Cameras, ID scanners to be installed in both dorms

by Beacon Staff • January 30, 2008

EasyLobby Visitor Management System will electronically store all guests' photos and identifying information.,After two recent sexual assaults in a Boston University (BU) dormitory, Emerson College is taking unrelated safety measures by installing new security systems in the Piano Row and Little Building lobbies on Feb. 1.

EasyLobby Visitor Management System will electronically store all guests' photos and identifying information.

Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen said the updated system is part of the college's drive to increase security on campus following last year's Virginia Tech shootings.

Last semester, the college also introduced a phone and e-mail crisis alert system called Connect-Ed, purchased a new police vehicle and hired two experienced public safety officers.

Administration officials refused to disclose the system's cost, but Dean of Students Ronald Ludman called it a necessary purchase.

"We believe the return in terms of creating a more secure resident hall access point is worth it," he said.

Chief George Noonan, director of public safety at Emerson, said the new sign-in procedure requires visitors to give desk clerks a driver's license, business card or passport before entering either dormitory.

The identification is placed face down on a scanner, which reads the card like a Xerox machine. The visitor's information then appears along with the resident's on a split computer monitor.

A surveillance camera located above the sign-in desk will continuously roll, Noonan said, keeping a video record of each guest checking into the buildings.

If a guest is a registered sex offender, has a restraining order from a resident of the building or is prohibited from entering due to previous behavior, the word "banned" will appear on the information screen.

Noonan said he feels cameras and scanners will deter crime on campus.

"People knowing where cameras are usually decreases crime because people are not going to do something wrong if they know a camera is there," Noonan said. "That's what they call preventative policing."

Ludman said visitor information will be stored on a college server but access to the database will be restricted to senior college staff. Different levels of authorization will be given to designated public safety officials, residence life staff and desk sitters.

Noonan said the EasyLobby Visitor Management System can't entirely prevent crime, so public safety relies on residents to use good judgment.

The Jan. 20 assaults at BU's Claflin Hall were committed by two men unaffiliated with the university who entered the building after unacquainted residents signed them in. Noonan said a similar scenario could still occur at Emerson, even with the new security system.

"We can have all the bells and whistles, we can have all the cameras in the world, we can take all the licenses of people to identify themselves, but if you do something like this and you sign in two people who you know nothing about, how can you stop that?" Noonan said.

"But all that being said, that doesn't mean that I can't still put other things in place that are going to help us tighten it up a little bit."

Claflin Hall resident Casey McMullen said he would oppose heightened security measures like EasyLobby Visitor Management System at BU, even after the assaults two Sundays ago.

"It adds a layer of safety, but I feel that it's unnecessary and almost an invasion of privacy," said McMullen, a freshman who has not declared a major.

"I feel like a database of pictures is excessive," he said. "I haven't talked to anyone who really doubts the security system we have now."

Colleges using EasyLobby include Rutgers University, Loyola University, City Colleges of Chicago, Wayne State University, Marymount College, Suffolk University, Pine Manor College and Endicott College.

EasyLobby, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Howard Marson said his company rarely receives complaints regarding personal privacy issues from those using the product as a security system.

"These days I think people are accustomed to handing over a photo ID in order to get into someplace," Marson said. "In fact, somebody standing there asking them for a photo ID ought to make them feel safer."

He said his company's software offers not only extra security but also speeds up lines by eliminating paperwork.

Writing for film and TV major and Piano Row desk clerk Christina Walsh said she feels the new system will make her job easier.

"It's a more efficient system and I think it will cut down stress for people working there," the sophomore said. "It's just easier to keep the files electronically rather than physically."