Talking security..with the Nightwatchman
Thursday, 17th February 2011
Good morning class. Righty-ho, let's start with identifying the common areas that are most prone to creating 'trouble' for stratas, in a security sense.May I have the envelope please? And the winners are: entertainment areas, rooftop terraces, workout/exercise areas (gymnasiums, pools, saunas & spas) and garbage areas. And the encouragement award and runner-up prizes go to garages – particularly visitor parking spots, and garden and lawn areas. Next, let’s define what ‘security’ issue means in strata-land. It means more than just the traditional definition of security – you know, keeping out the bad guys, preventing vandalism and theft, keeping residents safe and so on. Security in stratas today is really about two things: first, ensuring that all residents (and their guests) comply with by-laws and accepted codes of behavior, and second, protecting the strata against claims – whether it’s negligence or compensation claims. Really, security in stratas today is as much about ‘management’ of risk and OH&S, as it is about hi-tech security gadgets out of Mission Impossible, or big burly security guards. Next, let’s look at these ‘troublesome’ common areas, and the issues and problems that stratas can encounter when people use them. Let’s begin our little tour, shall we? Rooftop terraces or outdoor entertainment areas: Let’s see….there’s late-night parties, noise, loud music, and throwing stuff off the balconies (very dangerous, and – sadly – quite common). Then there’s ‘slip & fall’ compensation claims - these are usually as a result of accidents during drunken escapades and hi-jinks (“look at me, Ma, I can FLY!” sort of thing), in my experience. And let’s not talk about the replacement of broken or damaged items, or the cost of cleaning up afterwards. Gyms, saunas and pools. Well, the most common problem here is abuse and breakage of the expensive equipment. This is teeth-gnashing stuff for Exec Committees, as they have to write cheque after cheque to replace stuff busted up by thoughtless idiots who ‘drop’ 200kg weights from head-height onto the new flooring – or drunks who think a dip in the pool or the spa at 3am is a “trooly great idea (hic)”! But, my friends….and I do mean BUT – the much larger problem lurking in the shrubbery with these type of common areas is…. potential lawsuits arising from accidents in these areas.
A word about lawsuits. You see, when a compensation claim starts up, the insurance company looks around real hard to see if they can identify any poor schmuck (this term includes individuals, companies, organizations or strata) they can blame for the accident, and therefore get the said poor schmuck to pay, instead of the insurance company. So, if the strata can’t easily prove it has carried out its ‘duty of care’ and been duly diligent, then they can get sued, essentially for negligence, although it’s called ‘contributory negligence’ so you can feel a bit better about it. The trick here is to use security technology to defend your strata against such claims – and the good news is that it’s pretty simple, easy and inexpensive: more of this later. Garbage Areas. Having visited about a trillion strata garbage areas in my time (I need to point out here that I can be prone to slight exaggeration on occasions), my first thought is that the major trouble here is their smell. My God!! However – the real problem a strata needs to constantly manage is the dumping of the contents of an entire flat – (basically worthless cheap furniture, stained mattresses etc) when the drunken yahoos from Unit 473 are eventually evicted, or their tenancy or visa expires. In high-rise inner-city stratas in particular, this is almost a weekly occurrence. Apart from the inconvenience, as the stuff usually fills the entire garbage room to the point that poor old Mrs. Garrulous in Unit 631 can’t even find room to deposit her used hair-pins – apart from that, I say – it’s very expensive. One inner-city strata I know (they are clients of mine) spend an average of $70k per year on removing this stuff! Garages and Visitor parking. In the coming weeks, I’m going to devote an entire column to garages, which shall be scarily entitled “Garages: The Soft Underbelly of Stratas”. Not to spoil the surprise, but thieves are more likely to gain entry to a strata via the garage than any other method. But, children, that’s a story for another night. Right now, the big headache in terms of managing common garage areas is that old chestnut, abuse of visitor parking. And no prizes, either, for guessing who the culprits usually are…that’s right, Johnny, and well done: it Is, indeed, the residents themselves! And don’t forget: just to make it real difficult, you can’t touch their car, block it in or have it towed away….and good luck with trying to fine the car’s owners: the strata has NO powers whatsoever to enforce any fine, as NSW strata law currently stands. Fun, isn’t it? Garden and Lawn Areas – I will very simply cover off the most common and vexatious problem for the poor members of Executive Committees re this area, by saying two words: Dogs. And cats. And their personal ‘litter’. Need I say more? Other issues include residents on the ground floor ‘appropriating’ a part of the garden/lawn as their own personal area, and/or said residents using these areas to store rubbish, junk or wrecked cars etc (Mind you, if it’s wrecked cars, I’d suggest those stratas have WAY bigger problems than this to worry about…) Now class, I hear you saying “Gosh, Mr. Nightwatchman, please tell us what can we do about this mess, Your Cleverness?” Well, I’m glad you asked….because, in fact, there’s quite a lot you can do, pro-actively, to address all of these issues, and many more. Now ask me how…… Okay, “how’, you ask. How do you ensure resident’s compliance with by-laws, and protect the strata from claim, as well as provide security and safety of persons, in these areas? Let’s go with my favourite tips: Rooftop terraces and open entertainment areas can be very simply addressed by ‘auto-locking’ these areas with a simple access control system. This is dead easy if your building already has a card-based access control system, and still pretty simple and inexpensive even if you don’t. Here’s how it works: at 10pm – or whatever time you set – the door or gate to the terrace or entertainment area auto-locks. Anyone inside can go out, but, once out, cannot return. I often design such systems with ‘door-ajar’ sounders that emit a high-pitched screech that drives the would-be party-goers nuts if they try to wedge the door open. Placing a CCTV camera or two in these areas is also really, really effective at controlling rowdy behavior, as all residents know they are under video surveillance. Video images are also there to defend the strata against a claim that someone slipped and fell on your dangerous floor, by showing that the victim was, in reality, dead drunk and skylarking when they tripped over their dancing partner. Exercise Areas. Same deal here – auto-lock these areas as well, so as to protect your strata against claims of ‘negligence’ (can you believe it!) by leaving these areas open late at night and allowing some drunken loon to go inside and injure themselves. Same applies also for cameras. One very up-market client building of mine in the Eastern Suburbs was facing expensive litigation following an injury sustained to a resident in the gym – until video images showed clearly the person over-stacking the weight-load on the exercise machine and then pulling it down over himself. As they say on the ads….”Case Dismissed!” I’ve also re-designed some building’s access control systems, to bar any child under 15’s building access card from entering the pool. This action laid down an audit trail of a ‘duty of care’ by the strata, in not allowing younger children unaccompanied into pool areas – and providing a defense in ‘slip & fall’ compensation cases…which are very, very common in pool areas. Garbage Rooms. Clearly, you’re starting to see a pattern here. Yes, once again, CCTV in the garbage room is a well-proven initiative that drastically cuts down this problem. Once residents know they have to ‘smile for the birdie’ when they go into the garbage room – and will therefore be identified and the costs of removal of their junk taken out of their bond money – problem solved. I worked in a CBD high-rise that had garbage rooms on every floor and couldn’t identify everyone (the building had thousands of residents) – so we also added card readers on the garbage room doors, so that the building manager could check the audit trail and identify which unit card had been used to access that garbage room, and when. Worked a treat. Garage Visitor Parking Abuse. Pssst. You gotta access control system in your building? You know, with cards and little readers with light on ‘em that open the door when you hold your card near it? You do? Then I got really good news for you, buddy. There’s a really simple, inexpensive and brilliantly effective solution here. What you do is this: you turn on the ‘anti-passback’ part of the access control system. This is a ‘counting’ program – counts people in or out, and doesn’t let a card be re-used a second time. Now, this feature can control or limit the number of each resident’s allowed vehicles into a garage at any one time – and the major cause of visitor parking abuse is residents bringing more cars into the garage than they have spaces for. Let me explain: let’s say a resident has two parking spots. So, once we turn on ‘anti-passback’, the system counts in the two cars, and won’t let another vehicle in unless that resident’s card is used at the garage exit to take a vehicle out. Ah, I hear you say, but residents will just go ot the exit door and swipe their card on the reader and fool the system. No, NO, I say…because we install a sensor loop nearby (really, a large metal detector) so that if they’re not actually in a vehicle when they badge the exit reader, the door won’t open and the access control system won’t be fooled. Now, this system can still be subverted in some cases (such as intercoms with remote garage release) but we have ways around that too….but I’ve probably told you too much already, and you could be in danger, so I’ll stop now. Okay, class, you’ve all done very well. An exam will be held shortly, but I think you’re all getting the drift here. The key points of today’s lesson are: 1) Security systems are really smart tools to ensure resident’s compliance, and protect the strata from claims. 2) You can do a lot on a small budget if you’re innovative and clever. 3) The more an EC goes pro-active on these issues, the greater the compliance of residents – and…most importantly…..troublemakers and difficult tenants tend to depart the scene. That’s all from Mr. Nightwatchman for now, as I have many, many residents and buildings to protect in my very busy day. However, I may say more next issue – and probably will Bye for now – and stay safe out there…
The Nightwatchman has his own security section in the forum at www.stratalive.com.au/forum