Complex security can be simple

May 2008 Residential Estate (Industry)

Developers of residential complexes tend, quite naturally, to focus on the design and building requirements for the units that will generate the profits.

The impact that security measures can have on profit is sometimes not sufficiently considered, according to John Powell, product manager: security at Blick South Africa (BSA). "Potential house purchasers are highly-motivated by the choice and quality of security measures that have been implemented when they are considering making a purchase," he says.

"A well-designed and implemented security solution can be a serious deal-making sales tool. Developers also stand to benefit, as they would be able to market the estate at a different level and therefore secure higher sales prices per unit than would otherwise be the case. It is also a lot more cost-effective to get it right first time and contract, specify and install adequate security systems throughout the complex."

The time is right

Another important factor is timing. Ideally, developers should consult with a reputable security expert when the complex is at the design phase. Powell adds, "There are a surprising number of issues that are easy to correct on the drawing board but difficult and expensive to correct when attempting to retro-fit security measures at a later point.

"Service and maintenance contracts are another issue that is all too often left out of the equation. This is a major focus at BSA where we offer a highly cost-effective rental model. At the complex level, we find it is simple and cost-effective to amortise the cost of the equipment across the units and charge a percentage of this cost for service and maintenance contracts, which then form part of the standard levy. Individual home owners are not going to find this so easy or cheap to accomplish piecemeal as there are very few providers that are willing or able to service single households," comments Powell.

Through bitter experience, buyers are also more aware these days of the difficulties they will face in attempting to implement improvements through the homeowners' association. Anyone who has sat on a committee knows how hard it can be to reach consensus when more than two people are involved and one meeting per month can mean years will pass without a resolution being taken. Everybody also has different ideas about what should be done and who should do it. Powell advises, "If this is the situation however, I would strongly advise the association to get a proper scope of the current situation and possible solutions from a reputable consultant."

There is no single, one-size-fits-all solution. Each site is unique and the overall design elements will, to some extent, also dictate the correct applications.

One common error right at the front door is the lack of easy access for large vehicles such as delivery or removal vans. Large complexes may well have a separate truck lane but this aspect still has to be considered even in the smallest complex.

Another common mistake is the lack of consideration given to effective control of pedestrian traffic flow. Powell comments, "Having people ducking under or around booms is a very bad idea. How are guards meant to keep control over access when there is no legitimate channel for pedestrians? It is just too easy for criminals to blend in with the crowd. There should be a separate pedestrian entrance, preferably with a turnstile installed."

Scale is an important consideration when deciding which security features and applications are to be implemented. More stringent controls (see Sidebar below) are required where there are higher levels of services such as gyms, restaurants, and golf courses because there are more personnel required to provide these services.

The rise and rise of biometric applications continues at pace and this feature is increasingly considered suitable for residential complexes. "Access cards and remotes are a liability, even if your address is not attached to them. Criminals have been quick to understand how to press the 'home' button on GPS systems now commonly installed in vehicles," explains Powell. He adds, "And who would knowingly enter into the never-ending administrative nightmare of dealing with lost or stolen cards or cards being passed around?"

Finger on the pulse

Fingerprint-based access control systems, although more expensive than remote or card-based systems, offer higher levels of security (particularly for unmanned access points) and lower operating costs.

Other popular access control solutions include systems where the owner of a unit is contacted via intercom and makes his or her own decision whether to press a button on the home intercom that will open the complex gates. Powell comments, "This system has the benefit of removing control from guards who are vulnerable to duress at the gates." Running costs are added into levies.

Remote control

Off-site monitoring is also taking off at the higher end of the market. "There are several advantages that off-site monitoring can offer if CCTV is to be installed," explains Powell. As it is a third party monitoring the cameras, it helps to keep guards honest and they are also more proactive in responding to alarm events because they are focused on this specific task. These companies have sophisticated alarm management software that will always outperform guards who have many tasks to perform.

Powell concludes, "Market positioning, size and volume of visitors are the major factors influencing choice of access solutions. If high levels of services are offered, this might indicate that a time and attendance function should be incorporated in the access solution. This is easy to implement because of the modular nature of the software involved.

"There are many security solutions available today and they can be configured to meet virtually any scenario. For this reason, perhaps the most critical advice I could offer to developers is to take advice from a reputable security solutions provider while the project is still on the drawing board."


One of the latest developments in biometrics is a software application called EVIM (electronic visitor information management). At its simplest level, visitors or staff simply enter their ID number and press a finger onto a Sagem biometric fingerprint reader to confirm their identity before being granted access.

This data is sent via GPRS to a national ID database where the details are verified and then stored on EVIM's secure servers at Verizon. Frequent visitors can be set up on the database so that only the fingerprint is required.

Marius Coetzee, managing director of Biodentity and creator of EVIM comments, "EVIM can be easily configured to meet a wide variety of requirements that users may have for specific data such as employee numbers and contact details."

Any company that deploys large staff numbers to a variety of locations such as residential complex administrators or property management companies should consider the benefits of having a registered and vetted staff database that could be used to enable fast access for genuine workers to a range of buildings – and to ensure that impostors cannot hide in the crowd at controlled access points.

For more information contact Blick South Africa, +27 (0)21 506 8000, [email protected],

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