Security Residential Estates

The concept of a secure estate has been with us for many years.  Certainly, from my minimal knowledge of history, people have been putting walls around their dwellings or in fact towns for security and safety reasons, for thousands of years.

With the high crime levels in South Africa, the concept caught on quickly. In theory, it provides a secure living environment with increased property values.

Having been involved in excess of 12 such estates from a design, construction and management perspective, there are many stories to tell.  The jury is still out on the perfect solution.  The following observations may be good for generating further comment, or just to nod our heads in agreement.

HUMAN FACTORS

With all our endeavours we find the human factor plays a big part. The average purchaser of a property in a security estate understands, or is told they are buying security and lifestyle.  We all are aware that the higher the level of security, the greater the impact on people’s ability to go about their everyday lives.  These two issues do not work comfortably together.  “I paid my money for security.  Give it to me but don’t make me work to all these rules.”

And then we have the criminal element who sees the secure estate as a “shopping centre” of high value clients.  These clients have bought security, so open doors, open windows and no alarms leave the shops open for easy picking. And by the way, the criminal often does not have to “break in” to the estate.  They work on the estate for various reasons, or even as has happened, rent a house in the estate to be close to “work”. Enough of the human factor.

THE DEVELOPER’S DILEMMA

The perfect solution is to find a balance between the development cost and the operational costs.  This usually requires a high developer’s cost to keep operational costs down.  The developer does not however usually enjoy a return on investment that reduces operational costs. Finding the correct formulae is therefore a challenge.  In our experience, the marketing literature often over sells the developer’s offerings and the purchasers have an expectation that exceeds the marketing story.  This often leaves the developer in a conflict situation with the residents.

Our most successful estates have been the ones that formed a security sub-committee early in the process.  This group has developer and resident members from the beginning.  They can then jointly “tune” the security solution and the resident group becomes part of the solution.

THE ECONOMICS OF ESTATE SECURITY

As mentioned above, a balance between developers cost and operational cost requires careful planning and agreement.   In addition, there are other not so obvious parameters that need consideration, such as the length of fence (boundary) versus number of stands to sell.  If a stand has to support an excessive fence length at today’s costs of fence plus detection etc. then it is difficult to make the sums work. The number of access points has an impact on both the developers cost and the running costs. Staffing of entrances is costly.

The security manpower plan needs to be resolved very early on.  If anything is cut, when times are tight, it is the manpower.  A well designed control point with good information and control, manned correctly, saves money in the operational phase. We have also found that the specifying of long guarantees on products is enormously beneficial in the operational phase.  A 5-year product guarantee gives the estate 5 years to get up and running and become financially stable. Enough of the “soft issues”, what about technology?

THE TECHNICAL SOLUTION

In most cases, the estate security technology will consist of :

  • 1.    Well constructed perimeter fence.
  • 2.    Fence electrics as a deterrent.
  • 3.    Fence monitoring system for alarms.
  • 4.    Under dig protection on the fence line.  In high density estates, we find solid walls with CCTV as an add-on.
  • 5.    Access control at entrances with pre-designed methods of control of different categories of users.  This often leads to separate contractor’s entrances.
  • 6.    CCTV for high risk areas and in some cases along boundaries as well.
  • 7.    Control centre that brings the whole system together.
  • 8.    Guard monitoring facilities are useful add-ons as well.

In our experience the most costly and most difficult to provide, is an economic and secure perimeter.  There are many “Hi Tech” products on the market that have proven to be unreliable and not suitable for our environment.  In most cases the electric fence is the chosen solution. Unfortunately, maintenance is high and in coastal areas particularly, the false alarm rate is high.  This is an area that can do with some innovative solutions.

The access control solutions are generally well covered.  Our only comment is that the system employed must record the time and date of every person gaining access and egress.  Codes and slips of paper do not help when trying to solve the crime. The improvement of biometric technology is starting to make its use less painful.  We can expect more improvements to come.  The only rule is, when designing the access control solution, think it through with all possibilities, there are many.

A big winner is to divide the estate into internal zones that forces multiple access transactions.  It has the advantage of more information on people’s movements when solving the crime. With regard to CCTV, we find many installations have cameras to improve the WOW factor.  Each camera must have a clear purpose.  An extra R500.00 on a camera can make such a difference between a good and bad picture.

We also find it makes good sense to define the camera purpose as :

  • (a)    For recording and later review, and/or
  • (b)    Alarm driven and/or
  • (c)    Live surveillance.

This then helps write the standing orders for the control room staff.  Nobody watches cameras 24/7, so there has to be another plan. And then the integrated control room.  This is the most important part of the installation.  When planning this part of the security, a number of issues are important :

  • (a)    Ergonomics.
  • (b)    Systems that reduce operator load.
  • (c)    Data collection for investigations, audit and maintenance.
  • (d)    Security of prime components from tampering.
  • (e)    An environment conducive to providing a good service.
  • (f)    And most important a control room staff monitoring system to complete the loop.

Too often this component is placed in a left over place, with monitors in positions that are difficult to watch.  The equipment is then stacked  on shelves in a cupboard.  You walk outside to see the wonderful landscaping and upmarket estate. How many are aware that the control room is not world class like the estate?  We are seeing changes in the right direction, let’s keep it going.

THE OPERATIONAL PHASE

When the system is commissioned and the estate security is in place, it’s time to put procedures in place.  This becomes a subject on its own.  An average security system can often be made very good by having a well managed operation.  At the end of the day, people cause crime and people will do the solving.

This phase should have processes that :

  • 1.    Ensure the manpower is awake and working to plan.
  • 2.    The CCTV is functioning, recording and giving the expected storage times.
  • 3.    Audit the CCTV, access control and alarm monitoring systems to check that the initial set ups have not changed.
  • 4.    Have audit procedures to confirm functionality and highlight problems so that the system can be improved, or discipline non-conformance.
  • 5.    Have a training plan and implement it.
  • 6.    Evaluate the control room data to look for trends.  These trends can be of a criminal nature or maintenance nature.  Both will continue to add value.
  • 7.    Have a monthly management report that provides an overall summary to keep the estate management informed.

And then above all, keep talking to the residents to make them part of the solution.  Keep talking to all other visitors and workers on the estate to keep up with the news and maintain your intelligence network.

With all this in place, the only disaster is when there is a crime and you can’t solve it.

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