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 

It’s often assumed that the role of a condo concierge security team is to not only provide an outstanding resident experience but to react when an incident occurs. That’s only partly true. When done right, a security provider should be training its guards in pre-emptive strategies to foresee and prevent problems before they can occur. That’s the critical missing link that not only helps ensure risk mitigation and minimizes legal liability across a condominium community, but also alleviates budgetary pressures and enhances a condominium property manager’s overall value proposition.

The pre-emptive and reactive approaches should be carefully balanced. The former with customized strategies designed to service the on-site needs of a specific property, and the latter to launch an effective response when the unavoidable occurs. But how?

The response must be prompt, robust, and thorough. Failing to take action exposes a condo to legal liabilities and puts residents at risk.

The pre-emptive approach to risk mitigation

Pre-emptive risk mitigation is about taking the time to identify and eliminate potential safety hazards or security vulnerabilities across a community. This could involve everything from tightening a property’s cybersecurity defenses to actively seeking out slip and fall or other potential injury-causing issues. Reputable security firms build risk mitigation into their service offering. Their guards are required to help address danger points, say, by removing on-site safety hazards, or deploying warning signs in situations where a threat can’t be removed.

Of course, one of the most important factors in pre-empting risk is active observation. Condominium security concierge teams that take an active approach to property monitoring, documentation, resident interaction, and prediction—essentially thinking a step ahead, making their presence felt and discreetly poking into corners even when they don’t have to—are the ones that catch issues before they can become a problem for property managers, condo boards and residents.

condo concierge security guards at front desk in toronto
Pre-emptive condo concierge security guards in Toronto.

Unfortunately, many security providers are satisfied having their personnel sit at a lobby desk through shifts, falling asleep on the job or being generally disengaged in their duties or from the people they’ve been hired to protect. That’s simply not how you proactively guard a property.

One of the most effective ways to build and maintain that pre-emptive approach to guarding is through accountability.  A security firm’s managers should constantly visit sites, stage impromptu spot-checks, liaise with condo boards and property managers, and gain an understanding of the characteristics of the site, its resident community, and their specific needs.

Reacting when needed

Unforeseen circumstances require an immediate and appropriate response. That could involve a range of potential events—some merely inconvenient, others more acute and threatening. An on-site accident, for example, would fall into the latter category. A slip and fall victim could require immediate first aid and may need an ambulance. A condo concierge security team will often be the first responder and will need to make that call while documenting the situation to ensure that—should litigation occur—the facts surrounding the entire event are carefully and accurately documented.

This also helps to mitigate risk associated with malicious, frivolous litigation when no real injury has occurred, or to clarify the record when incorrect information is put forward. Importantly, a security provider’s supervisors should be on-call and available at all times to respond and provide assistance when an incident response team needs additional guidance. Supervisors must also be available to attend on-site to offer operational support, especially when the situation requires escalation.

A rapid response is a solution to address unforeseeable challenges as they arise.

Needless to say, that response must be prompt, robust, and thorough. Failing to take action as needed exposes a condominium community to additional legal liability and puts residents’ safety and security at risk. Delivering that level of service is also relatively straightforward—if guards are prepared.

The importance of pre-deployment training

The only truly effective condo concierge security teams are the ones that are properly trained—in Ontario, for example, that means completing the government-mandated 40-hour guard certification program—prior to their on-site deployment. That training needs to include both practical and theoretical elements but should be sustained. Simply providing guards with a one-time briefing on a condo property isn’t enough to ensure they can do their job effectively for months or years, which is the duration of many security engagements.

A failure to conduct pre-deployment training creates major vulnerabilities in the event of an on-site emergency. If guards are unfamiliar with the property, emergency muster points, how to use the fire alarm panel, or what circumstances should trigger a call to police, fire department, or paramedics, successful outcomes can be easily compromised.

Wincon security guard receiving award amongst staff
Awarding our best condo concierge security guards in Toronto.

Pre-deployment training should provide the full suite of tools that guards need to address daily challenges. That includes instruction on a fully operational fire panel, fire response procedures, risk mitigation, documentation, and service level expectations—not only how guards will interact with property managers and residents, but how they can help enhance those stakeholders’ professional or residential experience in every way. The security provider should be aiming to build a long-term relationship with their clients by understanding their unique requirements and tailoring their training to address each one in a deliberate manner. That also reduces the amount of time-consuming, on-site training that’s required to get guards up to speed.

Lastly, recertification programs in areas such as first aid/CPR/AED, along with use-of-force and non-violent crisis intervention training, can help both in emergency response and de-escalation—the latter providing a security deterrence presence and offering guards the tools they need to enforce the Trespass to Property Act.

It’s impossible for any security firm to be completely proactive in its approach to risk mitigation. At times, a rapid response is a solution to address unforeseeable challenges as they arise. But the most reliable providers are those that balance their approach, doing whatever it takes to prevent issues before they occur, then reacting quickly to ensure they don’t grow into even greater challenges.



Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security