Property management

Safe and Secure

Lock Out Crime at Properties With a Comprehensive Security Program.

Violent events, such as the shooting in the Edgewater Technology office complex in suburban Boston last December, remind building owners and managers about the need for thorough and well-maintained security for their properties.

These types of occurrences have become all too common and permanently have changed the way real estate professionals locate, design, operate, and manage their facilities.

As a result, security design, operations, and technology will continue to be essential planning considerations for the foreseeable future. Commercial real estate professionals should be aware of trends, developments, and preventative measures for enhancing security.

With smart planning, collaboration, and comprehensive security programs, commercial property owners, managers, and tenants can create safe environments, without necessarily resorting to costly high-tech equipment.

Understand Security Threats Whether for urban high-rise office buildings or suburban retail centers, security planning for commercial properties should address several important criteria. Good security programs rest on five key points, according to Gary Schiff, president of Kroll Schiff & Associates, an international security consulting firm in Bastrop, Texas.

First, understand a property's potential threats. Diverse property types in various geographic locations have different threats that must be understood and evaluated before establishing security measures. The property's tenants and occupants also should be considered. After studying historical crime data for the area and facility type, building owners should identify, assess, and prioritize potential threats and decide which ones cost-effectively can be mitigated.

Next, know the competition. Generally, most crimes are crimes of opportunity: Properties offering fewer opportunities will have less risk. Study other area properties to examine what has been effective — or ineffective — and to market a property as equal to or better than the competition. Property owners also may minimize liability by showing they have more security measures in place than other properties.

Also, keep security problems far from the building's interior. Once the nature of potential threats is established, analyze the building exterior and site perimeter to determine what security techniques might be applied cost-effectively. Security might incorporate architectural, electronic, or operational techniques, such as guards or policies and procedures. In new construction or major renovation projects, architectural solutions often are the most cost-effective. Minimizing the number of entry points and physically strengthening the site perimeter can help eliminate potential security problems.

In addition, use security layers. Establish defensible layers by looking for opportunities to apply security at the property's perimeter and building entrances, within entry lobbies, and at stairwells, elevators, and tenant entries. Each layer should be a ring of consistently applied security measures. For example, it doesn't make sense to station a guard at a property's front door, but leave the loading dock open and unguarded if both entries allow access to the same space. Freight elevator access should be secure as well. Different security techniques can be applied to different areas, but they should achieve similar results.

Finally, apply crime prevention through design. Incorporating elements such as lighting, sightlines, and physical landscaping barriers during site planning may enhance security.

Potential site planning solutions might include setting buildings back from the street or sidewalk; creating landscaped plazas with large trees that would stop cars, but not obscure views; restricting vehicular access; instituting parking policies to restrict authorized vehicles in certain areas, while designating other areas for visitors; and installing low-height curbside concrete piers, known as bollards, that can blend into the landscape yet still meet structural impact specifications.

Elements for parking lots include good lighting, trimmed shrubs and trees that do not block sightlines, and only one vehicle access and egress point, which helps to minimize the threat of muggings, car vandalism, and theft.

The overall cost of security systems and operations per square foot varies widely, based on the type of facility or business, size, geographic location, and other site-specific factors, Schiff observes. “There is no magic number for cost psf or a comparison of guards vs. electronics,” he says. “Electronics virtually always beat out guards in minimizing costs. However, electronics should not be chosen on a basis of cost savings if the net result does not provide adequate security. A good security program is a balance of architecture, electronics, and operations.”

Technological Protection The electronic approach to security is most effective when it is part of an overall security program. Effective technology use should supplement, not supplant, staffing procedures.

Building owners have many new advancements as well as tried-and-true technologies from which to choose.

In large shopping centers and other multitenant property types, tenants and owners may agree to tie into a master closed-circuit television system, with multiple access and monitoring capabilities. These cameras are digitized, with enhanced color and resolution, which allows greater reliability, accuracy, and recording capability. They create a digital record of events, making storage easy to manage, as images can be called up on a screen electronically, eliminating the need to store videotapes.

Another popular technology, infrared, is advantageous for properties and facilities located in urban or populated areas where brightly lit perimeters are inappropriate. Infrared systems won't disturb neighbors and will allow law enforcement and private patrols to monitor parking areas and perimeter zones without ambient light. In hostage situations, infrared devices can determine where people are located, even through walls.

In areas where lighting is appropriate, energy-efficient metal halide lamps provide sufficient light for camera surveillance systems. Building and site standards might call for 1 footcandle or less but some owners may opt for 2 footcandles on exterior open lots.

Proximity reader cards, also known as card-access systems, consist of programmable identification cards swiped through a computerized reader programmed to allow only authorized personnel to enter. Additionally, these systems can generate computerized printouts indicating the time and date anyone with a card accessed specific areas.

Biometrics, such as iris, retina, and hand scanners, also are increasing in popularity at high-traffic facilities with a need for tight security. These computer-driven devices instantly can report a positive identification on individuals entering or leaving a facility. Hand scanner users must pass through electronically controlled turnstiles with biometric palm readers to enter an area. Like card-access systems, biometric devices enable management to electronically monitor, track, and print out reports of when and where individuals access or attempt to access areas.

Creating Community However, effective security approaches often need not be high-tech solutions, but common sense, community-based efforts, experts say.

For instance, multifamily properties with well-maintained landscaping and building exteriors indicate that residents, owners, and managers care about neighborhood safety and quality of life.

“Building layout and design, as well as the management model, can have a major impact on perceived and actual public safety, especially in senior communities and inner-city neighborhoods,” says Ed Hord, principal of Hord Coplan Macht, an architecture and design company specializing in multifamily housing in Baltimore.

For example, placing staff offices, community rooms, outdoor patios, and related support spaces near seniors housing or other types of multifamily housing complex entrances provides an extra layer of supervision for the facility. In contrast, Hord found that public spaces placed in the rear rarely were used.

Creating a feeling of ownership among residents is important to establishing a safe environment, Hord says. Residents who feel the building is their home tend to protect both the property and other residents.

Sometimes building owners proactively work with local law enforcement to improve neighborhood security. Chuck Wise, CCIM, a partner in Sperry Van Ness in San Diego, has collaborated with the San Diego County sheriff on each of his apartment complexes through a local anti-crime program. Building owners and managers attend a one-day seminar sponsored by local law enforcement agencies to learn how to initiate procedures that help to create safe neighborhoods.

The program's most effective tools include:

  • a neighborhood watch program that stays alert for areas easily breached by outsiders;
  • owners who agree to include a crime-free addendum to leases that provides broad powers in evicting residents with a pattern, or even the appearance, of illegal activity;
  • close coordination with community-oriented police services;
  • cosmetic improvements and routine maintenance, including removing graffiti, painting, repairing leaky roofs, and upgrading decks;
  • trimming bushes and trees to remove visual barriers;
  • marked parking spaces;
  • low-sodium, high-intensity lighting on the grounds; and
  • enforcement of written rules and regulations.

Cameras also can be tied into cable television systems so residents can view entrance and exterior areas.

While cameras and patrol services on large properties may be somewhat effective, overall, the best security is free, Wise says. “It's a management style vs. an expense. Neighborhood residents who report problems and respond to solutions create safe, secure neighborhoods. We are not afraid to let people know who is running the building and enforce the right for clean, safe environments in our properties,” he says.

These efforts have raised property values by as much as 30 percent in a relatively short time, he says. In one instance, Wise cleaned up one of the worst buildings in a neighborhood, removed graffiti, obtained new leases with anti-crime addenda from all tenants, and dramatically increased the appearance, safety, and ambience of the property in under three months.

Retail Safety Security at retail centers also entails a community effort.

Owners, managers, and tenants should watch for occupancy changes, increased vacancy rates, and the nature of the clientele in the area, because ultimately, everyone will carry costs for additional security in common areas, such as lobbies, halls, and public zones, says Athena Z. Harman, CCIM, CPM, CSM, president and owner of Harman Asset Management in La Jolla, Calif. For example, Harman may charge tenants 6 cents psf for armed guard patrol. Other centers in the area might charge 4 cents psf for a less-costly approach; however, after a shooting or other violent incident, reconciliation of annual costs at year-end may increase security costs, which get passed on to tenants.

Harman advises the following approaches for enhanced shopping center security.

Be Aware of Physical Surroundings. Building owners and managers should take notice of neighborhood changes and marketplace demands. For instance, vacant properties may attract undesirable elements to an area, discouraging other shoppers.

Keep Buildings in Optimal Condition. Windows should be kept clean and landscaping well maintained so it doesn't obscure visibility to storefronts and entries. Police cruisers and private security patrols must be able to see what is happening inside.

Maintain Outdoor Lighting Levels. Broken or burned-out lights in parking lots, at loading docks, and in alleys should be repaired or replaced promptly.

Know What Others Are Doing. Building owners should be aware of security measures at similar properties to maintain security and establish an industry standard. Should a case go to court, expert witnesses often are called on to address an industry standard for a community as a benchmark for accepted conditions.

Make Regular On-Site Inspections. Owners should visit their centers at least once monthly, ideally once or twice weekly, to keep an eye on the building, talk to tenants, and get a first-hand report about any new concerns.

Keep Good Records. Prepare quarterly reports for tenants to fill out, asking if any security problems or other concerns have arisen and if reports were made to the local police department. Have security guards fill out reports as well and keep reports on file.

Have the Area Patrolled. Regular vehicular patrols are the most effective. If cost is an issue, periodic staggered patrols are an alternative, although they are easily breached because they may be too sporadic to see any inappropriate activity. However, if patrols are too predictable, those waiting to break in or do damage will calculate the precise window of opportunity they seek.

Some of the most high-risk areas in retail centers are automated teller machines and armored car pick-ups. To avoid unnecessary risks, managers should consider several precautionary measures. They can: control the timing of routes and cash pick-ups, but not necessarily on a predictable schedule; prohibit unholstered guns in common areas and limit armored guards to service corridors; offer a bank drop at the property or recommend an armored car pick-up so tenants can avoid taking cash to their cars; and situate ATMs in well-populated areas or near entrances or exits rather than in remote locations and install good video surveillance cameras nearby.

Legal Considerations Property owners and managers who do not adequately address security run the risk of liability claims and exposure to third-party lawsuits by tenants and guests, warns Mark Levine, CCIM, CRE, CPM, director of the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction at the University of Denver.

However, having security measures in place but failing to maintain them also can lead to liability, especially if tenants expect one level of security and receive something less than what was promised.

For example, landlords who install around-the-clock guards or buzzer systems, but change the hours or fail to maintain the alarms, may be subject to liability if something happens. Similarly, inadequate lighting with faulty switches that do not turn on when needed also can increase risk.

“Before you install a security measure, think it through,” Levine cautions. “Implications of undertaking additional security steps may not reduce, but increase, liability.”

Levine recommends keeping several considerations in mind. First, before buying a building, review existing security systems. Second, develop security standards guidelines or a checklist and determine what to maintain, upgrade, change, or add. Third, review the financial implications and operational exposure of all security options. Fourth, find out how building owners could be held responsible for the criminal acts of a third party on a property.

Applying the principles of good security to commercial properties is a winning combination for both building owners and tenants and will result in safer neighborhoods, more livable communities, and enhanced quality of life. Security magazine's Web site at provides links to various security products, services, and articles.

For property owners, the benefits of security may translate into higher property values, fewer tenant problems, lower maintenance costs, less risk, and reduced liabilities. Developing comprehensive security planning goals and strategies is the best way for building owners to realize and bank on these substantial benefits.

Barbara A. Nadel

Barbara A. Nadel is a free-lance writer and architect based in New York City who writes frequently about security and technology issues. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.


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