Codeless systems can help emergency response time

The odds of emergency crews reaching you in time have improved over the past year thanks to ordinances requiring easier access through unmanned gates.

Beaufort County and Bluffton are to be commended for following through with ordinances requiring gated communities to install codeless, electronic entry systems for emergency crews.

The systems use a radio frequency to open gates without fire and emergency medical crews or law enforcement officers having to leave their vehicles or punch in individual gate codes.

The ordinances came after emergency responders were sent in April 2009 to Bluffton's Baynard Park to treat a 62-year-old man suffering a heart attack.

County paramedics arrived at the security gate in about four minutes, but they were held up for two to three minutes because they couldn't open the community's unmanned gate, according to a county report on the incident. The code listed for the gate didn't work, and crews couldn't get to an override key in a responding fire vehicle because of a blown fuse. Another emergency responder arrived with a key to open the gate.

The man died 11 days later, and his widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit in December 2009.

By that time, county and town officials already had moved to improve access with ordinances to require codeless systems. Communities were given a year to retrofit their gates.

County officials reported earlier this month that all 79 electronic security gates in unincorporated areas are in compliance. Bluffton officials were checking about 30 unmanned security gates as the town's one-year deadline came due this month.

Hilton Head Island led the way on this issue. Since January 2008, all new gates have been required to use a radio-controlled system. In 2009, town officials reported that nearly all of the town's 56 gated neighborhoods used a system called Click2Enter.

In Port Royal and Beaufort, three of the six gated communities there are equipped with Click2Enter, Capt. John Robinson of the Beaufort Fire Department reported. The department is working to upgrade the other three, but there's no deadline for doing it.

We encourage anyone who has charge over such gates to make sure access is as quick and easy as possible for emergency crews.

It might make a critical difference some day.