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Security Systems 101

Below are some quick tips on how to review your site security systems to ensure that you are getting what you need.

Depending on your contract arrangement, providing security systems and equipment may or may not be the responsibility of your security services contractor. Either way, it is a good idea to examine if the security systems presently used at your sites are sufficient and operating in good order. As security systems are often costly, it will always be a dilemma between cost, benefit and necessity.


Are there cameras in all critical areas of the building? An absolute must is to have cameras covering all entry/exit points, including the loading dock/moving area. Other areas that are good to cover include: lobbies, including lobbies in the underground, mailboxes, recreational facilities, underground parking and garage ramps.

Cameras should be infra-red, to get decent image quality in minimal lighting conditions; tamper-proof, as cameras are often victims of vandalisms; and weather-proof, as your cameras have to function in all conditions.

Are the Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) stored securely? DVRs are some of the most significant items to protect. Aside from being expensive pieces of hardware, DVRs store very important video footage. You’d hope that this doesn’t happen, but if a serious crime is committed on the property, the criminal may attempt to destroy the DVRs to get rid of the video footage of the crime. DVRs should be stored in a well-secured room where nobody but security and property management have access to and that is difficult to break into.  While DVRs are stored in a secure place, the monitors showing footage and playback can be placed at the concierge desk. With modern technology, many CCTV systems even allow remote viewing through your phone or through an internet browser.

Another important question to ask is how long the footage is stored for? Many modern systems are now recording only when camera detects motion, allowing them to save the storage space and to store video footage covering a larger period of time.

Access control system

Does your business have an electronic access control system (i.e. fobs and access cards), a key access control system, or a combination of both? Despite the significant start-up costs, there are numerous advantages to having an electronic access control system:

  1. Ability to remove access. If a residents moves out or a fob is lost, access can be removed from their fob remotely, so that it will not be able to get anyone into the building. Keys can be duplicated and it is hard to confidently say now who has the access to the building.
  2. Ability to track access. With this system, it will be possible to pull a report of who accessed a certain door and when.
  3. This system could be integrated with the garage remotes
  4. Fobs are cheaper to issue than keys.

Patrol Tracking System

Does your business have a patrol tracking system? Patrol tracking system is a system that would allow you to ensure that the security guards are actually doing the patrols they are supposed to and check the areas that have to be checked. Normally, these systems are fairly easy to set up and not too expensive (you can get a decent one for under $600). These systems consist of the following:

  • Station tags to be placed around the property in key areas.
  • Scanner/wand
  • Patrol management software

Once everything is properly installed, every time a guard would go on a patrol, they would be required to scan every station tag. A report could then be pulled up, indicating exactly when and where the security guard was during their patrol. This will help ensure that the guards cover all key areas during their patrols. Key areas would normally include mechanical rooms, side exits, lobbies, stairwell exits, a few tags in the underground parking, etc.

Alarm Monitoring

Does your site have a fire alarm system? If so, information about the monitoring has to be readily available to security guards, property managers, and the superintendents. This information, on one sheet of paper, should include the following:

  • Name and phone number of the monitoring company
  • Building ID
  • Building code
  • Script to be used when calling the monitoring company

Elevator Intercom

What happens if somebody is stuck inside one of the elevators? Is there an intercom in the elevator? If so, where does the call go once the button is pressed? Does it go to the monitoring station or to the security desk? If it goes to the security desk, what happens if the security desk is not manned when a call comes in?

It is a good idea to have the elevator call go straight to the monitoring company, who would then be able to dispatch a technician and let the security know. Even if your condo has 24hr security coverage, there will be times when the guard is on patrol and may not be able to receive the call, especially if they are patrolling the underground parking.

Once the security guard becomes aware of an elevator entrapment, does he know what to do? What do they do if somebody inside the elevator experiences a medical emergency? Does the guard know when to call the elevator mechanical company vs 911 (emergencies). Are the phone numbers readily available?

Panic Buttons

Does your site require the use of panic buttons? Panic buttons allow for alerting the monitoring station by pressing a button when in distress. This is a quicker and more conspicuous way of letting somebody know you are in danger. When the monitoring station receives the phone call, they have the option of dispatching 911 to the site immediately or go through a contact escalation list (i.e. security desk, property manager). What exactly the monitoring station will do will depend on the established protocol. If the site is vulnerable to threats, I recommend having a protocol where police will be dispatched right away. A few other things you should know about panic buttons:

  • Panic buttons could be remote or stationary.
  • To activate a panic button, you would have to press and hold the button for a couple of seconds. Pressing it and immediately letting go will not activate the panic button, as this prevents accidental activations.
  • Stationary panic buttons should be strategically located throughout the building and employees must be aware of their locations. Some of the locations may include the property manager’s office, security desk, recreational area, underground parking, etc.
  • Certain people might have a panic button on themselves as well. This should include security guards and the property managers/administrators.
  • All panic buttons will be tested weekly.
  • All employees would have to be properly trained on using and testing the panic buttons

Security Phone

Is there a phone at the security desk? If so, long distance calling should be monitored and not allowed unless it is necessary for the building operations. Disabling long distance may not be a good idea, because sometimes residents would have long-distance phone numbers in their emergency contact information.

When the security guard is on patrol, he should still be reachable. The security guards must have a company-issued cellphone and forward the desk phone to the cellphone every time they leave the security desk. A patrol cellphone serves 2 purposes: guard can phone somebody in case an emergency arises during patrol and the guard stays reachable by the residents/tenants at all times.