The holiday season is almost here and with it comes wind chills, snowfall and icy conditions. For condo property managers and condo boards, that means working with their security teams to pay close attention to the many potential holiday and winter security risks that can arise across their condo communities when the thermostat drops and the holiday lights are strung.

While the weather is an obvious source of challenges, it’s not the only one. As we outline below, everything from the risk of parcel thefts to added stress on building infrastructure with residents continuing to work from home threatens to put a lump of coal in condo managers’ stockings this holiday season and beyond. It’s the time of year for security providers to be more engaged than ever and to focus on both reactive and proactive risk mitigation. Here’s how:

It’s beginning to look a lot like parcel season

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the volume of parcels flowing into condo properties has surged as e-commerce became the only means of shopping. Now, even with social distancing restrictions largely relaxed (at least for now), many consumers are increasingly turning to e-commerce for their holiday shopping needs. The problem is that most condo buildings aren’t equipped to handle a continuous influx of packages. Condo concierge teams have been forced to play the role of parcel handlers in addition to their regular duties. Security guards are tasked with ensuring that items aren’t lost or stolen, but that’s easier said than done if a lobby isn’t equipped with a secure parcel storage area.

To make matters more complicated, the holidays typically result in a deluge of pricier packages as residents purchase Christmas gifts and have them delivered. When parcels go missing due to improper storage—or when they’re mistakenly given to the wrong individuals by a concierge—the condominium corporation could face significant liability and compensation costs.

The next two weeks will see a surge in deliveries. Condo boards and managers should develop a strategy to receive, document, and store packages, perhaps by setting up a storage room or even introducing secure parcel storage lockers to help manage the influx. Being proactive about delivery management will only help to enhance the resident experience and avoid potential complaints or conflicts.

“Properly trained condo concierge and security patrol teams are the first line of defence against mitigating legal liability and other risks. Guards should be responsible for identifying, documenting and reporting potential issues such as icy sidewalks, while also taking action to address those issues.”

Oh, Christmas tree!

Every year there are holiday stories in the media about Christmas trees catching fire or electrical issues with lights creating similar fire hazards. The reality is that most people will forget decoration safety best practices from one year to the next. Security providers should help condo managers develop information emails and notices to remind residents to keep live trees sufficiently watered and to test all lights for proper functionality prior to use. Other decoration-related points to consider: Are residents allowed to hang lights on balconies? If so, are there restrictions on the types of lights that can be hung? If the practice is prohibited, residents will need to be reminded. Enforcing rules such as those can consume a security team’s time and distract them from core duties. Best to use the communication tools available and inform residents about their responsibilities in advance, while continuing to send reminders.

The same goes for Christmas tree disposal. Natural trees are wonderful, but they create a mess if they’re not properly disposed of. Request that residents bag their trees before transporting them through building corridors and direct them to appropriate disposal areas.

There’s no place like home for the holidays (and to work remotely)

An often-overlooked consequence of pandemic-era remote work arrangements is the extra strain on condo building infrastructure. Everything from increased HVAC and electrical demand to the potential for water leaks (think burst pipes due to added use) and the risk of elevator break-downs as service demand spikes, can cause havoc for condo property managers and security concierge teams. Condo managers should be prepared with a plan to manage and mitigate winter-specific risks that come with residents spending more time in their units and using services. Security teams should be prepared to investigate and address building system malfunctions on a proactive basis, highlighting issues before they can escalate.

Baby, it’s cold (and icy, wet and snowy) outside

The most immediate risk for condo managers and residents is from the elements. Winter inevitably brings an unpredictable mix of snow, ice, rain and the potential for slip and fall incidents. Properly trained condo concierge and security patrol teams are the first line of defence against mitigating legal liability and other risks. Guards should be responsible for identifying, documenting and reporting potential issues such as icy sidewalks, while also taking action to address those issues. It only takes a few minutes to salt a busy pathway, for example, but that simple act can save a great deal of response time, stress and cost if an accident occurs.

The same approach should apply inside a building, as well. Security teams should be on the lookout for frozen pipes, faulty mechanical systems—a malfunctioning heating system can lead to a temperature drop in mechanical rooms that increase the risk that pipes will freeze—overland flooding and other hazards that could result in expensive repair and cleanup work if left unchecked. That’s especially important in underground parking garages, many of which can be prone to flooding. Those problems could escalate quickly in the event of a major snowstorm or rapid thaw cycle.

Training condo security guards for winter weather

The key to effective condo security risk mitigation—both over the holidays and throughout the winter—comes down to strategic planning, communication and training. If a condo building is equipped with a winter safety and readiness strategy (which should be a component of comprehensive emergency response and disaster-preparedness plan), many common challenges can be avoided. Condo security teams must be trained in relevant procedures and be held accountable to maintain reactive and proactive risk mitigation policies. Top security firms in the Greater Toronto Area will take that approach as a best practice. That includes active emergency response, such as training condo security concierge and patrol teams to be able to activate backup generators or liaise with trades or technicians when emergency incidents occur.

Last consideration: condo property managers need to work with security providers that deliver pre-deployment training to their guards. A security team is only as good as their preparation. Unless that training is updated regularly and customized to the unique features of the property and resident community they’re protecting, it won’t be effective.

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Winston Stewart, President and CEO
Wincon Security 

With the holiday season in full swing, there’s a very good chance your team is getting ready to wind down and maybe even let loose. That’s right, it’s the time of year for the unforgettable office party, an opportunity for employers to show their appreciation to staff, to share a few cocktails at or away from the office and enjoy some time mixing and mingling and (hopefully) not spending time reflecting on work-related matters.

But with the yuletide festivities come a great deal of risk for employers.

Now, I’m not trying to call humbug on your holiday party plans. But it’s important for organizations and their HR teams to understand the employment law liability involved in hosting a gathering in the workplace. That risk increases exponentially when alcohol is being served and employees are left to find their own way home from the office party. Of course, some employers assume that organizing a gathering off-site relieves that liability, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Anytime an organization sanctions an event such as this, they’re on the hook until their employees are home safe and sound.

It’s wise to have security guards or personnel at larger parties to help address any issues that can arise.

You might think the logical move would be to pull the plug on the party and spend that budget elsewhere. Not so fast. Holiday events are a great team-building tool that can help drive engagement. They’re also an important part of building a strong workplace culture, so it would be foolhardy to cancel such an invaluable opportunity to boost employee morale. The better approach is to think safety and security first when organizing an event, keeping these five tips in mind:

Make your policies clear—The objective here isn’t to be a buzzkill before the party gets started, but to remind employees that even though they’re enjoying the boss’ hospitality while off the clock, they’re still technically bound by the same policies that govern their behaviour while in the workplace. That message should be delivered in a subtle way—a reminder rather than a lecture—but it should be explicitly communicated, either by email, in print or at a team meeting.

Hire security—If your staff party is small, say, fewer than 20 people including spouses, hiring a guard may not be necessary. But it’s wise to have security personnel in attendance at larger gatherings to help address any issues that may arise. That could mean dealing with intoxicated patrons who become a little unruly (which happens all too often) or simply patrolling and watching over items such as gifts or coats. Many business owners and managers are shocked when their events are targeted by thieves who root through jackets or walk away with purses and bags when their employees are busy enjoying themselves. What they don’t realize is that this kind of Grinch-like activity happens all the time, especially at large corporate gatherings that are preyed on by groups of professional criminals. Do yourself a favour and hire a trained and experienced security team to help make your holiday event memorable for all the right reasons.

holiday party cheers
Keep your employees safe and having fun this year by hiring a security guard if needed.

Choose the right location—Set the conditions for your event’s success from the start by selecting the right venue. Whenever possible, try to pick a spot close to your workplace or close to where the majority of your employees live. This isn’t always feasible—especially for organizations located in the suburbs, whose workforces travel long distances to work—but doing so can be a practical way to encourage staff to leave their cars at home and take transit to work on the day of the event. At the same time, try to avoid choosing a hotspot surrounded by bars or clubs, which only encourages employees (particularly younger team members) to keep the party going well into the night and potentially past the point of intoxication.

Provide transportation—Include cab chits for employees in your party budget, or hire a van or bus to shuttle employees to the venue and home—whichever is the more cost-effective option depending on your team’s specific logistical considerations. One of the greatest sources of liability for employers stems from team members who hop in their cars at the end of an event and drive home, often intoxicated, only to get into an accident. This outcome is entirely avoidable with some proactive planning.

Think like Scrooge—Not when it comes to spending on a great venue, an impressive menu or even staff gifts. But do be stingy when it comes to serving alcohol. Provide a couple of drink tickets to each staff member at the beginning of the night, and switch to a cash bar at some point in the evening. Or, maybe serve wine at dinner and then move to a cash bar afterwards. The point is that open bars can turn into a security nightmare because they encourage outright intoxication. Appoint a senior (and designated sober) staffer to manage drink tickets, if you take that approach, and be sure to offer plenty of food and at least a few non-alcoholic beverage options throughout the event. Want to really limit the booze consumption? Make it a mid-day family affair and invite your employees and their kids.

The objective is to still have fun, say ‘thanks’ for another year of hard work and spoil your employees with a great party. But remember that safety and security should be a top priority. Maintaining that focus will help mitigate the kind of liability and risk that would otherwise drop a lump of coal in your stocking this holiday season.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security