Access Control Best Practices for Condos & Apartment Complexes

On June 22, 2018, In security, security systems,

When considering establishing access control best practices for condos and apartment complexes, you usually don’t think about issues other than a key, key card and a few surveillance cameras. In reality, it is more complicated than this.

Security is a huge concern for homeowners associations and condominium leaders. Add in a mixed-use building security aspect, and you need to consider more issues. Mixed-use building properties are not like traditional office spaces.

These buildings offer a modern blend of retail and dining on the ground floor and residential spaces in the upper levels of the building. These spaces are either apartments or condominiums. Sometimes, there is a hotel attached. It can be a challenging task to achieve the perfect balance of functionality and aesthetics that will seem welcoming to retail and restaurant guests while simultaneously maintaining the safety and privacy of residents.

Increased concern regarding residents’ safety, property damage and alleviating incident-based claims place a spotlight on every condo and apartment organization’s security program. If you implement a security program with holes and gaps in best practices, eventually you will have to deal with increased costs, possible liability issues and shrinking confidence from your residents.

But if you implement a well-planned, well-designed system based on principles of best practices, you and your fellow residents can enjoy peace of mind.

Improving Access Control Systems for Apartments, Condominiums and Mixed Use Buildings

How can you go about implementing better access control systems for your mixed-use and other apartment and condominium buildings? Follow these tips.

1. Undertake a Complete Evaluation of the Facilities by a Qualified Security Consultant

Today’s security systems are very different from options available a few years ago for many reasons. First of all, today’s advances in IP technology contribute to the constantly changing offerings. An example of IP technology is an IP camera. Also known as an internet protocol camera, an IP camera is a type of digital video camera mostly used for surveillance. Unlike analog closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV), IP cameras can send and receive data via a computer network and the internet.

Another difference is video clarity. Today’s video surveillance footage can be much clearer. The picture quality for today’s video surveillance systems is so much more vivid than it was just twenty years ago. System integration is another contributing factor to constant change. Thirdly, the new way to implement systems will often integrate a system bundle comprised of components from many brands. Keeping up with new technologies is integral to keeping your security system running the way it’s supposed to run.

2. Evaluate Your Staff to Ensure Employees Managing the Systems Are Qualified

Some of your most important assets are your employees. You need to determine if they are willing and able to follow guidelines and SOPs (Standard Operational Procedures). Also, make sure these employees are willing to continue learning about the systems’ updates, changes and new implementations through training or classes.

3. Define Vital Assets With Your Security System

You will need to define what you want to protect. Then, identify all exposures, threats and vulnerabilities that could affect the determined assets. Once you have assessed the vulnerabilities, you can undertake the process of finding targeted solutions and applicable costs. To help select the right security measures, ask whether or not the proposed security measures will do the following:

  • Detect
  • Deter
  • Delay
  • Deny

4. Video, Video, Video: Incorporate It Into Your System

Video is everywhere. It’s omnipresent. Employ it to your organization’s advantage. Uses for video continue to expand into areas not typically considered before. In addition to entryways and other standard areas, look into applying video to:

  • IDS (Intrusion Detection Systems)
  • Access control
  • Gate automation
  • Fire detection

5. Get a Service Contract

Do not think you will save your company a lot of money bit skipping a service contract altogether. Just because there is a warranty attached to your purchases does not mean you will have every problem covered at no cost. Most warranties last between one to three years. However, these warranties normally do not cover labor costs.

You should establish a service level agreement (SLA) with the original installer of a property’s system. This gives the installer a vested interest in ensuring the system installed actually works properly. Modern security systems are complicated. If you have a second company come in to make repairs to a system another company installed, there could be finger pointing and even more costs due to unforeseen problems.

6. Establish an SLA as Part of a Service Contract

SLAs establish clear expectations for the relationship between the service provider and HOA/property managers. SLAs will come in handy by “taking the reins” if and when things break down. A strong SLA is thorough and clear for both parties.

Today’s security practices for condo & apartment buildings usually involve constant updates and other improvements. The reason is ever-changing technology, which is a huge part of driving change in the security industry. When deciding on a system, do not forget to add a service contract that includes regularly scheduled assessments of your security structures. Adding an SLA ensures your security setup keeps your organization competitive with other buildings and properties.

7. Ensure Accessibility of Access Control Systems

Electronic access control systems are convenient, easy to maintain and budget-friendly. People with certain disabilities may find several types of readers hard to operate. A keypad that requires a level of dexterity to enter a code is more challenging than a credential reader. Take into consideration if the use of certain products will be good for maintaining a balance between safety, security and convenience for all occupants.

8. Implement Concepts of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED, is based on Oscar Newman’s book Defensible Space; Crime Prevention through Urban Design. CPTED revolves around five key strategies:

  • Defensible Space and Territoriality
  • Natural Surveillance
  • Activity Support
  • Access Control
  • Education

Let’s explore each of these ideas.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Defensible Space and Territoriality

The concept of defensible space and territoriality centers on the idea people naturally want to protect territory they feel is theirs. This, in turn, brings about additional feelings of respect for the territory of others. Art pieces such as paintings, tapestries and sculptures, signs, good physical plant and landscape maintenance, and fences are examples of physical ways to express ownership. The ability to identify intruders is easier in a well-defined and maintained space.

Criminals often will case a targeted building for quite some time before breaking and entering. They look at the flow of traffic, take note of residents’ work schedules, and find ways they can enter the building. Residents must learn to recognize other residents who belong in the space so they can also realize who does not.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Natural Surveillance and Vigilance

Open areas that allow residents to see all activity provide opportunities for natural surveillance easily. Proper arrangement of physical features, activities and people in useful ways makes it easy to see what’s going on while discouraging crime.

The vigilance level of residents plays an important role in a security plan for a building. Unfortunately, some people may need to do things that make them uncomfortable, like actions that will seem rude, such as not holding the door open for strangers. This includes nicely dressed strangers who don’t “look” like thieves. To assuage your guilt, let the stranger know about the strict access protocols the building implements. Apologize if you want to, but don’t let any strangers “piggyback” their way into the building.

Properly implemented lighting is one of the most budget-friendly and effective fortifications to natural surveillance. Well-lit areas make it almost impossible for troublemakers to stay out of sight, especially from building residents, law enforcement, surveillance cameras and people passing by.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Sponsor Social Activities

Planning pleasant parties in public common areas helps discourage crime. It creates a feeling of ownership among residents. Neighbors will get to know each other and recognize who may be an unwelcome stranger later on.

Perhaps throwing a casual social event or two will get the social ball rolling. A couple of fun ideas include offering free pizza to residents one Friday every month, or bagels and coffee one Saturday morning per month. These fun events will help residents get to know their neighbors. It is important to recognize the people in your building and HOA as well as in the general community.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Access Control

Properly placed entry areas, exits, shrubbery/landscaping, lighting and fencing directs both pedestrian and vehicular flow in a manner that can help deter crime. Intruders often target condominiums and multi-housing properties through amenities such as:

  • Swimming pools
  • Gyms
  • Tennis courts
  • Playgrounds
  • Parks

These amenities are usually located on the outer perimeters of properties, making them more difficult to supervise. HOAs need to pay more attention to their access.

There is another very simple concept to consider — Lock the doors. Too often, service doors are left propped open and unattended by someone waiting for a delivery. Or they’re left open for a resident who goes to their car to get something. Doors should never be propped open and left unattended. This includes basement doors, underground garages and the usual lobby and other ground-floor access doors.

Key control plays an important role in door control. A building or HOA should establish policies regarding how keys are stored and who gets access to them. Other questions to ask:

  • Which vendors should get keys to common areas?
  • Should cleaning teams, caretakers or dog walkers be given keys to apartments?

Also, keys to your home should never be labeled with apartment numbers. They should be coded in such a way that only a few individuals responsible for them know which doors they open.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Education

Education increases security awareness. It helps residents recognize and prevent potential crime scenarios. If residents and management are not all interested, then even the most well-thought-out security program becomes completely useless.

Education involves participation. Effective ways to increase participation include:

  • Neighborhood watch
  • Training webinars and seminars
  • Periodic meetings where residents meet with security staff to talk about the latest happenings on the property and in the neighborhood.

9. Look at Your Property From a Potential Renter’s Point of View

Think about this — how secure does your property look from a potential renter’s perspective? Consider the following safety measures, if you have not done so already.

Update Your Security Lighting

Are your parking lots, building entryways, hallways and laundry rooms well-lit? Brightly lit areas make tenants feel more secure. Weak lighting is a major disadvantage if you’re trying to make your property more desirable. Lighting is one of the most budget-friendly security enhancements you can make.

Invest in a Properly Functioning Vehicle Gate

A vehicle gate that functions well, as opposed to one that’s “out of order” and always in the up position, will give renters an additional level of comfort and security, especially if the gate is near and within sight of the management office and requires an access code or key card.

Add Pedestrian Gates and Tall Fencing

Having perimeter fencing and gates appeals to potential renters. Wrought iron gates provide a sense of security with a touch of subtle elegance. Also, the closer they are to head height, the stronger the feeling of security.

Clean up Outdoor Trash Dumpsters and Recycling

Another feature prospective renters consider is grounds maintenance. Overly full dumpsters and recycling bins filled with trash and discarded furniture fuel the perception that the property is not properly maintained. Make sure trash and recyclables are collected on a very regular basis to avoid accumulation of trash.

Add Private Security Services As a Selling Point

Many property managers hire private security patrol services. They use them as a quiet selling point so that they don’t scare away potential tenants over safety issues. A lot of law enforcement officers moonlight as security patrollers or own security companies.

Assess How Your Building or Property Looks to Criminals

The less tight the security, the more likely your building or property becomes a target. Criminal minds seek easy entry and exit. The more entrances and exits you have, the greater your need to secure your property and grounds. The less lighting, the more confident they become.

Contact Wayne Alarm to Increase Your Security

Now you have a wealth practical advice for developing a strong management- and resident-friendly set of security best practices for condos and HOAs. An ideal security plan is not comprised of only one component, but a useful combination of several interwoven ideas, actions and devices that support the goal of a fortified security program. The focus is to put the odds in your favor.

Using these basic tips and ideas is just a small part of implementing security practices for condo and apartment buildings, as well as mixed-use buildings. For more information about comprehensive security solutions for your home or business in the northeastern U.S., contact Wayne Alarm.

Massachusetts Department of Professional Licensure
License No. C-1111

Massachusetts Department of Public Safety
S-License No. SS CO 0160

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