What keeps estate managers up at night in 2022?

Residential Security Handbook 2022: Smart Estate Living Editor's Choice, Security Services & Risk Management, Residential Estate (Industry)

What risks are estate managers facing today? What do they expect to have to deal with in the coming year? Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked three estate managers to join us around a virtual table to discuss what they are focusing on at the moment and what their biggest challenges in the coming year will be. Below is a summary of the discussion we held, although in most cases we have generalised what was said in order not to give too much detail about any specific estate.

The estate managers we spoke with are:

• Vagn Nielsen from Pezula Private Estate,

• Carla Durand from Xanadu Nature Estate, and

• Colin Hume from Eagle Canyon Golf Estate.

One of the main issues estate managers face today is that of perimeter security. This, of course, is nothing new, but for estates with poor perimeter security, getting the required budget to strengthen their long perimeters is not always the easiest of tasks. Additionally, due to the nature of these large estates, not only are the perimeters long, but there is also a lot of vegetation which makes it easier for those with nefarious intent to hide, both outside the perimeter and within once the perimeter is breached.

Technology is naturally a great help in assisting in securing the estate, but one must always remember that technology doesn’t last forever. Upgrading existing infrastructure is as important as finding new ways to protect the estate as it allows one to ensure the status quo of the environment’s security posture is stable. This, in turn, allows the estate manager to examine ways to handle new threats as they emerge without being bogged down in keeping outdated and inefficient systems running.

The human factor

Despite the latest and greatest technology out there, the human factor is always one of the primary risks to deal with, sometimes in terms of people colluding with criminals, but mostly when people make mistakes. Not noticing an intrusion on the perimeter in the control room or writing it off as a false alarm (or just ignoring it), for example, becomes easier after an operator has spent hours at their job.

Retaining a good security company with carefully defined SLAs (service-level agreements) is critical in preventing this, but there is always a chance that someone makes a mistake. This is heightened by the fact that the security industry sees a high turnover of people, such as control room operators, which means training them is a constant demand and the market also sees new, inexperienced people coming into the job quite regularly.

The issue is exacerbated as during their training, things are simpler as the trainees have one screen in front of them and learning with their peers is simpler. When they enter the ‘real’ control room, they are faced with multiple screens and multiple cameras and other alerts bombarding them all at once and their lack of experience can allow them to be overwhelmed, with resulting problems.

One estate has resorted to having their security service provider running a second offsite control room as a backup where any alarms that are missed or ignored onsite are raised in the offsite centre after a certain time.

Another option is to make use of more technology and run a ‘black screen’ control room, as one of the estates does. This control room relies on analytics to manage the camera streams and only alerts operators when there is a problem or a potential problem when the analytics is not able to make a definite decision. This naturally requires the estate to have the cameras with analytics onboard, or the onsite management software running analytics on the camera streams. And, of course, they need to ensure they have high quality camera and analytics to avoid the technology also making mistakes that could prove costly.

Managing contractors

Given the porous borders of South Africa, there are a number of illegal immigrants in the country and some contractors hire them as they are generally cheaper and can’t really appeal to labour legislation if they have a complaint. This is another issue for estate managers as they now have to check any contractors that come onsite to work on residents’ premises, including all the workers they will be using. The penalties estates (and other organisations) face if it is found that they are allowing illegal workers onsite are steep.

As a result, many estates have made it a policy that all contractors and staff working for them need to have their IDs and work permits (if applicable) checked by a third party before they are allowed onsite. Some have extended this to include domestic workers, gardeners etc. Getting these verification services done quickly can be a problem, but Durand says Xanadu has a provider that generally provides a 24-hour turnaround time.

The pros and cons of remote services

While there are some estates that have adopted cloud services to the extent of outsourcing their control room to a remote third-party provider which is responsible for managing their camera feeds and alerting the onsite guarding team and/or guarding provider if there is an event, not everyone is confident in these services.

While it sounds good and budget-friendly to be able to have your control room offsite and only to pay for the service instead of the hardware and software generally found in control rooms (not to mention the people), the PoPI Act is a concern for some, as the estate is responsible for any personal information that is sent to a provider and that subsequently finds its way into the public domain.

The data in question is not simply that of people’s faces, but can also include access control information, including ID numbers, car registrations and other personal details.

There was also strong agreement that, while some are fine with having cloud services, they don’t see it as a reliable first layer of security. With electricity blackouts a common occurrence and often lasting for longer than the two hours Eskom promises, fibre lines go down too and even redundant wireless connections can fail after their tower batteries run out – if they haven’t been stolen.

In some cases, having the extra AI analytics available from a cloud-based control room is a benefit, primarily because the skills onsite are not up to speed. But the reality is that estate managers want their data onsite and under their control so that the data is always available, even when running on their own backup power.

Relying on Eskom will simply leave the estate security teams blind if they rely only on cloud services. As a backup or additional service, they are all happy to have the remote service available and some estates certainly make use of them, but the data, whether it’s video or an alarm from a fence, needs to be available all the time.

Estate management is a riot

In 2021, everyone was shocked by the riots in South Africa that destroyed (or stole) billions of Rands worth of infrastructure and equipment. While none of the estates at the round table were directly impacted by the riots, they all have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place.

In one instance, the Covid lockdown was a help in firming these emergency plans up as the estate in question has assisted living among other sectors of the estate. Making sure that clean water and food could be delivered to these areas was part of the Covid response and this has allowed the estate to be prepared. It has relationships with additional security companies external to the estate as well as suppliers to ensure that if a complete lockdown is required, the essentials can still be supplied to those living on the estate.

Another estate has industrial areas near it. The estate manager made sure it solidified relationships with surrounding community protection and other organisations and even had patrols in surrounding areas where trouble could potentially start. Together these organisations had plans in place to block roads leading to residential areas to stop any attempts (if they occurred) to get to residences.

The estate also had additional security measures at the gate in case the rioters made it through, but this was obviously of a last resort. In addition, inside the estate residents were also organised so that they would know of any incidents and what to do about them. The estate manager said there were attempts to incite people in the surrounding areas, but because of the cooperation among the various organisations these were stopped quickly.

Even in the Cape, where there were no riots – not successfully initiated ones – the estate has regular meetings and exchanges of information with neighbouring estates and the CPF (of which it is a member). It also runs patrols in certain areas external to the estate to create visibility into ‘dark’ areas as an early warning to the area.

Choosing service providers

While there are many experts in security available, both in terms of manpower and technology, estates generally choose to have SLAs with fewer companies in order to simplify the management of their technology and people. This is often easier in the busy areas as many companies have offices and resources close at hand, allowing the estate to select the best option for their needs.

When estates are out of main areas they obviously enjoy the quiet life, but they also don’t have security companies on their doorstep, so it makes it more difficult to get people onsite when something goes wrong. Even if big companies set up shop in the area, they will have enough personnel to meet their SLAs but additional value-added services such as medical or specially trained riot teams, for example, won’t be on hand.

This does not mean that one company does everything for any estate (except when there is no other option). Most estates split their SLAs between the guarding and the technology portions of their security (some even split these among different providers) in order to get a better picture of what’s happening. If the estate manager gets reports from both sides and notices a discrepancy, it means someone isn’t fulfilling the terms of their SLA and the issue can be addressed. If the same company handles everything, there is a chance the discrepancies will not make it to the final report the estate sees.

Another bugbear among estates in general is integration and developing APIs and other means of integrating security systems to allow them to work together. While some companies ‘take a chance’ and are willing to do integration work on their products for a fee, more are realising that the ability to work with other competitors’ products easily is no longer a profit centre, but a necessity.

One estate manager has changed suppliers because of additional integration fees the incumbent tried to charge, while others ensure that any suppliers know they won’t even be at the table if they are not able to integrate with other products and solutions. Moreover, many estates today will not even entertain the costs of developing an integration.

The budget nightmare

Budgets are what keep estate managers up at night. People living in estates want the security to enjoy their investments, but often don’t want to spend the required money to get that security. However, despite the estate manager being in the firing line, it’s the decision of the residents through their HOA or board. If the estate doesn’t want to pay for the security their estate and security managers recommend, they are the ones making the decision and they will have to live with it. As one person notes, one murder or one rape on the estate and they will see the value of their investments decline rapidly – and that is ignoring the human factors.

An option another estate manager advises is to break it down into smaller steps or phases that can be upgraded or improved over time. There are almost always things that the estate can keep as is for a time while the biggest risks are sorted out. It’s also important not to go to the HOA with a budget request, but to do the risk assessment and highlight the risk to the estate and its residents first before talking about solutions and cost.

Identifying the risks and presenting a long-term plan to deal with them, including maintenance and upgrades is the way to go. This approach also shows the benefits of buying quality products that will stand the test of time and still be performing their tasks effectively in five or more years – many top-tier products can safely be used for up to 10 years if they are maintained correctly.

The budget also plays into one of the biggest risks the estate managers foresee in the coming year and that is stock availability, whether for products or parts for repairs. There is already a longer waiting time for stock and it doesn’t seem like this will improve in the near term (see the article The Supply Chain Pandemic at www.securitysa.com/15542r for more on the security industry’s supply chain woes).

The impact of this will either be longer downtime for equipment as the estate and its service providers have to wait for stock to arrive, as well as higher costs. Even though estates plan for maintenance and breakdowns and are often insured for damages, this doesn’t help when the stock can take weeks or months to arrive. The alternative, as one estate has done, is to ‘find’ the budget to have more spares onsite as ‘hospital stock’, ready to be used when something goes wrong.

There may also be a knock-on effect for estates because sending people out for training has been difficult over the past two years. Online training is available in many cases, but in many instances the classroom experience is better because it isolates the trainees from work or family issues and lets them focus on learning.

As an aside, it is interesting to see how many estates have moved to touchless access control. Whether touchless fingerprint readers or facial recognition, this seems to be becoming the norm in large estates. Moreover, the latest upgrades to these technologies are making it even more reliable and user-friendly, but estates often find they have to train the users to make these systems work – such as telling them they actually have to turn their head and look at the facial recognition cameras.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions would like to thank Vagn Nielsen, Carla Durand and Colin Hume for taking the time to participate in the virtual round table.

Find out more about their estates at:

www.eaglecanyongolfestate.co.za

www.pezulaprivateestate.co.za

www.xanadu.co.za


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