Many of us have watched films set in New York, where well-heeled characters live in Madison or Park Avenue apartment buildings managed by a highly engaged security concierge team that always greets them by name and occasionally steps in to help solve whatever narrative challenge they may be facing. It’s the stuff of fantasy—mainly because very few of us will ever be able to afford the luxury rent or prices that it takes to live in one of these elite buildings home to the ultra-wealthy.

But the point is that part of the resident experience is having that kind of high-touch concierge service on offer, at all times, delivering personalized service. To some, it’s just as important as the design of their living quarters or the number of parking spaces they have to store their collection of vehicles. Not every condominium property manager can deliver quite that level of service, of course, but they can create a unique environment for their residents.

An engaged, respectful and proactive security concierge team is critical to ensuring the protection of a property and the people living in it—and that should always be their primary responsibility. The COVID-19 crisis, with its numerous and varied building-access and health and safety restrictions, underscored the value of having well-trained and responsible security professionals at the ready. But in going above and beyond while doing their jobs, security concierge personnel can also provide added value to a residential community.

They can help improve tenant/owner attraction and retention. They can indirectly help drive up property values. They can make a building or complex a far more desirable community in which to live, which is the goal of any property management firm or of condo owners who are always eager to see a spike in unit valuations or monthly rents.

So, what does it take to build a highly engaged condominium security concierge team? These are five of the key ingredients:

Effective recruitment

Choosing the right security firm is important for many reasons, but none more so than their approach to employee recruitment, onboarding and retention. Put simply, the service a security firm provides is only as good as the people who are providing it. Every security firm can deploy guards at a high-rise property, but the better ones put time and effort into carefully selecting their security professionals, in particular the ones who comprise security concierge teams. More than anything else, these professionals need to have experience and expertise in customer service— along with a client-focused attitude—to be successful.

Ongoing training

One of the many reasons why guards become disengaged is because they don’t receive adequate training in the onboarding phase. They often don’t have a full grasp of what their job entails or what they’re expected to deliver. Even when they are trained, security firms often rush the process and fail to set their concierge teams up for success. Speak to your security provider, ask questions about how they train their guards—including practical or technical considerations such as fire panel or security system operations and emergency procedures—and how they’ll provide training customized to the needs of your residential community.

Strong communication

It’s important for security companies to maintain strong communications internally to ensure their guards are updated on important information relating to the property where they’re stationed. A basic guard huddle at shift changes can help concierge teams share information, which should also be logged in daily reports and conveyed to the security provider’s management team electronically—and, when necessary, the building’s property manager. Even more crucial are a concierge team’s ability to communicate effectively with residents. They are the frontline service providers at any condominium and need to be able to intake, direct or address resident concerns. They also need to be friendly and attentive to deliver the kind of sunny service experience that should be the objective of any reliable security provider.

Performance expectations

It needs to be made clear to security concierge teams that the expectation is for them to create the kind of residential atmosphere that they might want for themselves or their families. That means working with your security provider to customize key performance indicators that can be measured and benchmarked over time. Concierge personnel that meet those lofty expectations should be rewarded with longer-term placements, which is also the ideal scenario for stability-loving residents who tend to appreciate seeing the same security personnel in their building lobbies from day to day.

Management accountability

The only way to enforce these expectations is by requiring full accountability. The best way to do that is to ensure that your security provider’s management team are on the ball, inspecting sites, providing necessary support to their concierge security teams, meeting residents themselves, interacting with the property manager or board and generally building a strong understanding of that specific community and its needs. When gaps emerge, those managers should take action before you even know there’s a problem.

If they work hard to motivate guards, treating them well and readily providing constructive feedback, you can rest assured that your concierge security team will likely stay fully engaged on the job—and your residents will keep smiles on their faces.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

A condominium restoration project is challenging at the best of times. Managing the complexity of large-scale capital repairs or upgrades, and accounting for the sheer number of logistical considerations to eventually arrive at a successful outcome, can tax even the most experienced condominium manager.  During the coronavirus pandemic, those already daunting obstacles have become far more difficult to clear—and underscores the important role that a condominium’s security team can play throughout a restoration program.

Damage related to water, fire or mold, or even long-term concrete and other forms of building deterioration, are just some of the many factors that can compel a condo restoration initiative in the first place. Remediating these issues is always expensive. They often arise unexpectedly and create an immediate sense of urgency—noise, dust and dirt, amenity closures and other disruptions including building access limitations can quickly heighten tensions while the project is underway. Careful planning can help mitigate those and many other issues that can compromise residents’ lifestyle experience and enjoyment.

The current complication, of course, is that the constant flow of tradespeople onto and off of a property can create COVID-19 exposure risks that must be minimized in order to protect an entire condominium community. The question is, how? Here are several ways that condominium property managers can utilize their security personnel to make a property restoration as comfortable and efficient as possible for all parties involved:

Take a team approach

The first step is understanding that it takes a team to manage a restoration project during a pandemic. Your general restoration contractor and their various trades and sub-trades will comprise the bulk of that group, but it’s essential to also include your security firm in the process. They’ll be on the frontlines managing, monitoring and ensuring that only authorized individuals can access the property—but also working with residents to address their concerns. In other words, they’re not simply security guards, they’re your frontline community managers. If an unforeseen situation relating to the restoration suddenly emerges—a trade accidently cuts a gas or water line, for example—they’ll likely be the first ones on the scene and to alert first responders and/or the restoration contractor. If a resident complains about noise or has questions about how the job is progressing, they’ll likely be the first ones asked to listen or pass along information on the condominium manager’s behalf.

Remember that this isn’t merely a building, it’s home to scores of people. Providing outstanding customer service is an expectation at any time, but a restoration project is an opportunity to demonstrate that as a condominium manager, you take clients’ happiness to heart. Security staff can be instrumental in driving that message home and reinforcing it through their day-to-day interaction with residents.

Leverage your guards’ diverse skills

Security personnel are the bridge between the parties affected by the restoration (e.g., residents) and those involved in its rollout (e.g., the trades). Your guards should have a full list of all tradespeople involved in the project from start to finish, if only to be able to verify their identity as needed. They should have a full schedule of work slated for various stages of the project. They should also be present when briefings are delivered to the condominium board. While their job is to ensure the safety and security of the property and the people occupying it, it’s also to help foster the right atmosphere and understand how the project is progressing—particularly important in luxury condos where a premium is placed on the resident experience.

As part of that process—and beyond having a general awareness of the project implementation plan—guards will need to conduct regular contact tracing in case an outbreak occurs. Having that information at the ready and being able to deliver it to public health officials and both your management team and the condominium board could mean the difference between containing COVID-19’s spread across a community, or seeing it rage out of control and impacting both resident health and the restoration project’s successful completion.

Give them what they need

It’s essential that security personnel have the necessary tools to do their job as guards and community liaison experts during a condominium restoration. That means providing them with adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure their safety. It’s the best way to keep your security team healthy and on the job. PPE should be kept in a central location and made available to staff at the start of every shift.

It’s also important that they have access to efficient and effective contact tracing software that’s both user-friendly and robust enough to collect and manage the information of hundreds (maybe even thousands) of residents. Having a way to handle the reams of data they’ll be acquiring will help manage or prevent COVID-19 outbreaks if they occur, while managing inflow and outflow of trades people and reducing the risk of potential security breaches.

Think a step ahead

No matter the reason for your restoration project—and even though we’re in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic—take the time to think about your property’s long-term security requirements. If the restoration is particularly extensive, such as in the case of major flood of fire damage, you may find an opportunity to implement new security technology infrastructure (think biometrics or ultra-HD surveillance cameras), or perhaps even designing security-friendly spaces to accept the flood of food deliveries and e-commerce packages currently inundating so many condo lobbies. That volume is only poised to grow in the years ahead as more of us shop and dine online. Work with your security provider to not only manage your community and provide the best resident experience possible throughout the restoration, but to also look ahead and develop a comprehensive strategy that projects your property’s security requirements five to 10 years into the future.

In the end, proactive thinking will save money and position your condominium as an even more desirable place to live.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO, Wincon Security

Are we living in the most secure era ever? That depends on your definition of the word and the context, but there’s no doubt that today’s security technology has made many of our public and private spaces far safer than in the past. From ultra HD surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology to ultra-secure biometrics, the tools that organizations have at their disposal to prevent or respond to unwelcome or emergency incidents are truly unprecedented. So much so that privacy concerns are now running up against security innovations, fueling legal and social tensions along the way.

Case in point: there is a fast-growing movement across Canada to limit the use of some advanced tools, specifically surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software. Last month the Canadian Civil Liberties Association issued a call  for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in a wide range of settings. While stakeholders from law enforcement officials to business and commercial property owners would make an argument for the tech’s utility, social advocates counter that the privacy trade-off is far too great at this point. Better to stall a widespread rollout until a proper legal and regulatory framework can be built to control its use.

That comes on the heels of a new Ernst and Young report  indicating that COVID-19 seems to have changed Canadians’ expectations of data privacy. Fully 63 per cent of survey respondents said knowing how their data was collected and stored was of prime importance, along with control over what data is being shared (57 per cent), their trust in the organization sharing their data (51 per cent) and knowing how their data is managed, shared and used (45 per cent).

“The pandemic has ushered in significant changes that may have altered consumers’ attitudes toward data privacy, but they are unwavering about the importance of security,” the report’s authors note.

Security vs. privacy

In residential settings, those expectations are reaching new heights. Rental tenants and condominium owners alike are growing increasingly concerned that their movements are being monitored on a daily basis. In some cases, they are. Surveillance systems have long kept track of the movement of people and packages across residential environments, but new technology has delivered exponential enhancements in monitoring capabilities. In the vast majority of cases, however, their deployment is intended strictly to deter crime or inappropriate behaviour. The reality is that most commercial and residential property management firms–who are dealing with a raft of new challenges related to COVID-19–lack the staff (let alone the desire) to leverage that data in ways that would be of any reasonable concern to residents.

It’s simply available as a tool to review traffic flow in case of an incident, or to piece together timelines in the event of an accident. Reviewing an incident using surveillance footage is usually a key tool in preventing a similar occurrence from happening in future. The real question that residential stakeholders need to answer is whether privacy trumps protection in residential settings.

With license-plate recognizing cameras collecting data in parking lots and garages, and biometrics recording even more sensitive information every time residents enter a building, do new technologies cross an ethical—and even legal—line? Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, some residential communities in Canada have gone as far as to implement contact tracing and temperature monitoring (sometimes using high-tech cameras) to protect their residents and mitigate risk of an outbreak on their premises.

The urgent circumstances of the emergency aside, will we eventually regard these health and safety measures as a step too far?

Balancing privacy and protection 

The obvious solution involves implementing an effective security strategy that balances the right to privacy with the need for protection. That means customizing tactics to suit the needs of the residential community in question, be it housed in an ultra-tall downtown tower or a densely-packed rental building. Property managers are best advised to develop a series of privacy protocols that outline how personal data will be collected, stored, managed and eventually expunged. Access to that data must be tightly controlled. And that not only means limiting the personnel who can review it, but determining how it will be stored (e.g., on a local server or in the cloud). What cybersecurity tools will be used to mitigate the risk of a breach?

The best way to ease residents’ concerns over how their data is used is to build trust and remain transparent. By communicating on a regular basis—in some cases perhaps even developing a committee comprised of management and residents that’s tasked with setting guidelines to handle that data—reviewing and revising policies as needed and then erasing that data at predetermined intervals, most residents will be comfortable with having their personal details collected and stored.

Work with your security provider or a specialized data-management consultant to start and manage this process. Handling sensitive data is best left to the experts. Rest assured, your residents will appreciate the time and attention to detail in managing their personal information.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

Of the many new business challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for organizations, commercial and residential security—specifically across condominium complexes—has been near the top of the list. Property managers and their security teams have been forced to work overtime to develop, implement and maintain new COVID-19 health and safety measures, develop new parcel-management protocols, manage strict building access and usage rules, and generally cope with the uncertainties of new government lockdown and social-distancing restrictions.

Condominium property managers have carried much of this new burden as they deal with a plethora of related issues. They’ve not only had to provide updated training to their in-house or outsourced security teams while investing (often hefty) sums for enhanced cleaning across their properties, they’ve faced budgetary challenges due to increased hydro and HVAC usage and mechanical wear-and-tear with more residents working from home and placing greater demand on systems and resources. Condominium boards have struggled to find a balance that allows them to keep condo fee increases under control, while balancing their books and still delivering the level of service that residents expect.

These unforeseen COVID-19 side effects are weighing heavily on condo managers, but are being managed. It’s another, seemingly benign issue, that’s creating headaches that are sure to get worse in the years ahead: online shopping (particularly over the holidays) that’s producing a flood of parcel deliveries.

Statistics Canada predicted in November that online spending was poised to break last year’s record $305 billion in e-commerce sales. As a recent CTV News article notes:

“A separate online survey of 600 adults from Google Canada in late October also suggested that 70 per cent of respondents were looking online, not in-store, for holiday gifts.”

Many of those packages are ending up in condominium lobbies—and many condos are ill- or completely un-equipped to cope with this influx of items. It’s not an overstatement to say that in some buildings, lobbies are turning into de facto mini-warehouses due to the sheer volume of packages being delivered. Some property managers are grappling with whether (or how) to disinfect items that enter their premises due to potential coronavirus transmission risks.

Merely accepting and storing the parcels is challenging enough, but who catalogues them? How are they secured to ensure they aren’t stolen by a resident or thief who manages to access the lobby? How are they released or distributed to residents? Is that the job of your security team? These are just a few of the pressing questions weighing on condo managers right now.

As the COVID-19 crisis carries on and retail restrictions remain in place, Canadians are going to continue that great e-retail migration. In other words, the problem won’t simply disappear as the coronavirus eventually subsides. Property managers will need to adapt further as online shopping gains added momentum in the years ahead.

That could mean making capital investments in dedicated parcel storage rooms or lobby lockers, if those spaces or amenities don’t already exist. When many buildings were constructed, there was no thought put to online shopping—e-commerce was the stuff of science fiction only a few decades ago, after all. That could necessitate collaboration between managers and their condo boards to allocate the necessary funds to build out secure storage spaces that can be locked and monitored. Another alternative that many condos have explored is working with companies such as ParcelPort, which provides outdoor (sometimes temperature-controlled) lockers to receive and store parcels. When a delivery is made, a notification goes out via text or email to the resident reminding them to pick up their item.

There are many options, but property managers need to carefully consider several other factors to ensure that this year’s flood of holiday parcels doesn’t create an unnecessary burden for them or their teams:

What level of service will you provide?—Many condominiums, particularly those that offer luxury amenities, will need to determine whether they’ll embrace full white-glove concierge parcel-management service if they haven’t already, or opt for a self-serve parcel pick-up model. For example, will building concierge or security staff deliver packages to a resident’s door? Or simply manage packages by minding them at the lobby desk? How does that level of service reflect on the condo’s brand and ability to attract/retain buyers or tenants? An enhanced concierge experience could be a resident-friendly value proposition, albeit a pricey one.

Is your security team up to the task?—Wincon guards are trained with customer service—and the finer points of delivering a true concierge experience—in mind, but not all security firms provide that same level of training. In-house security staff, may not have that expertise either. Assess the situation to determine whether your guards are trained to accept, catalogue, manage and distribute parcels—and if not, be prepared to offer that important training.

What about food?—Parcels are one thing, but with restaurants closed in many areas, an increasing number of residents are using meal delivery services. Residents want their dishes hot and ready to eat without delay. Do you have processes in place to maintain building security, while also ensuring residents receive their meals in a timely fashion, all so their foodie-friendly expectations are met?

Who accepts liability?—The issue of lost or stolen parcels creates significant risk for condominium property managers. They can face costly liability if they accept packages that don’t make it to their rightful buyers. If those happen to be items such as fancy jewellery or expensive electronics, for example, the problem of lost or stolen goods could get very expensive very quickly. This means that, in effect, building security teams will now be required to develop and implement what amounts to loss-prevention strategies, or potentially ask residents to sign waivers that shield property management from liability. Carrying extra liability insurance may also be necessary. Work with your lawyer to design and implement a strategy that’s customized to the needs of the property and its residents.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

The proliferation of condominium properties across the Greater Toronto Area in the past 20 years is truly staggering. Hundreds of thousands of units have been added to Toronto’s housing supply since the 1960s, when legislation allowed for this new form of home ownership and communally-minded approach to building upkeep.

Of course, the task of keeping the towering, often expansive communities in the sky operating in good condition is the responsibility of condominium property managers. These unsung heroes are responsible for everything from managing maintenance-related issues—think elevator repairs and snow plowing—to hiring the security firms that guard a property around the clock. But as Armand Conant, the former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute explains in a recent blog for the Remi Network, an acute shortage of trained and qualified condo property managers is raising concerns for many in the residential property industry:

Ontario has more than 11,700 condominium corporations. While a good number are self-managed – which, of course, is a very acceptable way of managing a building – most are managed by professional management.

That said, there are currently about 2,500 licensed managers, 1,500 of which are General Licensees, and an estimated 300 of these which are in upper management and do not manage specific buildings. This then means that there are only about 1,200 General Licensees for thousands of existing corporations. And with more condos coming on stream at a fast pace – the talent crunch is only intensifying

As Conant notes, the Condominium Management Services Act, which took effect in late 2017, requires condominium property managers to be licensed. That involves taking four mandatory courses and obtaining two years of experience before being designated as a ‘general licensee.’ Managers must also pay an annual fee to maintain their license. The legislation has introduced stricter guidelines and qualification requirements before an individual can take on this important—and often highly complex—role.

He suggests several tactics to ease the shortage, including educating unit owners and the condo industry at large as to the crucial role that managers play in “protecting the building, enhancing the market value of units, and in helping in improving the condominium community.” He also suggests working to boost and maintain higher managerial compensation rates and focusing on recruitment to attract more young people to the industry as retirement rates surge.

Of course, we also can’t forget that experienced property managers with the right expertise are a vital resource in helping to guide a condominium’s board of directors—who are typically resident volunteers with no experience in this area—on best practices to reduce legal liability.

When he mentions ‘protecting the building,’ Conant touches on another key point that many overlook. Condo property managers are responsible for a building’s security as mentioned above, and it’s in that area that ample experience is crucial. As a starting point, hiring an experienced individual who can juggle the many requirements of effective property management is an essential component for ensuring the safety of a property and its residents. Security personnel are typically the first line of defence in managing everything from emergencies to maintenance issues, so being able to liaise with—and deploy—guards in an effective way is important to delivering an optimal security outcome.

This acute property manager shortage highlights another potential vulnerability in the property-management process: effective security firm recruitment.

Property managers with the right experience and expertise will have the know-how to carefully recruit, vet and select experienced security companies with the right skill set to best protect their property and assets. That’s especially important when a condo or rental building’s population requires security staff with the right touch to provide effective customer service—think buildings that cater to seniors, as one example.

It’s even more essential when we consider that not all security firms are created equal. While many will have staff with experience patrolling low-rise properties, for instance, they may not have professionals with the expertise to manage the needs of one of Toronto’s many new ultra-high-rise condos. As we’ve noted in previous blogs, these soaring communities in the sky come with a unique set of challenges, from emergency evacuation procedures to far more complex maintenance and customer-relations requirements. The concierge service component across these properties is often as important as traditional guard services, particularly in buildings that cater to well-heeled, discerning residents. Choosing the right security company can have a direct impact on livability and even occupancy rates. The same holds true for commercial properties, where effective management can make or break a property owner’s reputation and a portfolio’s bottom-line performance.

Lastly, increased turnover in the property manager ranks—a common occurrence when professionals are in short supply and both stress and demand prompt individuals to frequently change employers—will only further complicate matters for residents and property owners going forward.

That’s why it’s important to take the property manager shortage seriously and take immediate steps to address the issue. Doing so will deliver long-term benefits across the commercial and residential property industry, ensuring the safety of buildings and residents alike.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.

It may be time to start paying attention.

As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.

A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants

Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.

The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.

As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.

Looking at elevator performance through a security lens

Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.

Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.

Security training is essential

Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.

At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

A new crop of ultra-tall condominiums—many of them mixed-use incorporating retail, hotel and other elements—are sprouting up across Toronto’s downtown core. As they continue to redefine the city’s skyline, property owners and managers are slowly discovering the many challenges that arise when attempting to maintain these soaring communities.

Buildings such as Aura at Yonge and Gerrard (78 stories), 1 Bloor East (currently under construction and planned for 76 stories) and The One (which could top 80 stories upon completion) are the three most-discussed of Toronto’s new ultra-tall condo towers. If recent history offers any lessons, they will likely cost far more to maintain than more traditionally-sized condominiums.

From HVAC systems maintenance to materials costs to ongoing repairs, condominium residents could face hefty bills in the years ahead. If the recent glass problems that have plagued some Toronto condos continue to recur—including falling glass pains and deteriorating window seals—those bills could be particularly expensive to cover, possibly even resulting in costly special assessments being levied on residents.

But condominium corporations tasked with maintaining these mega high-rise skyscrapers should also keep another key consideration in mind: the heightened security costs that come with living in a tower taller than 50 stories.

In many condos, a corporation will enlist the services of a security firm such as ours and request round-the-clock concierge services. That will often require assigning a single guard to patrol key areas, monitor CCTV cameras and assist residents with tasks such as accepting deliveries in the building’s lobby. In larger buildings the recommendation is typically for two guards to be on duty at any given time—including a patrol guard. While it’s always optimal to have as many security staff on site as possible—the more eyes and ears, the better—this allocation of security resources is usually adequate for a condo building.

But this formula comes into question when dealing with huge towers. There are so many more challenges to manage with a building the size of Aura, for example, that addressing the sheer number of operational issues to secure a building of this size—and housing that many residents—increases virtually exponentially. So, where to begin?

It starts by assessing the building’s potential security vulnerabilities. That means considering everything from weak points where burglars or vandals could enter the property, to identifying key operational considerations that a security team would need to monitor to keep the property safe on an ongoing basis. Once those vulnerabilities are highlighted, any reputable security firm should be able to develop a comprehensive building security strategy that protects residents and helps contain costs related to ongoing building maintenance and protection.

From there, we always recommend assessing risk in four key areas:

Emergency preparedness and evacuation—Evacuating a building with thousands of residents and from dizzying heights is a remarkably complex task. One security guard sitting in a lobby—no matter how experienced and skilled she may be—will not be able to manage the task alone. From that perspective alone, it’s clear that ultra-high-rise properties should have multiple guards on duty at any given time.

Lobby access—Nowadays, condominium residents want security guards who are as focused on their comfort as their security. That means being available to welcome guests, accept packages, in some cases even providing hotel concierge-style services such as restaurant reservation booking. What can’t be forgotten is that a security guard’s primary role is exactly what their job title describes: security. The other duties are operational distractions, albeit ones in high demand. We recommend having multiple guards on duty in a lobby at any given time to ensure safety and security. Remember that with that many residents in a single condo, the number of visitors will be dramatically greater than in a smaller building, thereby increasing the demand on a single guard’s time and attention. For tall, luxury condos, one creative solution to ease the pressure on front-line security staff is to hire a dedicated concierge who only manages the peripheral, time-consuming tasks such as assisting residents with lifestyle-related requests and handling deliveries.

Facility security—Another important reason to adequately staff an ultra-tall condo is the fact that it likely contains multiple shared spaces such as party rooms, fitness facilities, a pool, movie theatre, and more. Every time you add elements such as these to a building, it increases the risk of abuse, damage or other unpleasant issues that security staff need to manage. A single guard will not be able to keep an eye on the front door, ensure that partiers are using the shared facilities appropriately, manage noise complaints, deal with a broken elevator and whatever other matters might arise during their day. Having multiple guards on duty will help ensure that recreational and leisure facilities are kept safe and secure at all times.

General maintenance challenges—That broken elevator that I mentioned in the previous point is only one of the many maintenance-related issues that can occupy the time of a condominium security team. When the building they’re monitoring stands at a height of 60 stories or more, there will inevitably be a more extensive bank of elevators to service, not to mention HVAC, plumbing, a larger garage area and other points around the property where maintenance problems can—and inevitably will—arise. It always makes sense to train security personnel in the basics of operating key equipment such as fire panels, but processes also need to be in place to help them manage maintenance-related emergencies. That’s only possible with adequate staffing to ensure that any on-duty security officer has the ability to inspect and report maintenance issues without delay.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

Walk into most of Toronto’s new mid-tier or luxury condos and you’ll almost certainly be greeted at the security desk by the smile of a friendly concierge, who’s likely to offer a ‘hello,’ and ask who you’re visiting if you’re a non-resident.

There are times, however, when their attention is diverted and not focused on who’s entering and exiting the building. Sometimes a concierge is tied up with other matters, such as managing package deliveries or discussing property-management concerns with residents. Sometimes a focus on service comes at the cost of maintaining adequate and active monitoring of the building’s security.

At a time when hundreds of new condominiums have sprung up across the Greater Toronto Area with no signs of a slowdown in new development, effective security and concierge services are a must-have for any well-managed building. In many cases, 24-hour coverage is one of many tried-and-true sales propositions in a builder’s marketing toolkit—a veritable purchase prerequisite, if you will. Concierges are the face of the building, tend to emergencies relating to matters such as building maintenance issues, and provide security coverage. They’re now considered a standard building amenity.

Indeed, home buyers have come to expect round-the-clock protection for their condo, not to mention hotel-style concierge services to assist time-pressed residents with everything from package deliveries to greeting guests.

Complex security needs

As one of the GTA’s leading providers of condominium security services, we deliver protection to some of the largest complexes in the area. During our client onboarding process, we assess a condo property’s security vulnerabilities and needs, then make recommendations for security coverage based on our evaluation. It’s a detailed, multi-step process that’s designed to provide condo property management firms and residents with the protection they need.

The way condos are being built today, with larger towers, more suites and several buildings that share one common area, it becomes increasingly difficult for one security guard to look after what are essentially large, vertical communities. Having buildings that have upwards of 300 to 400 suites each, also means that security personnel are required to respond to significant numbers of calls directly to residential suites. This leaves the main access points unprotected for extended periods.

That sometimes leads to the recognition that multiple security guards need to be simultaneously deployed at a property to help maintain the delicate balance between meeting the building’s security needs and catering to residents’ service expectations. Why? Because cutting corners on security inevitably results in gaps and shortcomings, particularly in luxury condos where residents tend to place a greater emphasis on the role of security guard as concierge than property defender.

Understaffed security desks

What we’re finding, however, is that some security providers will offer the lowest price point possible to secure a contract with a minimal staffing commitment—typically, only a single security guard at a time, when two may be necessary. In some cases that lone guard will become overwhelmed with the concierge-related demands on his or her time. Security considerations can easily fall by the wayside.

Of course, property managers and residents don’t need to choose between security and service when hiring a security firm. But they do need to allocate the appropriate budget to ensure ample coverage in both areas. For large buildings with more than 250 residents, it’s reasonable to budget enough to pay for two guards on duty at all times. They might alternate between managing tenant requests and keeping an eye on security cameras or patrolling the property, switching back and forth as necessary. The crucial aspect of balancing service and security is to ensure that your security team isn’t overwhelmed and has the time to adequately address both needs.

Failing to provide adequate security staffing can also result in major safety shortcomings in the event of an emergency such as a fire. Properly-trained guards will be able to operate building fire panels and help in executing emergency evacuation procedures. Having those resources on hand can not only help save lives, but will help mitigate the threat of legal liability in the wake of a catastrophic event.

The key point to remember is that balancing security and service in a condo is difficult at the best of times, and nearly impossible when under-staffed. To satisfy tenants and keep them safe, it makes sense to set aside the right budget and have more than one guard at the front desk to provide the level of service that today’s condo owners expect.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security