Most students living off-campus rent apartments or group houses and as a consequence, live in group-living situations somewhat similar to residence hall life on campus. As with residence hall living, two of the major concerns in off-campus housing are security breaches and life safety hazards. However, since off-campus residents are without GW University Police personnel and residence hall staff, they must bear greater responsibility for their own safety. If you are an off-campus resident, you must be much more aware of possible dangers than those who live on campus.

Personal Safety

Living in a city can offer residents tremendous opportunities and resources, but also provide some challenges regarding personal safety.  Just as in any city, residents of the District of Columbia should take precautions to ensure their safety in the District. Among other things, you should:

  1. Always carry a form of personal identification with you. This is particularly important in Washington, DC because of the amount of federal and local security that is utilized in the District.
  2. Be wary of isolated spots—laundry rooms, underground garages, parking lots, offices after business hours. Walk with a friend, co-worker, or security guard, particularly at night.
  3. Always keep jewelry and other valuables out of sight. Keep a firm grip on your purse. Use a purse with a secure clasp, and keep the purse close to your body with a hand on the clasp.
  4. Carry your wallet inside your coat or side pants pocket, never in your rear pants pocket.
  5. Park your car in busy, lighted areas. Always lock your car and take the key with you. Consider using an anti-theft device for your car.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings when using the ATM machine. Look around before conducting a transaction. If you see anyone or anything suspicious, cancel your transaction and go to another ATM. If you must use an ATM after hours, make sure it’s well-lit.
  7. Wherever you are, stay alert and tuned in to your surroundings—on the street, in an office building or shopping mall, driving, waiting for a bus or subway.
  8. Trust your instincts. If something or someone makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave.
  9. Know the neighborhoods where you live and work. Check out the locations of police and fire stations, public telephones, hospitals, and restaurants, or stores that are open late.
  10. Never open your door to strangers. Offer to make an emergency call while someone waits outside. Check the identification of sales or service people before letting them in. Don’t be embarrassed to phone for verification.
  11. Know your neighbors, so you have someone to call or go to if you’re uncomfortable or frightened.
  12. If you come home and see a door or window open, or broken, don’t go in. Call the police from a cell phone.
Locks & Alarms

Security breaches can usually be prevented with the use of adequate door locks and window latches. Nevertheless, the best lock in the world cannot prevent entry of an unwanted person intent on theft or bodily harm if the lock is left unlocked. All off-campus residents should make certain that they have adequate locks and latches and should be diligent in their use.

Additionally, several kinds of local door alarms are available commercially at reasonable cost. Such alarms can alert a resident to the entry of a thief or other unwanted person. The local emergency number (911) to summon law enforcement officials and fire fighters should be posted on or near each telephone in the apartment or house.

Crime Watch

Locks, latches, and alarms can help prevent crimes, but they are not the only line of defense. Security awareness is also important. Many communities in the metropolitan area have developed successful "crime watch' groups. These groups depend on local inhabitants who report suspicious person or activities to the proper authorities. Many such groups post "crime watcher" signs to discourage potential intruders

Fire Precautions

Fire prevention is vitally important in off-campus living. Monthly tests of fire alarm systems and routine checks and servicing of fire extinguishers are performed in campus residence halls, but such care is often neglected in apartment buildings and private residences. All residence halls have sprinkler systems while most apartment buildings and private houses have none. Check with the owner or building manager for information regarding the fire prevention system and evacuation plan in your building.

Potential fuel for fire can be limited in private homes by good housekeeping practices. All clothing, wood, and other combustibles should be stored away from sources of ignition such as open flames, matches, and heated objects. Cigarettes and matches are the major causes of fires, but in homes, stoves and candles are also high on the list of potential fire sources. Sparks from electric motors and defective electrical equipment also constitute sources of ignition. Play it safe with any potential ignition source.

Be certain that your living unit has a fire extinguisher mounted in a readily accessible place. If you have only one extinguisher, make certain that it is a multipurpose dry chemical type. If you have a kitchen, the extinguisher should be mounted near the kitchen entrance. Also, make certain that you have at least one functioning smoke alarm because smoke may be the first warning of a fire. Consider this: smoke kills more people than heat in building fires.

Toxic Substances in the Home

Some individuals regard toxic substances as someone else's problem, but the problem belongs to everyone. Many toxic substances exist innocently enough in the home. Toxic household chemicals can include highly flammable substances, caustic compounds, deadly poisons, and carcinogenic agents.

Unfortunately, product ingredients are not always listed on containers. The Federal Government allows a product to be labeled "non-toxic" if the death rate for laboratory animals ingesting or inhaling the product is less than 50 percent. While the Consumer Products Safety Commission and other governmental agencies are attempting to change the law, many potentially deadly products are still available on the market. Always read the label on a product and follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe use.


For access by District of Columbia residents and tourists, and for various safety reasons, all sidewalks must be kept clear at all times. Each owner, tenant, or lessee is responsible for keeping the sidewalk areas clean and debris-free. This is particularly important during winter snowstorms as home/business owners are responsible for clearing the sidewalks and steps adjacent to their property. Failure to clear the sidewalk and steps adjacent to your property may result in ticketing. Be courteous to those individuals that may need help shoveling their sidewalks and steps, particularly the elderly.

Emergency Preparedness

Living off campus, it is important to know how to protect yourself in the event of an emergency, such as hurricane, flood, tornado, fire, explosion or terrorist act. Being prepared can reduce fear, anxiety, and losses that accompany disasters.

In case of a threatened or actual local emergency, the Emergency Alert System will broadcast timely information and instructions. The primary radio stations (FM/AM) to listen to in the District of Columbia include the following:

  • WTOP 1500 AM, 820 AM, 103.5 FM
  • WMAL 630 AM
  • WGMS 103.5 FM
  • WJZW 105.9 FM
  • WKYS 93.9 FM
  • WHFS 99.1 FM
  • WPGC 95.5 FM

The information broadcasted will inform the public what actions are being taken by the District government in response to the emergency, and will also tell them what to do.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests every household have a disaster supply kit containing food, water and supplies for three days. This kit should be kept in a designated place and be ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. FEMA suggests you keep the following things in your disaster supply kit:

  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Three-day supply of water - one gallon of water per person, per day.
  • Portable, battery-powered radio or television and extra batteries.
  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit and manual.
  • Sanitation and hygiene items (moist towelettes and toilet paper).
  • Matches and waterproof container.
  • Whistle.
  • Extra clothing.
  • Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils, including a can opener.
  • Photocopies of credit and identification cards.
  • Cash and coins.
  • Special needs items, such as medications, eye glasses, and contact lens solutions.

Students should plan with their roommates and family in advance about how they will communicate in an emergency situation. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the proper way to shut off your gas, electricity and water if you live in a house. You should also think about a plan for your pets should an emergency cause you to evacuate or be kept from your home.

The university has a comprehensive emergency plan and systems in place to communicate information in an emergency.  Visit the Campus Advisories website for more information.