You don’t need a camera to keep dorms safe


No one really thinks about dormitory safety until something bad happens. It’s the sad reality, but like anything else, preventative measures can help prevent potential threats from becoming too real. When it comes to dormitory security, there are a number of things students can do to protect themselves.

In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that burglaries accounted for 34% of all criminal incidents against people and property on campuses. It is a reminder to parents and students that dormitory safety should be a priority. While the automatic answer would be to have some sort of security camera installed inside the dormitory, this is a much more complicated question than you might think.

Can you have cameras in the dorms?

It’s a thorny subject considering privacy concerns, but it basically follows the same rules as installing a home security camera. Some college campuses have security cameras installed in various areas around dormitories, such as entrances and other common areas. These cameras are typically handled and operated by security personnel, or are simply there for continuous recording.

Inside a dormitory where students sleep is another matter, we are going to focus on this particular situation. Cameras are in almost everything we own. From our smartphones to our laptops, it’s honestly very difficult to find a situation where a camera isn’t present these days. Individual schools may have their own rules for installing security cameras inside dormitories, but if you are sharing a room with someone, you should probably have their express consent.

There have already been countless crimes of people using hidden cameras in dormitories to record activity, some serious enough that invasion of privacy charges have been reported. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 prohibits the interception of audio communications without consent. However, it does not address the act of video recording without an audio recording element.

Discreet ways to secure dormitories

Cameras are often seen as intrusive devices, given that they could be used in harmful ways, but dorm residents still have other solutions that could allay concerns about potential crimes. There are plenty of smart home devices out there right now that offer peace of mind and respect privacy, while providing instant awareness of what’s going on when you’re not around. Best of all, these solutions are easy on just about any budget.

Door sensors

Ring Alarm (2nd generation) Door sensor on the door
John Velasco / Digital Trends

One of the easiest and most discreet ways to secure a dorm is to use door sensors that can notify users whenever they have been triggered or activated. Window sensors work the same way, but are specifically placed on windows to trigger each time they open or close.

Most DIY security systems often come with kits that include them, but there are others that can be used without the need for a complete system. For example, Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd generation) acts as a Zigbee hub, allowing users to easily connect Zigbee compatible door sensors.

Motion sensors

Aura motion sensor plugged into the outlet.

Another discreet option is to use a motion sensor in the dormitory which can definitively identify whether there has been movement or not. Thresholds can be set to eliminate false alarms that might be triggered due to the movement of small devices, such as a pedestal ventilator or a pet. For larger dorms that may include separate rooms, installing a motion detector can help identify motion detection in specific rooms.

Smart speakers

Amazon Echo Dot placed on a side table.

Interestingly, dorm residents can use smart speakers to monitor their spaces when they’re not there. Services like Nest Aware for smart speakers compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa Guard for Echo devices can monitor sounds like sirens from smoke detectors or broken glass. There’s a slightly more advanced option, Alexa Guard Plus, which costs a higher subscription, but does more by playing sounds on your speaker to ward off intruders – as well as accessing emergency services.

Since this is a device with an active microphone, it’s a good idea to ask roommates or other people living in the dorm for their consent to use one.

Prevention is better than cure

No one likes that feeling of watching Big Brother, which is probably why there is a reluctance to install security cameras in dorms. These unobtrusive options can at the very least offer some awareness of what’s going on when you’re not around. Through the use of mobile applications linked to the services of these devices, dorm residents can know what is happening when they are not there, without compromising the privacy of others.

Hex Home Wi-Fi motion sensor plugged into an outlet.

New technologies keep coming out, offering more discreet and unobtrusive ways to monitor in the home. The Hex Home system, for example, are sensors that can be placed in rooms to monitor movement by measuring disturbances in Wi-Fi signals. It’s an intriguing new way of knowing who is there and who is not, but it does. has a higher price tag than some traditional motion sensors. Nonetheless, it is the development of these unique technologies that shows us that there are ways to maintain the security of dorms without compromising privacy.

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