Access Emergency

By Tom Chronister, CPP

Condominium complexes, gated communities, industrial compounds, apartment buildings, and private roadways are all examples of locations where mechanized gates and doors are used to control pedestrian and vehicle access. Depending upon the application and level of security required, access control systems may be completely automated or staffed around the clock. System components typically include perimeter fencing, bollards, lighting, signage, tollbooths, electromechanical locks and motorized operators that raise traffic control arms or retract gates on demand.

While doors, walls, gates, and fences do a great job of keeping out the bad guys, they also do a terrific job of keeping out the good guys—public and private responders whose job it is to answer calls for help emanating from within these residential and commercial mini-fortresses.

As a first responder, getting past an electric gate that stands between you and a call for service can sometimes be a daunting task. As a security systems integrator, consultant or installer, have you inadvertently lengthened emergency response times because of a remote controlled gate? Or has your lack of proper planning or design resulted in emergency crews being completely locked out of a call for service?

It happens all the time. Police officers, firefighters, ambulance crews and security personnel pull up to a gate thinking they have the right code, punch it in on the keypad and then sit there as they watch the gate do absolutely nothing. Frequently these crews have resorted to tailgating a resident or visitor through the gate or ask their communications center for help. Calling back the original reporting party and getting them to “buzz-in” these responders is not a quick process and asking for the updated pass code over a radio frequency poses its own security concerns.

Mandating Access

Do you know how jurisdictions you serve address gated communities? Likely there is no single answer to the emergency access dilemma or, worse yet, maybe it is not considered an issue because it has never been a problem before. Some agencies accept the expectation that individual police, fire and security units are to maintain a set of keys, access cards, transmitters, and a current list of codes for all the apartment complex doors, gated walkways and driveways in your district. But as cities continue to grow this expectation is not a realistic one.

With security foremost on the minds of many Americans, the installation of access control systems will certainly be on the rise and the issue of emergency access may be a growing problem across the country. Without proper planning and legislative action, it is easy to see how such systems could adversely affect a response unless the use of emergency bypass systems, on all electronic gates, are mandated.

Of the local emergency access ordinances in effect today, many were written years ago by the fire authority having jurisdiction and do not take advantage of recent advancements in the access control industry. While some of the more popular methods of emergency entry meet with the approval of firefighters, it is doubtful that other public safety agencies or private security providers were consulted in the selection process.

Relatively few law enforcement agencies are on record as recommending or mandating types of emergency access controls. In the contract city of Santa Clarita (California), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recommends the use of lock boxes. In Oregon, the Eugene Police Department offers two options: garage door-like transmitters or the use of lock boxes, but only the fire department has access to the latter.

With twelve newly developed gated subdivisions, the city of Lexington (Kentucky) found itself in the midst of an emergency access crisis in 1999. While it undertook a 90-day study of the problem, the city required around-the-clock staffing of each gated neighborhood to ensure that emergency personnel would not be thwarted in their attempts to answer calls for help. Eventually, the gates were equipped with siren recognition systems.

The San Leandro (California) Fire Department requires “electric key switch control station” while the cities of Irvine (California) and Pasadena (Texas) both mandate the installation of a receiver system that is controlled by way of public safety radio systems with an effective range of at least 100 feet on all electromechanically control gates.

The Fairfield (California) Fire Department has two separate mandates. While lock box systems are required on all commercial properties, the installation of radio receivers that allow emergency vehicles to open gates by using existing public safety radio frequencies is mandatory on all gated community developments and residential properties.



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