Protecting Tenants Against Theft

March 4, 2009

By Michael Fickes

How do you ensure that the people you let into your buildings won’t leave with someone else’s property? How do you control access to buildings? What policies govern who can enter? What procedures control entry? How can you coordinate your security program with programs run by tenants?

Different buildings, of course, need different levels of security. An office building in a Midwestern suburb probably doesn’t require sophisticated security. But, Chicago’s Sears Tower does, as do many major buildings in large cities across the country.

A security consultant can assess a building and its environment, and recommend an appropriate level of security.

“The most basic form of access control is a building pass issued to tenants’ employees and shown to someone – a security officer or other owner representative – when entering the building through the lobby,” says David Aggleton, president and principal consultant with Tarrytown, NY-based Aggleton & Associates Inc. “A photo ID badge would be even better.”

Proximity access-control cards increase security once again. Users would present cards to a reader mounted on a lobby desk. A light would turn from red to green to indicate a valid card.

Depending on a property’s security assessment, a busy lobby in an urban environment might go even further and install turnstiles in front of the elevators and escalators that take people upstairs. People would present cards to sensors on the turnstiles to get through to the elevators.

How does any of this prevent theft? Beyond communicating that the building has fairly strict security, it probably doesn’t.

As a general rule, tenants handle security inside their doors, while owners take care of the lobby and common areas. To help prevent theft, a tenant can coordinate its internal security program with that of the landlord. For example, if an owner requires everyone coming into the building to wear a photo ID, a tenant with security concerns should require everyone to wear photo ID badges.

Everyone, of course, includes visitors who are attending business meetings or delivering pizzas. Allowing visitors to enter a building without badges makes it impossible to identify strangers who might also be thieves.

Today’s security technology includes visitor-management systems that can read driver’s licenses and print out badges with names and digital photos – all within a minute or so.

A building with a visitor-badging policy must also manage visitors entering at the loading dock. These visitors might include janitorial crews, package delivery services, contractors, and others who are performing work. Each visitor entering from the loading dock receives a badge.

When an owner implements a universal badging policy, a tenant can use it by requiring everyone to wear his or her photo ID. The office manager can ask employees to approach strangers not wearing a badge, or wearing a badge issued to another tenant, with a polite offer of help. Being questioned – politely, of course – will likely give a thief second thoughts.

Another way to manage visitors is by using escorts. A tenant’s representative would escort a visitor upstairs to a business meeting. Tenants would also escort delivery people from the loading dock. A visitor-badging policy can supplement escort procedures for tighter security.

Some owners set up their own internal delivery services that sign for and deliver packages.

To achieve a higher level of security, an owner might contract with an outside security guard service and direct security officers to manage the flow of people in and out of the building through the lobby and loading dock. Officers can also patrol common corridors and stairwells, checking utility rooms and access areas to the roof to make sure that no one has hidden somewhere to wait for the building to empty out at night. They can question anyone not wearing an ID badge.

“Patrolling officers can perform other duties,” Aggleton adds. “They can make sure the fire extinguishers are properly pressurized, and that the fire hoses are in the cabinets with the glass doors closed. They can even make notes of maintenance needs, such as burned-out lights.”

While the security responsibilities of building owners and tenants differ, the key to effective security in a multi-tenant building is coordination. For example, no matter how diligent a landlord is in making sure that everyone who enters the building has a badge, a tenant who fails to connect to the landlord’s policy of requiring everyone to wear his or her badge will not receive the full value of such an anti-theft program.

Michael Fickes is a freelance writer and owner of Fickes & Co. Inc., a Baltimore publishing firm with experience in the security industry.

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