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Property Managers Talk Security

Sept. 7, 2011
A recent focus group probed the views of property managers on security issues such as defining building security, balancing guards and technology, and managing security costs. Comments made by participants read like a how-to manual for building security.

At two recent focus groups, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies probed the views of property managers on security. Issues explored included defining building security, balancing guards and technology, surprises to avoid, managing security costs, and return on investment (ROI). Comments made by participants read like a how-to manual for building security.

Defining Building Security
For John Scott, a focus group participant and director of client occupied and investor services with Cushman & Wakefield’s Miami offices, security is a mindset that “encompasses security technology, security people, tenants, and geography.”

Different locations require multiple strategies, Scott finds. “For instance, in a downtown Miami office building, I expect to see cameras, a guard desk, or both. If I don’t, I’ll have questions about security. Then again, you might see less security in buildings located in central and northern Florida.”

Scott’s mindset changes when the tenants change, too. National and multi-national tenants typically want a higher level of security than local and regional tenants, he observes.

Balancing Security
Security needs balance, says Richard King, a senior manager for Colliers International and another focus group participant. “Different clients expect different kinds of security,” he says. “One client may want you to manage visitors carefully to guard against theft or workplace violence, while another cautions against a system so strict that tenants and employees feel uncomfortable. You have to balance these desires.

“You also have to balance security people and security technology. While we all rely on technology, it is important to have enough security people to make judgments about and to act on the data produced by technology.”

Avoiding Surprises
Security surprises can be maddening.

Many focus group participants railed against the difficulties of integrating base building security technology — access control, for instance — with tenants’ technology. In fact, the groups rated this one of the top security challenges they face.

“Everyone says open systems make integration possible. But even open systems sometimes don’t share enough key data points to allow effective integration,” says Scott. “When you’re buying technology, you must ask very specific questions about integration.”

A security officer’s knowledge level about technology can surprise a property manager as well. “When we first installed pan-tilt-zoom mounts for our video cameras, half of our officers didn’t know how to use the controls,” says King. “We learned to ask our guard company to make sure their officers were trained before we installed new equipment.”

A number of focus group participants also reported that they look to vendors for security concepts but often come away disappointed. “Don’t just come to me for transactional sales,” says one participant. Another complained that vendors should carry out risk assessments before making presentations, but often don’t.

“I agree that vendors should be more consultative when selling products and services,” says Geoff Craighead, CPP, BSCP, vice president with Universal Protection Service, who agreed to comment on some of the opinions voiced in the focus group discussions. “But when it comes to security assessments and strategy, I think it is better to rely on a fee-based consultation from an objective independent consultant.” 

The Cost of Security
Property managers agree that buildings must execute a security strategy adequate to the task of mitigating a building’s security risks.

Depending upon the prevailing market rents for particular classes of buildings in certain locations, a property manager may or may not be able to recover security costs through rents.

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure, and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies, and technologies.

“We heard comments about this several times during our focus groups,” says April Dalton-Noblitt, director, commercial real estate vertical market with Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. “The upshot was that you must have an appropriate level of security for the type of building, location, and client or you will not be able to lease the building. If you can’t cover the cost in the rent, you have to pay for it. 

Return on Investment
The cost of security and the difficulties connected to recovering security costs in rents has led property managers to seek ways of creating a security ROI.

“In the long run, security is part of a building’s amenities,” says King. “It increases the marketability of the property. New technology and top-notch guards give me a competitive advantage. That’s how I look at ROI.”

Technically, though, ROI means investing and earning a profit or return. For instance, today’s access control technology can integrate with environmental controls so that a building system can turn on heat or air conditioning in an office when someone cards in after hours or on weekends. The ROI comes from savings on utility bills.

“Security can sometimes offer opportunities to produce an ROI,” agrees Craighead. “But you have to be careful to take advantage of those opportunities without compromising security. Security has to come first, and sometimes a necessary security execution won’t produce ROI simply because it can’t.”

These focus groups took place at the end of June 2011 at the BOMA International Conference in Washington, D.C, and in New York City.

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