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Safe & Secure: Add Technology to Your Community's Security Toolbox
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Safe & SecureAdd Technology to Your Community's Security Toolbox  In these tumultuous times of uncertainty and financial instability, one thing is certain: crime rates rise as the employment rate and markets fall. However, there is much you can do to create safe, secure, and happy communities. Common sense, best practices, and new technology can go far in insuring both the real safety of your residents and their perception of how safe they are. It Takes a Village (or at least a few neighbors)

It may be surprising that the most effective crime-prevention measures are the least expensive but pay the greatest dividends. There is simply no substitute for caring neighbors who watch out for each other and pay attention to who is coming and going. In communities where the common areas are well-utilized and maintained, residents simply have a better sense of who is a resident or guest and who is a stranger. While you can’t really train people to care, you can train caring people.

One such program is the Crime-Fee Condominium Program detailed at the Crime Free Association website (www.crime-free-association.org). The Crime Free Association is a non-profit organization supporting residents, property managers, and renters who want to fight back against crime. The program detailed in their literature requires special training, background checks on tenants, communication with the local police department, posting of signs and certificates, and other measures. A key element of the program includes the Crime-Free Lease Addendum. This addition to the standard rental or lease agreement was developed by the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department and upheld by the Supreme Court. As described by Sgt. John Nebl of the Schaumberg Police Department in Illinois, and a consultant to the Crime Free Association, the lease addendum stipulates that any criminal activity by residents, guests of residents, or subtenants is in violation of the lease and may be grounds for eviction. This is important, Sgt. Nebl points out, because while the standardlease agreement covers the usual grounds for eviction (failure to pay rent, vandalism, etc.), it does not count criminal activity as a violation of the lease agreement.

While these measures may require significant time investment and community building, the financial outlay is much less than the potentially thousands of dollars needed to invest in the technology discussed later in this article.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Clean, well-lit, and properly maintained lobbies, recreation rooms, parking lots and walkways help prevent unwanted activity, or as Nebl describes it, make “the physical property less inviting to criminals and criminal activity.” According to Nebl, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is an important element of the Crime-Free Program. The standards included in CPTED include bright but even lighting both inside and out; deadbolts with three inch screws on doors; peepholes; anti-lift, anti-slide patio features on doors and ground story windows; and proper landscaping.

As Christopher McGoey, an internationally-known security consultant, of Murrieta, California.-based McGoey Security Consulting, points out, getting the lighting right is a great place to start: “good common area lighting with automatic light sensors turning them on from dusk to dawn is the best money spent on security. Good illumination reduces crime and the fear of crime among residents.” Nebl additionally recommends that care be taken to create even lighting both inside and out. Lights that are too bright in one area may create glare andshadows that actually limit visibility.

Because security measures like deadbolts, peepholes, and anti-lift, anti-slide features are obvious next steps or are built into the units from the start, sometimes the outside landscaping gets overlooked. Bushes should be trimmed away from lower floor windows or away from parking lots. Nebl describes “3-6 Rule” where bushes near windows are kept no higher than three feet (3’) and overhanging trees hang no lower than six feet (6’). Walkways can be lit with solar-powered lights to increase safety and convenience without increasing electrical usage. Dumpsters, unused building materials, non-workingcars, and other places intruders can hide should be addressed as well.

With a Little Help from Your Friends

Sometimes though, the presence of a paid security professional on the grounds can help deter even the most dedicated criminal. Whether called a “security guard” or a “courtesy professional,” the role is the same: to help deter crime by maintaining an active presence on the property. If the propertyis small, manning a desk in a central location may be enough to project that attentive presence. With larger properties, patrols become important, especially during the dark, overnight hours. The route, frequency, and reporting of these patrols should be clearly stated in the security contract, and the staff should be held accountable for fulfilling this responsibility. Exactly what a security guard is supposed to do is laid out in the “post orders” (detailed written instructions and protocols).

While many property managers prefer to hire and train their own staff, some turn to professional security companies that may also include alarms, video surveillance, and remote monitoring. As with any contractor hired to do work on the premises, some research must be done to insure the highest quality work. Marshall Marinace, president of Marshall Alarm Systems in Yorktown Heights, New York, and vice-president of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), suggests that condo boards or property managers only hire licensed, fully-insured security companies. It is also important to take a close look at security contracts to insure they meet the needs of the community. For example, how often are patrols? Is there redundancy in the alarm and monitoring systems in the case of power outages or phone lines going down? What about system integration (where fire, monitoring, and crime systems are all integrated and monitored together)? Are there

sensors for low-temperatures (especiallyimportant in New England)?

For evaluating security companies, McGoey suggests these protocols: “Homeowner association boards should check references and read the contract closely for unfavorable liability indemnity language. Contacts and post orders should be detailed in describing what the services will be provided, what equipment will be carried, if patrols will be on foot or in a vehicle, and what reports will be generated. A good rule of thumb: if detailed patrol reports are not submittedthen don’t pay for the service.”

When Big Brother is Needed

On the technology side, there have been notable strides in the effectiveness and quality of the video to accompanytheir increased use. Although some residents may balk at the thought of being watched while around their homes, CCTV (closed-circuit television) video cameras are increasingly used for surveillance and security. As with the patrols, it is important to define how these cameras are being monitored and how the data stored as well as who has access to the video and for what purposes. Although video quality is quickly improving, property managers need to consider potential uses of the video. Marinace and the NBFAA remind property managers that the video “has to be clear if you are going to use it for evidence in court.”

One notable development to help with creating court-worthy video is the use of infrared camera for better night vision. Also, according to Marinace, many cameras now featurea day/night feature that shoots in color during the daylight hours when there is plenty of natural light and switches to black and white for better visibility during the dark hours. In addition, CCTV cameras now can transmit directly to hand-held monitors and offer remote pan and zoom controlling.

Another important feature is the ability to adapt to the especially changeable New England weather. Marinace points out that a camera that fogs with sudden temperature changes or becomes encrusted with snow in a Nor’easter isn’t going to be very effective. McGoey maintains that exterior video surveillance is only really effective in helping to curb vandalism. Nebl concurs, pointing out that many criminals don’t really fear cameras. He thinks people place too much emphasis on what a camera can achieve. If nobodyis watching the screen, all you have is a documentation of what happened, not a response to what is happening.

Q Would Be Proud

Of course there are many, many more security gadgets to consider. One of the most popular is the electronic access control system. As described by McGoey, these systems use “card readers to grant or deny access at the various points of entry, including the elevator. Elevators can be programmed to deliver the rider to the authorized floor at the exclusion of others. Every door can be queried to see what resident or staff entered and when during an investigation… door and elevator card readers will admit and then deny access to service vendors for a narrow window of time to perform work.” Marc Lippaof ADT Security Systems in Massa-chusetts says that “card systems have become a huge part of the process and the costs are going down.”

Lippa also recommends a security link providing instant communication. This means that if the alarm is tripped, there is instant, active two-way communication between the alarm key-pad and the remote monitoring. These are particularly great for individual units, especially where the elderly live. Additional remote monitoring available for elderly residents includes “normal activity monitoring” micro-door sensors which can let concerned family members know if the medicine cabinet or pantry doors have been opened recently, and wireless emergency call pendants (available from CISCOR, a manufacturer of hard wired and wireless systems.)

Security Technology… Thousands of Dollars. Peace of Mind…Priceless.

With security systems ranging from hundreds of dollars for individual cameras to tens of thousands of dollars for full systems, it is important to proceed with caution when looking to secure the premises. However, the rightcombination of best practices and technology can insure a safe, secure environment for residents yielding a wonderful quality of life as well as financial savings.

Robert Todd Felton, a freelance writer based in Amherst, Massachusetts, is a frequent contributor to New England Condominium magazine.