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Security: Hitting a Moving Target

December 13, 2018

By Kathy Danforth / Published June 2018

The goal of security—protection of people and property—hasn’t changed, but challenges and solutions are constantly evolving. Technology may provide new options, or a pattern of problems may necessitate a new approach or application.

       Gil Neuman with Kent Security explains, “As a responsible vendor, I’m also a consultant, so I constantly bring updates on the newest technology and advice to community boards, so they know the choices they have.” Neuman highlights one situation that most communities are facing:  the consequence of all that online shopping. “In the world of Amazon, every community is confronting an avalanche of packages every day. In the old days, security might handle 7–10 boxes a day; now they literally get hundreds. It’s a space issue, it’s a liability issue, and it is really overtaking the job of security personnel,” Neuman states.

       “We are promoting the new companies that create lockers for a residential setting,” Neuman advises. “Packages are delivered directly to each resident’s locker, and the owner is sent a code to present to pick it up. No employees are involved in the process. Right now, this is the hottest item. I recommend this system for everyone.”

       Neuman shares another security situation where technology provides an alternative for communities struggling with safe storage of unit owners’ keys. “Condominium law requires the association to have a key to each unit to have access if a pipe bursts or there is an emergency. The problem is how to keep the keys secure. Over the years, I’ve seen the keys put in a box and numbered, with the book listing which key goes to which unit kept in another office. A little secret in the industry is that when people don’t trust the system, they provide a ‘wrong key.’  You think you have access, but you don’t because the owner wasn’t confident in the protection of his key.”

       “Now, there are companies that have developed a computerized key control system. The only way to get a key out requires a code, password, and fingerprint. The system records the time and checkout information so there is full accountability,” Neuman relates. “And if the residents trust the system, they’ll provide the correct key.”

       Other new technology that Neuman describes replaces the vintage tele-entry system where a visitor enters a three-digit code to call the unit, and then the owner opens the gate. “Nobody uses that now because we don’t have telephone lines. We are pushing the ButterflyMX, a cloud-based smartphone video intercom that looks like a tablet. It is connected straight to a smartphone and keeps a complete record.”

       Ben Griggs with Ramco Protective explains their software solution to solve the problem communities may have with delays at the entrance gate. “Ocean Hammock, a community we provide security for, had an issue during rental season with traffic backing up on the highway, such that the police were being called regularly to help direct traffic. Through our Applications by Design Inc. (ABDI), residents can send a ‘boarding pass’ QR code to renters or guests. This expedites entry tremendously. Instead of a printed pass on the dashboard, it’s on the phone, so it’s non-transferrable, and a guard scans the pass at the gate. It’s secure, since no one hands their phone out. People don’t have to worry about having pages of leases and getting turned away if they don’t have all their rental paperwork, which happens at some communities if you don’t have copies of everything. You can’t really abuse this system; it pulls up the make, model, color, and license information for the car as well as the driver’s license information. For Ocean Hammock, entry times improved drastically over the last three years using this system. All our communities have the ability to utilize this method.”

       The ABDI security system also enables fine-tuned access for situations with a condominium located within a gated community. “You have to gain access to the front gate and then the high-rise,” explains Griggs. “Each resident in the high-rise has an individual access level.

       At the gate, the system recognizes the need for another method to enter the building, and it prints a unique code, which is entered at the front door. It is time-limited and controls elevator access so a guest can only go to the designated floor.”

       For those who wish to get away from using stickers on vehicles for entry, there are new options. Griggs notes, “If you drive a Ferrari, you may not want a sticker on it; and also, stickers can be used fraudulently because they don’t always break as they should when they are removed from a vehicle. One new method to avoid stickers is to place a camera in the resident lane to capture (and match) a picture of the license plate. Another method is by using Bluetooth, so the resident’s phone is the method of access to the community, clubhouse, or other restricted amenities. When you’re about ten feet away, you open the app to enable access. The credentials are unique to the phone,” Griggs reports.

       With a little ingenuity, existing systems can be adapted to fit the need of a community. Brie Peterson with Envera Systems shares that due to safety issues with grills at some associations, security was needed. “By installing an access control system on the grills, the community is able to control who has access to turn on the grills and who does not,” she states. “Only residents with the unique credentials are granted access. This allows the community to know who is using the grills and at what times. If there is a fire or the grill is misused, the community can refer to the database and transactions to see which resident used it last. This system is also set to shut off the grill after a certain period of time to prevent fires.”

       Peterson describes another instance where a solution was adapted to fit the community’s problem with vandalism of community signs. “One homeowners association that we worked with was facing vandalism issues on community signs. It was determined that children waiting at bus stops in the community were defacing the signs. To help, Envera Systems installed active video surveillance. This system uses video analytics and smart cameras to proactively monitor a designated area. Envera and the community designated a perimeter, or invisible trip-wire, around the signs. Whenever anyone crossed over that line, a signal was sent to Envera’s Central Station where a virtual guard could see the situation and speak with any person in the area. Only landscapers were allowed there, so Envera’s guards would demand anyone else step off of the area. Typically, an active video surveillance system is only used at night for amenity areas that are closed. However, in order to accommodate this community’s unique situation, the system was active at all hours.”

       Neuman explains how they have assisted communities on the beach who could not use lights because of turtle nesting season, which can last six months. “The turtles make security take a back seat,” he remarks, “so we use infrared lighting for the cameras. It costs a little bit more, but those are the cards we are dealt. However, standard lights do have a deterrent effect, so sometimes communities don’t realize that the dark is an invitation for trouble, since violators are not aware of the cameras.”

       In dealing with specific maintenance situations, communities should remember that there may be security components. Seth L. Coleman, attorney with Siegfried, Rivera, et al., cautions, “When repairing items on the property, communities should consider potential security implications that may arise over the course of such repairs. For example, if the association’s gates are malfunctioning, and thus are required to stay open, then the association should consider implementing additional or around-the-clock on-site security during this time. Additionally, it is arguable that the association’s responsibility to maintain the common areas of the association extends to previously installed security devices. If the association is not maintaining and operating security cameras that were already installed, then the association may be subject to greater liability than if they had no cameras at all.”

       Gun violence is a security concern that has jumped to the forefront, especially in Florida, and associations may wonder if they have the power or obligation to take pre-emptive action to prevent, if possible, incidents in their community. One proposal to curb these tragedies is to remove firearms from individuals who show signs of posing a risk via a “gun violence temporary restraining order.”

       David Podein, a partner with the law firm Haber-Slade, advises, “If the Florida Legislature were to pass a ‘gun violence temporary restraining order’ law, the impact on community associations would depend on the specific language of the gun violence TRO. Specifically, the class of persons that would be permitted to request the court grant a gun violence TRO would need to be written in a broad enough (or specific enough) manner to include the community association or potentially the association’s management agent. The typical language in proposed and hypothetical gun violence TRO laws allows for family members, roommates, and potentially employers to file and obtain the TRO—and does not specifically include community associations or management agents in the class of persons that would be allowed to file and obtain the order against the subject person. Community associations could assist by notifying the persons in the specifically articulated class and documenting all troubling incidents and rule violations that might be related to obtaining the TRO, but I don’t anticipate such a law (if proposed and passed by the legislature) would specifically include, and thus create a new duty for, the community association.”

       Independent from any TRO legislation, Coleman states, “Depending on the association’s governing documents, the board of directors may be able to regulate the presence of firearms on the association’s common areas at member and board meetings. Florida court decisions provide that an association’s rules and regulations must be reasonable, proper in scope, and not in violation of any constitutional restrictions. If the proposed rule is so broad that it completely bans firearms from all of the association’s common areas, then it may be perceived as a violation of an owner’s constitutional right to maintain firearms in their home. In particular, such a rule could be considered unconstitutional because it would likely prevent an owner from bringing firearms into his or her home by prohibiting the transport of firearms over the common area property.” Coleman also comments, “An association should be mindful that by preventing firearms at board and member meetings, there could be additional liability and exposure for the safety and security of its members. If the association enacts such a rule, then it may wish to consider implementing extra measures for the safety and security of its members by providing other forms of security (off-duty police, etc.).”

       A topic closely related to security, as well as other community issues, is mental health. In the article on page 14, Donna Berger, attorney with Becker, provides observations on how communities can assist a resident and protect the community when a resident’s mental state is affecting their safety or the safety of others. Whatever the issue, it is important for communities to realize that establishing a security program is not part of the history of the community; it should remain a part of current events.