Gated Community Keeps People Out


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Gated communityWhat about First Responders?

Gated communities are more popular than ever. People seem to agree that the gates are a symbol of security and exclusivity.

That’s all well and good until there’s an emergency and suddenly the gates become not a symbol but an actual barrier to entry for residents and First Responders.

Run a quick search online and you will find, like I did, some outrageous stories of people inside their gates, waiting and waiting for help while police or the fire department waits outside — powerless to get in.  In fact, you’ll find stories of people who died, waiting.

The problem of emergency access to your gated property may never have been discussed because no emergency has ever arisen. But if you live in a gated community,  have gated parking at your workplace, or know someone who does, part of your emergency preparation is to . . .

Get the answers to these 5 questions.

  1. Mechanism. How do First Responders open your gates? Is there some sort of lockbox requiring a physical key? An electronic card reader? A punch-in-the-code pad? A remote that requires batteries? A system that responds to light or sound (siren) frequencies?
  2. Updates. If you have a key-pad, who reports updates or changes in the code to the authorities? In two of the stories I read, the management company for the community had changed. The new company changed the code. Nobody reported the changes to the local dispatch.
  3. Keys. If you have a lock-box system with a unique key, who manages the keys to your community? Does each gated community in your area have a different key, requiring First Responders to have a huge key ring? What assurance do you have that the key has not been compromised or illegally duplicated?
  4. Knox Box. A common lock-box system is called the Knox Box. (Open the box to get to a switch that opens the gate or to a key to open a gate, a home, etc.) All boxes in a local area operate off the same key. If you have a Knox Box, how do First Responders keep track of their master key? Is it floating around somewhere in the cab of the fire engine?
  5. Power outage. And the most important question of all: What happens to your gates when the power goes out? Do your gates have a fail-safe override mechanism that allows a gate that isn’t working properly to be manually pushed open so that vehicles or people are neither locked in nor locked out?

Some years ago I lived in an apartment building in Northern California that had parking under the building. I drove in through a gate that raised up when I pressed my “clicker.” When the power went off, the gate remained down. It was way too heavy to lift by hand. If I had the key to the “pedestrian gate,” I could park outside the building and get in through a locked gate near the pool. Otherwise, I was stuck standing outside on the street.

Now I live in a gated community in Southern California. (Don’t worry, I’ve lived in other states too!) Several years ago we upgraded our unmanned gates to the Click2Enter system.  Residents get a battery-powered clicker; First Responders open the gates with a click of their mobile or portable radio transceiver (which has to be programmed with specific frequencies).  First Responders enter with no noise and no fuss. (That’s our gate in the photo. You can see the blue and white Click2Enter box attached at the left side of the center column.)

When the power goes out temporarily, our gates can continue to operate on back-up battery power. (We can count on several power outages a year.) In an extended outage, the gates will open and then remain open.  (This has caused our Emergency Response Group’s security committee to make special plans to keep strangers from entering. That’s another post for a later day.) .

Since we’ve had no problems, we had no idea of what to expect until we began to dig into the issue.  I suggest you dig into the details of your own gates before something happens in your community or at your workplace. The fact that there seem to be few if any building standards for gate operation means you may come up with a surprise!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

 

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