The case for cameras

New residence security cameras take aim at malicious fire alarm pulls

Like many schools, Queen’s faces the ongoing problem of malicious fire alarms in residence. As we recently installed security cameras in Victoria Hall as part of a plan to minimize malicious alarm pulls, I’ve been asked to elaborate on the tangible benefits of cameras.

My opinion? Cameras are a useful tool.

To draw an analogy, back in the early days of packaged software solutions, there was a belief that technology could solve administrative problems simply by adding the program to desktops. What we of course learned was that the technology alone was insufficient and other mechanisms needed to be in place. We learned the most important component of effecting real change was the participation and support of the people involved.

Cameras are part of a plan that includes safety education, follow-up by student life staff after an alarm and sanctions—including expulsion from residence and criminal charges—if someone is identified as responsible. The heart of the solution, though, lies with students.

There are no malicious fire alarms if students don’t cause them. When I have suggested to students that they are the only ones who can prevent malicious fire alarms, I’ve sometimes been told, “Students will always do it and nothing is going to change.”

In my opinion, this is anything but true.

While often thought of as a prank or a rite of passage, malicious fire alarms are a significant safety issue. Every time someone pulls an alarm, the city’s fire crews respond to the building. This can take them away from people who are in real need of help. Last year, crews had to leave a life-or-death incident to come to campus in response to a false alarm.

Malicious alarms usually happen overnight, which disrupts sleep and negatively impacts the academic success of students in residence. Also, the more it happens, the more desensitized people can get. Students may stop evacuating the building, putting themselves in danger in the event of a real fire.

So what can students do? Students can help create a culture that doesn’t condone false alarms. Peers can have a big impact in discouraging friends and floor mates from pulling an alarm as a joke.

Upper-year students living in the community who see this as something they had to endure when they were in residence, and who want to continue the “tradition,” need to think differently about this serious safety issue.

There are a number of complimentary measures we have taken to help prevent malicious fire alarms—cameras, additional stairwell locks, safety education and the hiring of a security supervisor specifically for the residences.

But in the end, it’s in the hands of students.

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