for my convenience (not that you can’t just waltz on in through the front door of any hotel unchallenged at any hour of the day).
And having lived in dorms and apartments at points in my life, my supply of such stories is pretty large.
Monitors / “Guards”
College dorms often go to the next level and post staff during nighttime hours. These people are supposed to challenge those who don’t appear to belong. And they might, some of the time. But eventually, complacency kicks in and monitoring staff stops watching for those who look like strangers slipping in on the coattails of authorized individuals.
Dorms and apartments that use keys or access cards will always suffer from our unwillingness to be rude and inconvenience others, our unwillingness to be inconvenienced, and the complacency of all actors involved.
While secured entries help keep the riffraff out, improving them to do much more comes at a high cost to convenience, a cost that most others are not willing to suffer even if you are.
So, you are best off resetting your assumptions about the effectiveness of your common entry security. Just assume they don’t work that well and, instead, do what you can to keep unwanted people out of your apartment or dorm room. Simply keep your doors locked ‡, even when you run down the hall to get the mail, go to the laundry room, visit a neighbor or use the community bathroom. Then, put your key on a lanyard or clip it to a belt loop so you’ll always have it with you.
And in future posts I’ll talk about:
- how to make keeping your doors locked as convenient as possible.
- how to work with landlords or college staff to have locks rekeyed for greater security
- and many other related topics
‡ Arguably the single, most effective technique for security your home, regardless of whether you live in a house, apartment, dorm, castle or car.