By Leon Harris
Published in INsite, April 2004 – May 2004
As security risk management consultants, part of our methodology when undertaking Security Reviews is assessing perimeter security which includes the potential for unauthorised access after hours. A number of operators have external doors electronically locked (with emergency egress capabilities) at a programmed time. This greatly assists in restricting unauthorised access. It has also been observed that in the event of a power failure the doors unlock. A down side to this situation is that should anyone with criminal intent be waiting outside in the shadows, they could gain entry. The concern of doors unlocking is increased even further if the facility is dementia specific, enabling residents to freely leave the safety of the building. Should it be a large facility with numerous exits and/or limited staff on duty (e.g. evening), their ability to monitor the doors is difficult, if not near impossible. Although areas may be fenced off, preventing residents wandering away, there is still the possibility of injury from falling over an obstacle in the dark. If only sections are fenced off, or worse still no fencing exists at all, the risk of injury is increased as a resident may walk out onto a roadways, into bushland or other potentially dangerous terrain.
During night reviews, one of the questions asked of the supervisor or sister in charge is whether they have been on duty when there has been a mains power failure (e.g. during an electrical storm) and, if so, did the doors remain locked? This question often brings a look of astonishment, and then a quick response “no, they unlock and staff are constantly running around checking on residents, especially those who have a tendency to wander”. Staff are relieved when power is finally restored. Staff in a number of facilities did not inform management of the doors unlocking as they believed nothing could be done to correct the situation.
We are all aware that external doors must be capable of egressing in the event of an evacuation and, therefore, failsafe systems are installed so that in the event of a fire the doors will automatically unlock. (Additional emergency egress equipment can also be installed, e.g. an emergency door release in the lock circuit). However, the reverse is required in the event of a mains power failure, i.e. the doors should remain locked. One way this can be achieved is with a sealed lead-acid backup battery that is kept trickle charged by the lock power supply and which, depending on the amp/hour rating of the battery and the current draw of the electric lock, will keep doors locked for up to three hours.
It is critical that technical and operational solutions considered by advisors and management in relation to doors be placed in a security and safety framework; specific to your residential aged care facility. The solutions considered should not be restricted to the particular services or products offered by your maintenance provider. In other words, the old approaches may not solve modern or contemporary problems.
Another concern often identified is that with some systems should a door not be fully closed when the door programming goes to ‘lock’, the system locks all the other doors without giving a warning there is an unlocked door. Most systems can be programmed to notify that a door has not locked, and identify which door is unlocked, thereby enabling staff to close it and reset the system. It is important that the locks are equipped with both door position and latch position sensors, wired so that both together indicate a locked door. In the case of ‘limpet’ style electromagnetic locks, which are the safest form of electric locking, there should be a magnetic bond sensor, that provides a positive confirmation to the system of lock status.
In the case of electromagnetic locks, it is essential that the locks are maintained and checked regularly to ensure they are free of dust and other contaminants that will affect the holding force of the magnet.
Before proceeding with any changes to emergency exits it is important that discussions be held with the organisation’s Fire Safety Consultant to ensure all legislative requirements relating to emergency exits are met. This should be done in conjunction with your Security Consultant to ensure the facility’s needs are met and to avoid costly retrofits.
Leon Harris CPP, is the principal consultant for Harris Crime Prevention Services.
Harris Crime Prevention Services provides on an occasional basis articles by other Industry experts, such as: How Airports apply designing out crime principles