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Live! - News

"Fortress" Plans Explained

Aug 23 2006 10:52
Ashley Brown
Plans to replace reception desks with turnstiles have come under fire from staff and students - Live! investigates the issues.
The proposed new entrance to Imperial College Road?

College is unlikely to get an easy ride with its proposed changes to security and reception arrangements, with serious concerns being expressed by staff and students alike.

Live! has been out and about, asking people for their views. The concerns were put to the head of security, Ceri Davies, who has provided responses.


Concern: Among those asked for comment, improvements to security were generally supported, however not at the expense of freedom of movement. The effect on collaboration was the number one concern. Running to and from turnstiles to let colleagues into and out of a building was also not seen as a productive use of time.

Response: While all buildings will be on swipe access 24 hours a day, security have no objection to allowing staff and students access to all buildings during normal hours. However, the decision of who gets access to a building rests with the inhabitants of that building - Ben Harris, Deputy President (Education & Welfare), will be contacting the relevant parties.

Turnstiles are currently only planned for the perimeter: entrances on Queen's Gate and Prince Consort Road are expected to receive turnstiles by January. Internal turnstiles will be considered as buildings are refurbished.

External visitors will not all have to visit the main entrance - infrequent visitors may enter buildings accompanied by their hosts. Regular visitors will be issued with access cards, following the approval of the relevant head of department.

Faculty Union Offices

Concern: While academic collaboration is less of an issue at undergraduate level, faculty union offices face similar issues. Every engineering student would need access to Mechanical Engineering to visit the C&G office, with a similar problem for the RCSU. Additionally, shared keys are currently held at reception desks along with their key lists.

Response: The decision again rests with the inhabitants of the buildings in question. Shared keys will move to the security reception in Sherfield, or to to the main reception in Tanaka (whichever is more convenient). Swipe access to faculty union offices is to be discussed, in place of shared keys.

Freshers and Open Days

Concern: Freshers spend most of their first week without swipe cards, but are typically required to be in their departments from the first morning to register. Shortly afterwards interviews and open days begin, with members of the public arriving during the afternoon almost every Wednesday. "Special arrangements" are to be made for occasions when large numbers of visitors arrive, however an influx of visitors is a frequent occurence.

Response: Extra security staff will be brought in during freshers week and for open days, with turnstiles and security doors disabled. A similar system will operate for conferences, with conference receptionists being on hand.


Concern: Between lectures, at lunchtime and after exams hundreds of students enter and exit buildings across the campus within a ten-minute window. It seems likely that congestion will follow with only a few turnstiles per entrance.

Response: The turnstile system is efficient. Proximity readers, as opposed to magnetic readers, allow a rapid flow of people through the doors. In the event of a fire alarm the turnstiles swing out of the way, allowing unempeded exit from the building.

Safety Concerns

Concern: Reception staff learn the "normal" behaviour of occupants of their buildings and can determine if something or someone is out of place. They also provide (in theory, at least) a known presence to seek out in case of an emergency. This central contact would be lost, reducing safety on campus, potentially increasing response times to any emergency. With turnstiles in place, people can simply jump over them. Additional CCTV helps, however someone must be looking at the correct screen at the correct time - a security team could still be several minutes away.

Response: Reception staff currently undertake many duties, including delivering and sorting post. They are not always present to identify out-of-place behaviour. The turnstile system has an alarm to automatically notify security of anyone jumping over turnstiles, with CCTV allowing security to search for the person in question.

Other Issues

Plans to shut Imperial College Road as a public right of way and place turnstiles at entrances were deeply unpopular on image grounds, as they would present a cold and unfriendly image to local residents and visitors. One postgrad described the plans as "completely the wrong impression to give to everyone, internal and external", making the point that "this is a university, not a prison".

The extent of the negative image was demonstrated by a comment from one Aeronautics student, who felt turnstiles were like "those 20p toilets at train stations".

Shutting Imperial College Road and placing turnstiles on entrance roads is currently being discussed by College, however is a very long way off. Two separate London Boroughs must agree, providing two opportunities for local residents to object.

Reporter's Opinion

This reporter believes that the best way to enhance security is to have a good relationship between reception staff, security staff and members of the College. This includes undergraduates, who often report being on the wrong end of a bad attitude from some members of security staff. They also happen to be on campus in great numbers, with a good idea of who should be in their department and who should not.

Open communication, education on security issues and a good co-operative environment are the keys to security, not just locking all the doors.

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Discussion about “"Fortress" Plans Explained”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. n/a   
Aug 23 2006 12:24

Did I miss something? Why is there suddenly a new need for security that wasn't there last year, or in the 150 years before?

Aug 23 2006 16:58

Surely a picture of Traitor's gate would be far more appropriate - it would suit the grim and forbodeing atmosphere of the College methinks.

3. Tom   
Aug 27 2006 14:22

"The turnstile system is efficient. Proximity readers, as opposed to magnetic readers, allow a rapid flow of people through the doors."

The turnstile in Biochemistry doesn't work off proximety readers, but the magnetic ones. Which take around 15 seconds to reset after use. Not exactly efficent..

Jan 25 2007 21:27

This is scary stuff!!!! its like being a prisoner in our own uni ........

Jan 27 2007 18:04

Has it not crossed anyone's mind that there might be some very real reasons why IC has suddenly decided to step-up security so suddenly?

Think about some of the research Imperial might be involved in/be about to involve itself in. I think then there'd be little confusion as to why this is happening now!

Aug 13 2007 21:02

If only students nowadays acted like those on that link - what are the chances that will happen at Imperial?

8. Sarah   
Aug 02 2008 13:15

There are concerns over portraying a "cold and unfriendly image"? If the cap fits....

9. Dan   
Aug 02 2008 16:39

If we keep stopping all of the bad guys from getting in, who will raze the building to the ground for us?

Aug 03 2008 11:19

I was in Boston earlier this summer and whilst wondering round the MIT campus found I could walk into pretty much any building felt like.

Obviously they feel it's possible to keep sensitive areas secure without turning the campus into a prison. Why not Imperial?

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