Between Midnight and Dawn: Behind the Security Desk

Although Emory senior security officer Dennis House might appear intimidating in uniform, students often stop by the Woodruff Library security desk to exchange greetings and jokes with him.

The Emory Wheel shadowed House during part of the library’s latest shift, which begins at 11:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 a.m., on April 6 to get a closer look into the typical night of a security officer. House said he doesn’t normally work the third shift, but was filling in for a sick co-worker that day.  

Ayushi Agarwal/Photo Editor

A U.S. Army veteran, House said that he learned the importance of discipline during his military training. House served in the armed forces for more than 12 years, working as a radar technician and within logistics and transportation.

“The same thing that’s required to be in the military, pretty much the same things are required for being a security officer or firefighter,” House said. “You didn’t know what situations you would be in, day to day, but you always have to be ready.”

Before joining Emory in 1997, House worked part-time for American Airlines as a senior customer service representative at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He also served as a security officer at his alma mater, North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, N.C., and then at Duke University in Durham, N.C.  

House said his natural love for being around people enables him to function at odd hours. During the Cold War, he was stationed in Germany, where he enjoyed interacting with Europeans and learning about their culture.

“I [get] to be around people; that’s what keeps me going. My body was already trained [from military service] to handle these crazy shifts that we work,” House said. “Being here [at Emory], I don’t worry about being sleepy because I know I have things that I got to do.”

Emory Security Manager Terence Jefferson said that the officers enjoy interacting with the student population.

“We get to know the students and the students get to know us,” Jefferson said. “We are pretty much ambassadors for the University — to make sure we foster a good public relations image.”

At 4 p.m., a new pair of officers arrive. From then until 7 a.m., one officer oversees the desk while the other takes patrol duty. House said desk duties involve monitoring surveillance cameras and keeping a general ledger for on-shift tasks, which includes tallying how many fire exits are secured.

“When [the students] see us here, they are at ease,” House said. “They see us, but they don’t bother us. They let us do our thing.”

Around 1 a.m., a student approached the security desk looking to borrow a pair of scissors. House kept the student’s Emory ID card while the scissors were lent out. House said students feel comfortable coming up to the officers to chat about their day and have accidentally tried to check out library books at their desk. Furthermore, House said students talk to him not just for security reasons, but also for emotional support.

“It’s amazing [how] they come to me and just offload about things,” House said. “I am not a counselor, but they will come to me for inspiration.”

At 1:30 a.m., House took a private staff elevator up to the eighth floor to begin the perimeter check. As he waded through the stacks, covering the entire perimeter in about five minutes, he pointed out fire safety hazards that an untrained eye might brush over: a book bag laying in the middle of an aisle, laptops and devices left unattended and a chair obstructing the fire exit. House jotted down his observations on a printed copy of the ledger.  

Around 3 a.m., House went up to the 11th floor, a restricted area of the Woodruff Library, to check the mechanical rooms for a water leakage or other abnormalities. Maneuvering through the jutting pipes, low ceilings and maze of machines, House noted that the sounds and smells were normal. To respond to emergencies, such as a fire or medical illness, security officers rely mainly on the Emory Police Department, Emory’s Emergency Medical Services (EEMS) and on-call technicians.

“We have to be here to control [emergency situations], and that is why we have patrols to eliminate those things from happening,” House said. “There are certain things we look for to foresee these [events].”

Then, he checked the alarm system in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Library on the 10th floor, which closes everyday to the general public at 5 p.m. House sighed with amazement as he took in the views overlooking downtown Atlanta, and his car parked near the loading dock area of the Woodruff Library. In a few hours, he said he would drive to Waffle House to pick-up an All-Star Breakfast on his way home.

With 15 minutes left in this routine check, each of which lasts an hour, House walked through the archive storage site where millennia-old documents are preserved.

At 5 a.m., House conducted his final check of the Woodruff Library by walking around with a ticker, tallying up the total number of people who were spending the night on the first, second and third floors. House counted 10 people, while discussing the technicalities of pulling an all-nighter.

Over his 20 years at Emory, House has seen countless students pull all-nighters, been a symbol of support and safety for some, and walked these same security checks again and again.

“My favorite part of this job is to be among the students because being here the students learn you,” House said. “They ask me ‘where were you?’ and say ‘when you are here, we feel like it’s all going to be okay.’”

CORRECTION (4/11/18 1:37 p.m.): The article initially said Terence Jefferson is Emory University Facilities Management Services Officer and Securities Manager. The article has been updated to reflect that Jefferson is Emory Security Manager.

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