The COVID test for estate business continuity planning

Residential Estate Security Handbook 2020 Editor's Choice

An estate is a small city where the CEO and security manager fulfil the function of cop and kindergarten teacher, and everything in between. In times of emergency, the role of cop becomes more important.

At the Residential Estate Security Conference in Durban in March this year, which took place just as the seriousness of COVID-19 was becoming apparent in South Africa and two weeks before the national lockdown, Vagn Nielsen, CEO of Helderberg Village in the Western Cape, mentioned that the conference should have had a presentation on the coronavirus and how estates were preparing for the pandemic.

Of course, our preparations were complete long before the pandemic was a ‘thing’ so it was not on the schedule. However, during the introduction, I asked the delegates what they were doing on their estates with respect to coronavirus precautions, springing a surprise on Nielsen by asking him to highlight what Helderberg Village had done and was doing.

What became clear to all was that preparation was key. If an estate did not have a plan B, they were suddenly looking at a panic situation when the President announced a lockdown and gave everyone three days to prepare.

As a case study in preparing for something we would never think could happen, Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke with Nielsen about his preparations from before the lockdown was announced through to Level-3 status of the lockdown.

Preparing for the unexpected

Business continuity is the processes businesses put in place to ensure their operations continue in the event of an emergency. The lockdown was the first time in South Africa that these plans were put to the test on a national scale, and many businesses suffered as a consequence of poor planning. Of course, some businesses are hard to run from home when they involve being on client sites and so forth; but most business continuity plans cater for issues like prolonged Eskom blackouts, riots and general unrest, union activities, floods, fires, terrorist attacks and even earthquakes. Few took the concept of a pandemic that would lock down an entire nation for three weeks seriously.

Residential estates were in a similar boat. Emergency plans do not generally cater for extremes, but rather ‘expected’ problems. In scenario planning terms, these are the unknown unknowns, the area where we don’t know what we don’t know. The four areas of scenario planning are, to put it simplistically:

• Known knowns, things we are aware of and understand; things we are certain of and therefore plan for.

• Known unknowns, things we are aware of but don’t understand; we know there are things we can’t predict, but can plan for.

• Unknown knowns, things we understand but are not aware of; others are aware of the risks and can assist in planning to deal with them.

• Unknown unknowns; things we don’t’ understand and are not aware of, and can therefore not plan for.

It’s possible to plan and prepare to various degrees for the all of these except unknown unknowns as we have no clue about them. Now some may say that a pandemic is a known area of risk, but in reality, most would probably plan for the impact of a stray asteroid before thinking about a national, let alone global, pandemic – until now.

Communication and action is key

Nielsen was one of the few estate CEOs at the conference that started preparing for the impossible as soon as news of the danger of COVID-19 started spreading. As a village for retirees, the residents at Helderberg Village were in the category of people most at danger from the coronavirus and the first step for Nielsen was to inform residents of the virus, its symptoms and what they should do if they thought they may be infected. He also made sure outsiders knew what was happening by posting information on the village’s website and social media platforms.

Similarly, all estate employees, from the guards at the gate through to the golf and restaurant staff, were informed and educated about the virus, its potential symptoms and, importantly, how to deal with the residents. After the lockdown announcement, instructions about what residents were permitted to do or not were revised. For example, the restaurant, sports facilities and all communal activities ceased, although food delivery from the restaurant was permitted.

Apart from home deliveries from the restaurant, the estate also allowed residents to buy a basket of essentials from the caterers, which was also delivered to their homes. The ATM within the village was also operational to ensure villagers could draw cash as needed. Nielsen says there was really no reason for the residents to leave the village, or even their living areas.

Who gets in?

Controlling who gets into the estate was also critical to the Helderberg Village plan and once the lockdown was announced. Nielsen only allowed one access gate to remain operational and access was denied to anyone except residents, essential services employees and emergency or external essential services. The employees and companies that had access were all registered and had the necessary permits. The biometric access controls were also disabled for everyone except the villagers to stop even the possibility of outsiders infecting the fingerprint readers.

The gate guards performed temperature screening on everyone entering the village, and this included all the people in every vehicle. Villagers with a temperature were sent to the healthcare facility before being isolated in their homes. Non-residents with a high temperature were denied access. Staff with a high temperature were sent home and all the guards were regularly screened as well.

The estate remained fully functional, apart from the facilities that were closed, and the management team was equipped to work from home. Some staff that were not ‘deemed’ essential were given paid leave.

In the event of medical problems, the nursing staff were kitted out and able to assist. The village also had a number of maintenance teams in place (plumbers, electricians, TV specialists, etc.). Naturally, rubbish was collected and disposed of, while the maintenance on the golf course and bowling green was kept to the minimum necessary.

Some residents received regular food deliveries, but these were dropped at the gate, sanitised and transferred to a sanitised container and delivered by the security team. No unnecessary access was permitted and no concessions to walk dogs or exercise was given until the lockdown moved to Level 3.

Nielsen says that a clear and decisive plan of action was necessary and it needed to be implemented with the full cooperation of staff and residents; moreover, everything needed to be communicated clearly to residents who also needed clear lines of communication should they have queries or need to be updated on the latest regulations.

Up to the time of writing, the measures taken have protected the 1200 residents of Helderberg Village from COVID-19 and life on the estate is set to slowly return to normal as the restrictions are eased.


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