Estate security (problems?) start at the gate

Residential Security Handbook 2021: Secure Living Editor's Choice, Access Control & Identity Management, Integrated Solutions, Residential Estate (Industry)

Hi-Tech Security Solutions hosted a round table discussion in partnership with Milestone Systems on the topic of residential estate security at the Indaba Hotel in Fourways, Johannesburg. We hosted a few people who are in the trenches when it comes to the daily operations of their estate’s security systems and processes to determine the major issues they face today.

The discussion raised some insightful points as to what estates are facing in terms of security these days (of course, the round table was held before the Zuma riots in July, which simply add to the problems estates need to deal with). As it was, we had to end the conversation with many outstanding points not discussed, but many estates will recognise their own problems in the discussion.

The full, uncensored video of the discussion is available at In this review, we will highlight a few of the issues raised and the solutions used or desired by the security professionals around the table. As a disclaimer, we will not refer to any brand names in the article, however, the open discussion does mention brands and the estates’ experience with them; these experiences are the opinions of the speakers and should not be interpreted as endorsement or sanction.

The estate security professionals attending the round table were:

• Jaco Gerber, security manager, Kyalami Estate.

• Kallie Steenkamp, risk manager, Serengeti Golf Estate.

• Frikkie Ehrke, security manager, Jackal Creek Golf Estate.

• Johann van Niekerk, estate manager, Jackal Creek Golf Estate.

• Mark Lightfoot, operational manager, Blair Atholl Golf Estate.

• Colin Hume, security and risk manager, Eagle Canyon Golf and Lifestyle Estate.

• Kerry Marshal, security supervisor, Eagle Canyon Golf and Lifestyle Estate.

• Robert Hlongwane, security manager, Blue Valley Golf Estate.

The estates represented at the round table are all large, most with different precincts as well as entertainment venues – like golf courses and/or conference centres. While we all know that the perimeter of an estate is key to the overall security of the environment, most of the issues these security professionals face on a daily basis happen at the gate – hence the title of the article.

Naturally these issues don’t actually all happen at the gate, but the processes and controls are all based at the entrance to estates and in the guard houses and offices where entrance is managed. Apart from the direct challenges of Covid-19, estates have also seen new issues cropping up as a result from people working from home and many government departments shutting down or, to be more polite, not working at full capacity.

Arlette Yomi and Llewellyn Davies.

One issue, which is not new, but has increased dramatically over the past year, is controlling deliveries. Large estates can have hundreds of deliveries every day, from small packages sent by pharmacies to groceries and large appliances. Often, these deliveries have products for multiple recipients in the same estate, which makes tracking them more difficult.

In some estates, the guards at the entrance contact every resident to confirm they are expecting a delivery and then get a call a few minutes later when it hasn’t arrived. Alternatively, they may get a call from residents who see a ‘suspicious vehicle’ driving around as the driver tries to find the right address. The issue is to know all the points of delivery the driver must go to as well as to be able to monitor where he/she is at any point in time.

Eagle Canyon has managed to resolve this issue by attaching a tracker to each delivery vehicle (in a way that doesn’t damage the paintwork), allowing it to track the vehicles in real-time. The security team therefore can see where the vehicle is, knowing how many stops it has made etc. The benefit of this tracker is that if the driver removes it, security is alerted and can send someone to investigate (an alarm is also raised if the driver leaves the estate with it still attached). Other estates make use of LPR cameras at strategic points within the estate, which also enables them to track where a vehicle is and where it’s headed with reasonable accuracy.

Contractors and asylum seekers

The age-old question of which contractors (plumbers, electricians, builders and even domestic workers) should be allowed into the estate is still a burden. Simply getting a copy of their ID documents or recording their vehicle information is no longer enough. Most estates are finding that fraudulent documentation is at the highest level ever.

The same applies to asylum seekers. Apparently, getting false papers granting one asylum and the right to work in South Africa is not at all difficult. Furthermore, the estate manager or security manager and the estate itself, will be legally liable if they have illegal immigrants working on the estate. The penalties include a hefty fine and/or jail time.

This has resulted in many estates retaining the services of companies to vet the identities of workers coming onto the estate, with many of them being exposed as illegals. Even some residents who have employed a domestic worker for years have suddenly found they are here illegally and can no longer be granted access to the estate as the legal liability isn’t transferable to the resident, even if they want to keep their employees.

The problem even extends to people living on the estates who are legally in the country. Because of the backlog in processing and renewing applications for asylum (due to the pandemic), some people find their papers are out of date, even though they have made regular trips to the relevant Home Affairs departments. The queues are now longer than ever with Covid lockdowns, with many being given a number and asked for their contact details, to be told they will be called when they are near the front of the queue.

Of course, this is a perfect breeding ground for those who are willing to ‘do it on the side’, often using official documents and stamps (stolen, of course) to give the appearance to the individuals of being here legally – until the person goes through a vetting process.

Needless to say, legalities don’t seem to matter when people want work done on their residences (especially when it can be done cheaply) and security is almost always seen as getting in the way. This is a common complaint against security personnel, no matter what they do, something is always their fault.

The same vetting problems arise when it comes to tenants, but the security operations have less control over this and there are various processes in place to smooth these issues out when a renter is shown to have a criminal record, for example. Yet it remains a problem and security teams are often called upon to intervene when some people are unable to peacefully coexist.

It’s always security’s fault

One participant told the group about an extreme experience he had as a security manager living on an estate. Due to illegal connections to the electricity cables running into the estate, there were numerous blackouts and he was blamed (the connections and faults were outside of the estate and under Eskom’s control, or lack of it). The situation escalated to the level that the person had to leave his home on the estate and live in a hotel for a few days to prevent some residents doing him bodily harm.

While this type of threat is not the norm, we hope, security personnel, especially the officers who respond to events and alarms, or who are simply doing their rounds, are always in the wrong according to many residents. Body-worn cameras (BWC) have therefore become a must-have in some estates in order to protect security officers from abuse.

They are also good tools for recording criminal activity, but in the estates where BWC have been adopted, they are used more often to prove that security personnel acted professionally and the residents who are complaining were unreasonable. The number of complaints that have to be dealt with reduces dramatically when the resident receives a video clip of their interaction with security.

As a side note, BWC are also useful when complaints of barking dogs are investigated as the audio will provide proof of the errant animals long before a guard is anywhere near the gate of the residence.

Calling security is not always the incorrect option from residents however, even if the complaint is not security related, as many of the operational aspects of an estate rely on the technology installed by the security team. For example, control rooms are used for more than security operations and remote control rooms (although not a popular option) are being used to monitor an additional variety of Internet of Things (IoT) devices on the estate, from landscaping to power usage and more. (Of course, the way people handle the complaint process is the biggest bugbear for security personnel, who would generally be happy to assist when a polite request is made.)

Social media and messaging apps are the best and the worst when it comes to open communications. While they make it easy to direct queries and send information to estate security personnel, while keeping residents informed of events, social media in particular seems to be more of a gossip and defamation forum. Many estate mangers avoid it like the plague.

Messaging apps, on the other hand are great choices to supply information to groups about various issues pertaining to the estate, such as security events, electricity blackouts or water supply issues etc. Similarly, they can also be used to query problems and bring them to the attention of the relevant estate departments. Unfortunately, while many people appreciate the information and the easy communication forums, there are always those who have to make a point about something – not necessarily anything relevant, but they seem to think the platform is there for their entertainment.

Back to access control

One might think that, given the many years estates have had to battle with access control and all its components (especially contractor and visitor management), that this would be something service providers basically have correct. Yet there are still issues being dealt with on a daily basis. Some of these are ongoing, such as access to the information in real-time. For example, knowing who is in the estate at the moment, have all the contractors left at the end of the day, how long has a delivery vehicle been onsite and so forth.

These issues also relate back to the identity issue. Many estates have an access system that either calls the resident when someone arrives and they have to let the visitor in, knowingly or unknowingly accepting responsibility for the visitor; others still use the PIN method where a visitor is pre-registered and receives a PIN to grant them access. The problem is, a PIN can be shared so there is no way of knowing who the visitor is.

This is where technology used to scan driver’s licences and car registrations and numberplates has proved useful. This is not new technology, but some suppliers do not have the back-end infrastructure (onsite or in the cloud) to integrate and make this information available easily to security personnel. Many or most of these suppliers also have mobile apps to assist with pre-registration and capturing of information, which security, the residents and visitors can use to speed the entrance process – which one would expect these days.

However, some suppliers are often late in updating their apps to meet the latest mobile operating system upgrades, resulting in their apps being pretty useless until the updates arrive – because people seem to run updates on their smartphones as soon as possible, or even have it set to update automatically. This should be an exception, but many of the round table participants noted this, adding that they tend to migrate to suppliers that keep their systems up-to-date. The same preferences apply to the complete infrastructure; if you can’t integrate seamlessly with the various security products used in an estate, or if an upgrade in one solution causes problems in others, your Brownie points rapidly vanish.

While not a technology-related issue, the ability of suppliers (meaning manufacturers, developers, integrators and the like) to understand what the estate requires and make it happen is probably the best sales and customer retention tool they have. And despite what the Internet calls ‘trolls’ integration into messaging applications has also become a critical feature.

The ideal access control system is a ‘one-stop-shop’ that can deal with residents, visitors, contractors and those visiting the golf course or conference venue. This needs to include the functionality to see who is on the estate at any time (and where is also a bonus), highlight when people have stayed longer than expected, allowing security to check up on if there is a problem or if they are spending extra time at the 19th hole. This may require specific development for an estate, which can be costly, but the attendees note that if one estate needs a certain feature you can be sure there are others who want the same.

Yet another PoPIA email

We have all been inundated with emails about the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) in recent weeks. In an estate, the information collected at the gate as well as surveillance and other data collected inside the estate mostly falls under the definition of personal or private information.

Basic processes to protect this information, such as encrypting data, must be adhered to, but the signage at the gate and other venues must also be PoPIA-compliant in terms of informing people of what information is collected etc. It’s important to note, however, that estates’ service providers also need to be compliant and a compliance certificate is required. Even when lease agreements are in place where the estate pays a monthly fee to eventually own the equipment after a number of years, a compliance certificate must be provided until the ownership changes hands.

Anyone with access to sensitive information, which includes control room operators and other security personnel, as well as IT suppliers and maintenance companies, also need to sign an agreement stating they understand the requirements of PoPIA and agree not to divulge information. There are associations and consultants that provide explanations and templates that can be used as guides to adhere to the act and these may be a worthwhile purchase if an estate does not have its PoPIA compliance up to scratch.

Surveillance and more

As noted at the beginning of this review, access control and its components are critical factors for residential estates, but that is not to say that other security technology has been relegated to second place. Surveillance is still critical, especially for perimeter security and some estates are sharing perimeter video with their neighbours in an attempt to create a broader secure environment and avoid the approach of simply chasing criminals away from your environment to the one next door.

And, as noted, internal cameras are also becoming more popular for tracking and tracing people within the estate. Some estates have even used covert cameras to narrow down the field when a spate of internal robberies took place, leading them to the suspects.

Black screen monitoring in the control room is also becoming the norm as video analytics and AI become more reliable and links to external databases are allowing for quick access to stolen or suspicious vehicle lists, as well as fake registrations etc. And as noted, control rooms are being used for more than security as technology becomes more integrated, including having operators acting as a general helpdesk for the estate.

The attendees all support onsite control rooms, despite the growing availability of remotely monitored solutions. On the other hand, guarding services are still outsourced as a rule. There are numerous reasons for this, from labour laws to the availability of additional resources at short notice – such as tactical teams, dog handlers and even helicopters in emergencies.

This does not mean that the personnel are not vetted by the estate, but it does provide some leeway in dealing with human resources. Estates want the right people on site as most train their security-related human resources in the processes and procedures of the estate.

Security operations on estates are always high-stress jobs, despite some believing that an estate is a peaceful, uneventful location – after all, it is the job of security professionals to make sure their residents experience the lifestyle they desire. As with most other security operations, however, more is being demanded from security professionals than ever before, including delving into operational management. And while technology is useful to take some of the work away from people, security is still a business that deals with people first and foremost and keeps security professionals in estates on their toes.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions would like to thank Milestone Systems for sponsoring the event.


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