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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

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