Improve Security Through Space Management

One of the least expensive ways to improve security and safety on higher education campuses is through a concerted effort to properly manage space. Space management involves efforts to improve human supervision through placement of legitimate activities in an area of risk or, more commonly, through simply locking doors. Unlocked and unoccupied spaces on higher education campuses create opportunity for criminals, terrorists, pranksters, or curious people who are sometimes killed or injured while exploring areas with hazardous conditions like mechanical rooms, rooftops, and chemistry labs.

The most deadly campus attack to date in the U.S. occurred at a Catholic school in 1958 when an elementary student was able to murder 95 staff and students by starting a fire in the school. What makes this arson event even more tragic as that the attack was made possible because staff at the school left the boiler room unlocked. Simply locking a door would have probably prevented the attack, or at least dramatically reduced the damage to the school, and thus, the death toll. Such an attack could just as easily be carried out today in an older facility on a higher-ed campus.

Lock the Doors
Today, hazardous materials are an even bigger concern for many institutions of higher learning. It is not uncommon for doors leading to rooms containing a wide array of dangerous chemicals to be found unlocked. More commonly, thousands of thefts and a number of sexual assaults occur in unlocked spaces on higher education campuses. Leaving a classroom, office, mechanical room, or even a closet unlocked can provide opportunity for a rapist to have a place of privacy to attack a student or staff member, particularly if the door that is left unlocked can be locked without a key by the aggressor.

There are technology solutions that can help campus officials improve space management, but efforts to inform and educate students and staff are always an important component of proper management of space. The average person tends to think in terms of locking doors to prevent theft of valuables. It does not occur to many people that unlocked space can create opportunity for an attack on a building and its occupants, theft of sensitive information, or an attack on single victims. Efforts to improve space management can often be effective with a very limited fiscal impact, using existing methods of communication with the campus community.

Tell Students to Do the Same

Communicating to faculty and staff the importance of locking doors is important, but be sure to get the message to students as well. Residence halls also offer spaces where crimes such as theft and assaults can occur. Remind students wherever and whenever possible about the importance of safety.

Reminders to not let strangers into buildings, to be aware of people acting suspiciously or who “out of place,” and to lock room or suite doors whether they are in the room or are leaving for “just a minute” cannot be repeated often enough. Students should also be reminded not to loan their keys or access cards to anyone, to not prop open doors that lock automatically, or to not let people they don’t know “piggyback” into a secure building or space when they are entering or leaving.

Make effective space management a key strategy for your institution; you may very well prevent a tragedy.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at