I haven’t written about physical security in some time, but recently I was in a hotel in San Francisco and experienced a very small physical security issue. This is an issue that you have probably confronted at some point, unawares. Fortunately, it is easily correctable if you follow my one simple hotel room security tip:ensure that your door closes behind you when entering or exiting your room.
Hotel Room Security Tip: Make Sure Your Door Fully Closes
Almost all hotel room doors have some form of automatic door-closer. The purpose of this hardware is a fire-safety requirement. All doors in public buildings should close automatically to prevent the spread of fire. This also has a nice ancillary benefit for guests: when they go in the room with an armload of luggage the door will shut behind them. The problem is that automatic door-closers wear out and fail. Making this even more problematic is that the door-closers are sometimes simply spring-hinges. These are hinges that are spring-loaded and are not terribly strong to begin with.
When they wear out it is not in spectacular fashion that is immediately obvious to maintenance staff. Rather, they gradually lose the strength to close the door all the way. The door closes *mostly* so the room’s occupant assumes the door is secure, and this is where the real danger comes in. The occupant assumes, from multiple historical hotel stays and from the fact that the door appears closed, that the door is actually closed. He or she may enter or leave the room with the door effectively unlocked.This may seem like something that is totally obvious, but my own experience made me think differently. After checking in I walked into my room and began unpacking. After hanging up my dress clothes I pulled out my computer and sat down at the desk to study the following day’s classes when the door suddenly slammed. Startled, I jumped up and walked to the door. I quickly looked out the peephole. Seeing no one, I opened the door and looked up and down the hallway. Again seeing no one I walked back inside. As the door closed, I noticed that it did not close fully. Perhaps the heat in the room had come on, causing a change in air pressure that suddenly slammed the door.
Avoiding an Open Door
I was angry at myself for getting so relaxed with my door essentially open. Had I left for dinner it is entirely possible that I could have walked away with the door unlocked with all my things unsecured in the room. There are some easy ways to avoid this:
- Upon Exit from the Room: Stay with the door until it closes fully and you have verified it cannot be pushed open. This may require a moment’s patience but it is well worth it. Also follow the other best practices outlined in my previous article on hotel room insecurity.
- Upon Entering the Room: What really makes me upset with myself in this instance is that I didn’t follow some other really basic best practices. I should have done the following: immediately place the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the exterior door handle. Next, lock the door’s deadbolt lock; this would have required that the door be fully closed. Finally, activate the auxilliary locking mechanism (the pivot bar or chain lock). This step would have ensured that even if the latch was not fully secured I would have still had some protection from someone simply barging into my room, whether by mistake or with bad intent.
This is one very small hotel room security tip but an important one. The hotel is willing to provide only so much security for you, so it is your responsibility to ensure your own security. Don’t get caught with an open door.