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Linda Palfi
CNC Properties
Box 47033 Creekside, Calgary, Alberta
P: 403-998-7732
F: 403-592-8002

Condo security worth upgrading


Whether your condominium community is brand new or 30 years old, it's likely that its security could be greatly improved. And while improvements cost money, it's justifiable to spend reserve funds to get the job done, although I'm also a supporter of a special assessment for a priority like this. As any insurance adjuster will tell you, even one break-in avoided can save a loss equal to the cost of a complete security overhaul. And that's before considering the prevention of a possible physical assault.


The purpose of security, of course, is to keep out those who would steal from us or do other mischief to our common or personal property. If we can't entirely keep those people out, our goal is to limit their movement within the property, to slow them down so they might be noticed and caught. Beyond that, we want to identify the culprits for evidence after the fact. Let's follow this hierarchy from the front door of a high-rise condominium apartment building.


Most front doors of condo buildings are simply key-lock secured. A slightly higher standard is the non-reproducible key system, but it's still a poor approach, as a single lost key defeats that barrier. The minimum standard should be a programmable-key system, which means that the coded electronic fob or card that's lost or stolen can be deleted from the door's operating program. Once that's in place, the building should adopt rules that require lost keys to be reported to the manager, so those keys can be disabled.


While we're standing at our building's front door, we should also see that it has a tamper-proof plate from top to bottom, to prevent someone jimmying the door open. At the intercom we should see last names only, and code numbers, as opposed to suite numbers. Listing more information can allow a burglar to learn which suites are unoccupied, and can also allow him or her to appear to be a resident by quoting names and suite numbers. I've identified unwanted guests just by asking what suite they're attending, and the reply being a non-existent number. "Out you go," is my reply. Intercoms can also ring through to cell phones, so that even when you're away you can monitor who's rattling at your door.


A sticker on the front door should warn residents not to allow others in when they enter. In fact, house rules should prohibit doing so. When showing homes once, I held the front door for a woman who first thanked me, and then scolded me for breaching her home's security. But good for her, as she'd rather fumble for her keys than have me let anyone off the street past her home's first barrier to the unwanted. Calgary's experience a few years back with the so-called nursing home bandit should remind us that a thief can also be a young blond female.


Inside the lobby we should see bright lighting and locked doors. If fire exits open into the lobby, they should be locked and have tamper-prevention plates; make the unwelcome party turn to the elevator, taking more time and making them nervous. They may choose to leave your building instead. An even better standard is to lock exit stairwells at every floor, making them one-way exit corridors only.


Elevators can also be secured with keys if electronic security is too costly, as it's not that hard to upgrade old elevator controls. A simple key switch costs $250 installed. One key could be required for any floor button to be activated, which is cheap and simple. A more costly option would be to individually key-switch every floor button. At the least, secure the top floor of high-rise buildings this way, as burglars know where the best pickings are likely to be. As for bringing up guests on a secured elevator, just call it up to your floor when you know the folks are on board. If you have multiple elevators, specify which one to use.


If a culprit has come this far, at least one security camera should have picked up his image for display on any cable-connected TV in the building. Better systems use multiple cameras, split-screen imaging, and also have 24-hour or 48-hour digital recording loops. Grainy pictures after the fact, though, aren't worth much. Far better that residents take a block-watch approach, question people politely, and then report anything suspicious while it's still under way.


Beyond the lobby, outside areas should be brightly lit and fenced to the extent possible, but certainly exterior stairwells should be gated. An in-ground garage's exit stairwell, for example, can have an attractive high metal fence and one-way gate. Surface parking areas should be fenced, even if it's impractical to have a car gate clanking open and shut. Just fencing the area restricts access and flight, making some burglars shy away. Oh, and the garage's doors into your building should be locked in both directions. The best standard is another programmable key system, but at the least lock those doors with non-reproducible keys.


Many of these measures are not convenient for residents, but security never is. When we make it hard for the unwelcome, we also make it a bit ponderous for ourselves. Pay the price; good security is worth it

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