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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

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

It goes without saying that 2020 is a year that many of us will be glad to forget, just as we look forward to a socially-distanced and happy holiday with loved ones. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has challenged everyone from individual Canadians and healthcare professionals to business owners and bureaucrats in ways that we couldn’t have imagined as recently as early March. But the many struggles of the COVID-19 crisis have also reaffirmed our strength and resilience as a country. In the face of adversity, we adapted and managed, even as we continue to mourn the many lives lost and the scores of businesses brought down by the ensuing economic disruption.

The security industry has not been immune to the pandemic’s harsh economic impact. Companies large and small have reeled as affected sectors such as hospitality, travel and retail were forced into shutdown mode or were suddenly required to scale back business in ways that immediately lessened the need for security coverage. But I’m proud to say that through it all, Wincon Security has managed to not only navigate these stormy waters, but thrive.

The reason, of course, is because we’ve built incredible partnerships with our many clients. Their loyalty and support has been pivotal to Wincon’s success for more than 26 years, and in hard times, they’ve remained by our side. We’re grateful for the opportunity to protect their people, property and assets, and we can’t wait to see how we can find new ways to meet their security needs in the years ahead. The push to constantly improve is a core value, one that we embrace and also consider a responsibility that we simply won’t take for granted—it will continue to drive us to deliver even better service to our customers long after this pandemic has passed.

Case in point: We made significant investments to upgrade our technology infrastructure this year, while also working to enhance our employee training and development programs. We believe that delivering effective security solutions is about far more than doing the basics. In most cases, our security personnel are not only frontline representatives of Wincon Security, but also of our clients’ brands—be they retailers, commercial property managers, or any company in between. Their work on-site can significantly impact that brand experience, which is why we constantly strive for new ways to enhance our team’s customer service skills with real-world, situational training.

Of course, helping our customers succeed means staying at the forefront of new technology reshaping our industry. We’ve continued to research the latest in security software and hardware from facial-recognition cameras to advanced biometric systems that could have applications across both commercial and residential properties. That work is ongoing as we enhance our organizational commitment to research and development, which includes enhancing our own back-end technology infrastructure—a critical investment that enabled much of our administrative staff to work remotely during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, none of our success would be possible were it not for the tireless dedication, professionalism and hard work of our team members. At the pandemic’s peak, they put themselves in higher-risk public settings to ensure that our clients’ properties and people were kept safe and secure. They neither complained nor refused the challenge. Instead, they made it to work each and every day with an attitude that exemplified the very best that Wincon Security has to offer.

To better protect them, we recently implemented a new Whistleblower Program that provides a mechanism to report everything from sexual harassment to any form of unwelcome behaviour experienced while on the job. We’re committed to providing a safe, welcoming and fruitful workplace experience—and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that our company culture isn’t negatively impacted by unacceptable behaviour. Our whistleblower directive to employees is simple: If you see something, say something.

So, as we look back on 2020 and raise a glass with the promise of a better 2021 ahead, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you and your family a happy holiday and a healthy New Year. While rising COVID-19 case counts remind us that difficult months still lie ahead, vaccines give us hope that a return to normal is on the horizon. This year proved that we can make it to the finish line—safely, securely, together.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced a key feature of our company culture that we’ve long understood, but which became even more obvious in the face of an unprecedented and highly challenging situation: Wincon Security is driven in every way by an outstanding group of professionals. Our people are dedicated to customer service excellence and it shows in everything they do.

As I noted in our last blog , throughout the COVID-19 crisis our employees have gone above and beyond to not only do their jobs, but to take added steps to ensure the health and safety of both our clients and their colleagues in the field. We’ve witnessed countless examples of our employees going out of their way to help Wincon Security customers create a welcoming environment across their workplaces, retail outlets, manufacturing facilities—wherever they happen to be serving. After all, we believe it’s our job to not only protect people, property and assets, but to do so in a way that reflects positively on our clients’ brands. Whether that’s in a supermarket or a super-tall condominium complex, we take that responsibility to heart.

That’s why we were delighted to receive extremely positive customer service feedback about Karen Willis, one of our fantastic security professionals. Karen exemplifies the very best qualities that our team has to offer: dedication, professionalism, excellence in her work and a selfless commitment to putting a smile on the faces of the people we serve.

In this case, the client is a Markham-based property management company with an extensive portfolio of commercial buildings across the city. Karen leads the security team at one of the client’s flagship office complexes—which has been operating at a drastically reduced capacity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s worth noting that while the province-wide focus has rightly been on mitigating the public health impact of the coronavirus pandemic, an often overlooked consequence of social distancing and stay-at-home measures is the risk to unoccupied properties. An unstaffed building is a vandal or burglar’s dream target. In other words, unoccupied properties are more vulnerable now than ever.

As our site supervisor, Karen has been responsible for coordinating security coverage for the office facility, while managing our on-site team. She was also tasked with liaising directly with the property management firm’s leadership team, keeping them abreast of potential issues or emerging security vulnerabilities as their workforce maintained operations from a distance, and then after they began returning to the workplace. As the client noted in a letter of appreciation for Karen’s work:

“[Karen] was awesome and caring to our essential workers who came to work to every day. She went above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of our team members and I am personally grateful for this.

Many times clients only informed vendors when they are not satisfied with the service they are receiving.  Rarely do they make mention when things are above and beyond, so I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the excellent service we are receiving.”

Feedback such as this not only makes us extremely proud of team members like Karen, but reminds us of the importance of our work—especially during one of the most difficult periods in recent memory.

We believe that security professionals should not only fulfill their duties, but do so with a high degree of energy and engagement. With anxieties on the rise and people genuinely afraid to enter their workplaces or residences, if their first encounter is with a warm and caring security team member who can brighten their day while ensuring their safety and protection, then we believe we’ve achieved our goal as a security company.

So, on that note, we extend our gratitude to Karen Willis for her outstanding work and dedication to customer service. Now, with COVID-19 cases flaring across the Greater Toronto Area once again, we still have a great deal of work to do. I’m very confident that together—especially with employees such as Karen leading the charge—we can navigate any challenge we face and succeed as we adapt to this fast-changing business environment.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

COVID-19 return to work security plan

As lockdown measures are slowly eased across Ontario and the rest of Canada, organizations are preparing to return to the new COVID-19 workplace normal. But nothing is simple when it comes to navigating the uncharted waters of social distancing and industry-wide lockdowns–especially when it comes to developing a return-to-work security plan.

While a return to business may still be weeks away for organizations in some parts of the province, no one can afford to be idle. As a business owner/leader, you need to start planning today to ensure that your workplace is as safe and secure as possible once your employees return to the fold—and that you comply with all relevant government health and safety rules and regulations.

Security plays a key role

Of course, safety and security planning is about much more than ensuring the availability of sanitizers and protective equipment, ramped up hygiene practices, or establishing social distancing rules and protocols. Those are, of course, essential foundational elements. But there are many security-related components that need to be addressed in a comprehensive and strategic return-to-work plan, many of which will take time and resources to implement.

Cybersecurity, access control, monitoring employee movements and activities, and secure collaboration practices, are among many items that need to be integrated into a well-architected security plan. The good news is that your security provider can play an important role in helping develop and execute a fully-integrated strategy—one that addresses the new (and in some cases, rapidly evolving) demands around health and safety compliance, risk mitigation and technology.

A return-to-work security plan should cover everything from basic policies around distancing rules and staffing requirements (some organizations may resort to staggered hours, for example, or a combined office/work-from-home model to minimize personal contact), to more complex technological initiatives around health monitoring and building access and control.

Cybersecurity training

Conduct a security infrastructure audit

An integral part of the initial planning stages is a thorough review of infrastructure equipment. Planners need to examine what needs to be improved or updated. Are repairs required due to the protracted pandemic shutdown? This is an especially important checklist item for facilities that have been fully closed for a long period of time.

Organizations will also have to familiarize themselves and their employees with the plethora of new safety protocols that are being introduced, including those established by public health authorities and/or the building managers, or your company itself. With that, extensive retraining for both security personnel and other staff will be needed before doors re-open for business. This will need to be refreshed as new guidelines evolve in the months to come.

Bear in mind that security personnel in particular may be required to perform additional services, from temperature checks and entrance/exit screening, to more frequent patrolling and social distancing enforcement.

Analyze cybersecurity vulnerabilities and requirements

With the rapid transition to a work-from-home business model, organizations should also be making time to review their cybersecurity protocols. During the recent, rapid escalation in remote workers accessing cloud-based services from multiple devices, organizations had little time to assess their network security in an in-depth way. Now that you have a bit of breathing space, it’s time to develop or enhance your current digital security strategy as part of your return-to-work plan. This should include a rapid redeployment backup plan in the event of a future shutdown.

A safe and secure workplace will likely involve new technology investments. As you plan, consider the role security solutions can play in reducing touching of surfaces; tracking and tracing movements to quickly isolate and address potential outbreak situations; or responding to social distancing infractions (e.g., alerts when employees enter a restricted area).

There are a number of technology enablers that can be integrated into existing security systems to meet the demands of a post-lockdown work environment and ensure that only authorized employees or visitors can enter your premises. Examples of tools being implemented right now across some organizations include swipe pads on doors, touchless registration, “smart” barriers at entrances and exits, biometric scanners, remote locking systems and pressure sensors, and mobile two-factor authentication.

Additional video surveillance systems, along with thermal scanners and face recognition software can help identify suspected infections, while tracking the contact and movements of anyone within range of a potentially infected person.

All of this needs to be supported by HR policies that clearly outline restricted areas, who has access, and policies around travel and sick leave—among others. Work with your HR team and potentially even a qualified labour and employment lawyer, to draft effective policies customized to the needs of your workplace and employee culture.

Return to work

Getting your workplace ready to reopen

Global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has developed a document entitled Recovery Readiness: a How-To Guide For Reopening Your Workplace. It’s a handy starting point that outlines six guiding principles on how businesses can ensure a safe and efficient transition to workplace readiness.

Here is a distilled version of the principles:

  • Prepare the Building—Implement cleaning plans, pre-return inspections, and HVAC and mechanicals checks
  • Prepare the Workforce—Create policies for deciding who returns, shift/schedule management and employee communications
  • Control Access—Enforce protocols for safety and health checks, building reception, shipping/receiving, elevators and visitor policies
  • Create a Social Distancing Plan—Follow guidelines for decreasing density, schedule management and office traffic patterns
  • Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning—Implement open doors, clean-desk policy, food plans and regular cleaning of common areas
  • Communicate for Confidence—Recognize the fear employees may feel in returning to the workplace and work with them to alleviate their anxiety

Plan early and be flexible

There’s no question there will be a great deal of uncertainty as organizations plan their return-to-work strategies.

“It will happen in phases, it will be very complex and it will look different for every organization,” Bill Knightly, Cushman and Wakefield’s Chief Operating Officer of Global Occupier Services, noted in a recent webinar. “We know progress is unlikely to be linear … We know the rules of the game are likely to change as we’ve seen inconsistent messaging from health authorities and governments around the world.”

That being said, a safety and security planning professional can help alleviate the uncertainty and tailor a fully integrated security plan to meet the specific needs of an organization and its workforce. The key is planning early and often as the situation evolves.

Winston Stewart–President and CEO

It’s not easy being royalty. Just ask the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced in January that they’d be stepping back from their royal duties, working towards financial independence and moving to Canada—yes, Canada—the world recoiled at the upheaval shaking the usually staid House of Windsor.

With the royals in crisis over Harry’s snubbing of his monarchical calling—this despite the fact that he’s currently sixth in the line of succession and has no real chance of becoming king—the Queen struck a deal with her grandson that saw him lose several peerages and official titles in return for a life of (relative) freedom in B.C. Then came the next question: who would pay for the Sussexes’ security?

That’s a delicate topic and a political minefield that the British and Canadian governments have been attempting to tiptoe through without causing public uproar. Just last week it was announced that the RCMP would cease providing security to the couple in the coming weeks, the assumption being that they, or the British government, would now be picking up the tab.

One question I’ve been asked of late is an interesting one: What, exactly, does it take to protect a prince? And are estimates that Prince Harry’s security could cost in the millions of dollars accurate? While I don’t have any insider knowledge on the topic—and nor should we speculate on the security measures that would be undertaken to protect the Sussexes while in Canada—we can look at the tactics that would be used to protect any VIP or high-net-worth individual whose family could be vulnerable to privacy intrusions or, worse, threats to their safety.

To start that process, a private security firm that specializes in protection for high-profile individuals would be called in to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. Verifiable threats against the family’s safety would be taken with the utmost seriousness. Security specialists would monitor inbound communications by phone or email, as well as social media activity, for hints of potential criminal threats on the horizon. They would then draft that aforementioned security strategy taking into account those potential risks and implementing tactics to proactively mitigate each one.

As part of that risk assessment, a security team would sweep the VIP’s property (once a suitable one was located, of course) to analyze any and all points of vulnerability—including by air, land and water. They would work to lock down any potential access points (the property could potentially be fenced) and highlight weaknesses. A security detail would patrol the grounds as needed.

Any VIP’s home would undoubtedly be equipped with a very high-tech camera system. This would likely include facial recognition software and would be monitored 24/7 by a security detail stationed somewhere on the property or very nearby. Non-celebrity VIPs might rely on remote monitoring instead. Every window in the home would be equipped with glass break sensors and could even be retrofitted with bullet-proof glass. In the case of the Royals, RCMP or British authorities would determine the necessity of the latter feature based on their initial security assessment.

Inside the home, officials would work to make security measures as inconspicuous and unobtrusive as possible. One common feature of luxury homes for the very wealthy or famous are panic rooms—a space where VIPs can take shelter in the event of a home invasion. The trend nowadays is moving away from dedicated panic rooms to a specific functional room in the house, such as a master bedroom, that can be locked down in an emergency. Whatever the proscribed solution, most VIP families would likely have a reinforced space with full communications—and possibly even a dedicated air supply—that could serve as a mini-fortress in the event of a threat such as a home invasion, an attack or a kidnapping attempt. The likelihood of any of those scenarios playing out is slim, but security officials don’t take chances with the safety of their high-profile charges.

Because very wealthy people tend to jet set and home-hop on a regular basis, they often have only a relatively short list of property options limited to homes with suitable security infrastructure.

A last point on the cost to protect a VIP couple, especially one as high-profile as Harry and Meghan: Initial estimates that the Sussexes’ annual security expenses are in the high six figures are likely understated. If the couple are engaged in public events while in Canada, the cost for their protection could easily climb to more than $1 million per year. Simply having round-the-clock protection involving multiple security professionals can be extraordinarily expensive, let alone the cost to secure venues at official engagements.

Living the high-net-worth or celebrity life isn’t cheap, especially when you’re two of the most famous faces on the planet. Who foots the bill for Harry and Meghan’s security while in Canada remains uncertain, but let’s all hope the Queen is picking up part of the tab—this one could get expensive.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

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

Being a retail employee shouldn’t come with constant fears over one’s personal safety and security. But that’s the reality for provincial liquor store employees in parts of Manitoba, in particular those employed at outlets in higher-risk neighbourhoods of Winnipeg.

In recent months the provincially-run liquor stores have seen a rash of brazen robberies in broad daylight. Now, the incidents have escalated with three employees facing unprovoked assaults in recent weeks, and one receiving acute medical attention in hospital as a result. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries has closed one store in response and has taken various other measures in an effort to deter theft.

The incidents mirror those of the past two years across a handful of LCBO outlets in Toronto. In both cases, liquor boards have instructed employees not to take action to prevent shoplifting. That’s created bizarre scenes where employees and customers are literally left to stand and watch as duffel bag-toting thieves walk into a store, take their fill and leave without resistance. The union representing liquor store employees in Ontario has criticized the LCBO’s security strategy and staff training, as well as the retailer’s claim that shoplifting costs the organization less than $6 million a year in pilfered items—a figure the union says is grossly underestimated.

To be clear, the workplace policy preventing store employees from intervening is the right one. There have been far too many examples—as in the Winnipeg case—of employees being threatened, injured or having unknown liquids thrown in their direction. Taking a chance with people’s lives or safety simply to reduce the odds of having a few bottles of vodka shoplifted isn’t worth the risk.

In response, business leaders have called for action to address the issue.

“This situation is out of control, not just in our liquor marts, but also in private retail stores,” Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees union, said in a written statement, as reported in the National Post

“We need an urgent summit of law enforcement, addictions and social services, public and private retailers, unions and the provincial government.”

Various other crime-prevention methods have been floated, including requiring customers to fill out forms requesting products that would then be retrieved from a store room, a la the Consumers Distributing stores of our youth. That idea was quickly rejected, likely by executives who understand that experiential retail is the future, not one that mirrors a Soviet-era supermarket shopping experience circa the Cold War. The cost of completely reconfiguring store designs to allow for controlled distribution would also be cost prohibitive.

So, why the uptick in liquor store crime? While poverty and addiction in certain regions is undoubtedly a major contributing factor, basic ease of execution is what attracts petty criminals such as the ones who boldly fill bags with easily-traded merchandise, which in many cases is flipped to fund various personal addictions. Surveillance cameras are always a useful crime-prevention tool, but in this case—and, again, with the level of criminal in question—they tend to have little impact because they only catch thieves after the fact. Many of the individuals in question have nothing to lose and little fear of going to jail.

The best approach is to have a strong, in-store security guard presence—and, in particularly risk-prone neighbourhoods, potentially even off-duty police officers—to send a clear message to thieves that they will be apprehended. These guards need to be properly trained in citizens’ arrest tactics to catch and hold thieves until police can make it to the scene.

Some Manitoba stores have also implemented bottle locks, which can work. The problem is that individuals who want to crack these theft-prevention devices will always find a way. Still, that extra step may cause them to think twice and try stealing something else instead. Or it could merely create a time-consuming inconvenience. Either way, the locks are not 100 per cent effective.

Preventing robbers from entering stores in the first place is one of the most effective strategies. While requesting identification at store entrances can create a negative experience for law-abiding customers, it does send a clear message to would-be thieves that their behaviour will not be tolerated. Managing the optics and other logistical challenges such as long line-ups during the peak holiday season or during long weekends, however, can be daunting. It’s by no means the perfect solution.

Another option is to keep high-value liquor under lock and key, requiring staff assistance for a purchase to be made. While this helps protect luxury brands, it does little to deter the smash-and-grab of low- to mid-range bottles.

Overall, the key to preventing liquor store retail theft is to customize and combine tactics, while maintaining a careful balance between employee safety, customer experience and store performance and profitability. That means tapping the latest technology and using tried-and-true security methods such as a live guard presence, as well as entrance controls when appropriate, to deter criminals before they can act. It also takes perseverance, sustained investment and an acknowledgment that security isn’t a one-time endeavour. Thieves are clever and need to understand that an organization is serious about security before they’ll move on to another target.

Otherwise situations such as the one in Manitoba will continue, putting employee safety at risk.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

Millions of Canadians took to the streets this past week in a ‘strike’ to protest and raise awareness around climate change. Some retailers—in particular those espousing environmentally-conscious values and business models—even closed their stores for a day in support. It’s reasonable to assume that at least a handful of those placard-carrying, green-minded citizens are concerned about the spillover security implications of warming temperatures and rising waters, such as the mass migration of people due to extreme weather events. What they probably don’t realize is just how close to home those impacts could be. It’s a cautionary note that commercial property owners and managers would be wise to heed, as well.

Because climate change is a concern for everyone, even those in the business community whose organizations are unlikely to be directly impacted by the planet’s fast-changing weather patterns.

Consider the torrential downpour last year  that inundated much of Toronto’s downtown core. The deluge was so swift that two men became trapped in a basement elevator at their workplace.

Water flooded into the basement after they boarded the lift (which, unbeknownst to them, was out of service) and quickly rose to more than six feet. The men had only minutes to spare before the water level in the elevator cleared their heads. They were soon rescued by police who swam to the basement and used a crowbar to pry open a passage large enough for them to escape. No one was seriously injured in the incident.

Extreme weather events are the new norm

While this was an unusually dire situation—it’s not every day that someone almost drowns in an elevator—Canadians should be prepared to manage the side-effects of increasingly severe weather. In fact, political leaders are already beginning to prepare us for the potential challenges that lie ahead. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted in a speech earlier this year after major flooding ravaged parts of Quebec:

“ … with climate change, we’re going to see more and more of these extreme weather events more regularly. It means we have to think about adaptation, mitigation and how we’re going to move forward together.”

That means we can expect more intense rain, snow, wind and ice than ever before. In his comments, the PM was merely echoing findings of Canada’s Changing Climate Report released earlier this year. It issued several dire warnings, including that:

“A warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes in the future. Extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks. While inland flooding results from multiple factors, more intense rainfalls will increase urban flood risks. It is uncertain how warmer temperatures and smaller snow packs will combine to affect the frequency and magnitude of snowmelt-related flooding.” 

Climate change-related risks and security challenges

Unpredictable weather creates a variety of risks, legal liabilities and security exposures for organizations. While not all will be life-threatening, many will apply pressure to already strained balance sheets. Indeed, some of those risks will be more benign, yet no less costly or disruptive to manage.

We’re aware of companies that have watched helplessly as large amounts of inventory or critical IT infrastructure such as computer servers, became submerged under water in a matter of minutes as a result of historically heavy rainfalls. The ensuing business interruption cost them time, money and, in some cases, even goodwill with customers as they scrambled to recover data or deliver goods and services as promised. Others have seen their offices or manufacturing facilities damaged by high winds.

While not a realistic concern in the Greater Toronto Area, extreme heat can spark infernos that can impair regular commerce—think of the fires that raged across the Prairies in recent summers, prompting widespread evacuations in cities such as Fort McMurray.

Security’s role in addressing climate-related incidents

At some point during any climate-related incident, your security team will likely be called upon to help manage the situation. That could be to protect a damaged facility as it awaits repair and to ensure that no one enters the premises if conditions are unsafe; or to help muster employees if the issue happens to be particularly dangerous and relocation to a secure site becomes necessary. This is precisely why organizations need to be equipped with effective emergency preparedness disaster response plans.

Perhaps most importantly, they need to work with their internal security teams or third-party security providers to conduct a comprehensive assessment that analyzes absolutely every potential weather-related risk exposure. Doing so will not only help protect your bottom line and mitigate the threat of lawsuits or brand damage for a botched incident response, but could also save lives.

Employees must be trained to respond to an emergency, particularly if your business happens to be situated in an area prone to major weather events. And if not, you still need to be ready to adapt as climate patterns continue to shift. Even a seemingly pleasant heat wave—while great for patio and beach season—can put a damper on everything from morale to productivity if it’s particularly intense or sustained. Skyrocketing temperatures can quickly produce health-related challenges (think sun stroke or heat exhaustion) to which your security team might be the first to respond.

In doing so, they need to be ready to act. In fact, we all do, because climate change is an unfortunate fact of life that we’ll need to manage in the years ahead. It’s only by adapting—and taking a security-first approach—that we can proactively mitigate its many risks.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

When news broke recently that the Swedish Data Protection Authority fined a local municipality more than USD $20,000 for privacy violations, it marked the emergence of a potential new front in the struggle to balance privacy rights and security requirements.

Under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—sweeping legislation that governs everything from website tracking to data collection practices across the 28-member European Union and European Economic Area—the use of data gathered with the help of facial recognition and biometric software is restricted and tightly controlled. Apparently a school board in Sweden didn’t get the memo and used facial recognition software to track high school student attendance over a three-week trial period intended to test out new technology.

The school board saw the tracking software as a more efficient use of teacher’s classroom time. According to media reports, attendance-conscious educators had apparently been devoting about 17,000 hours a year to keeping tabs on their pupils. The SDPA saw the matter differently and issued the significant fine, a first for Sweden.

Tech as a security tool, but to what end? 

The European Union has taken the lead in legislating to secure privacy rights and protect citizens, just as authorities in other regions have turned to cutting-edge new technology designed to enhance protection measures for the general public. In the wake of recent shootings in Toronto, for example, the city’s community housing agency has announced plans to increase video surveillance in at-risk neighbourhoods, all to help deter crime and aid police enforcement efforts. In the United Kingdom, cities such as London have long relied on street-level surveillance to maintain safety. The U.S. government has been using biometric technology, including the fingerprinting of foreign visitors, at border crossings for years.

The challenge that arises, of course, is when governments abuse these tools. China has faced widespread criticism for its use of facial recognition and data collection programs in its western provinces to track the local Uyghur community. In other parts of the country, Beijing actively uses technology to help silence or monitor anti-government voices. Many liken the tactics to an Orwellian invasion of privacy, an effort to enforce government-sanctioned values on an unassuming populace.

If a school board in Sweden uses facial recognition technology to track students, some argue, it’s not far-fetched to expect a more widespread application of that software across society. In the hands of a trusted few there isn’t much concern. But what happens if those individuals can no longer be trusted?

Legal systems adapting to new technology 

The reality is the use of technology as a protective tool is hardly novel and, in most cases, isn’t nearly as sinister as some may contend. The big question, as with the example from Sweden, is to what degree governments will tolerate its use. Authorities in Canada are beginning to weigh in on the safety and security vs. privacy debate.

In Ontario, for example, a labour arbitrator recently ruled in Teamsters Local Union No. 230 v Innocon Inc., that a concrete delivery company (Innocon) had the right to install cameras in its trucks to help improve driver safety and highlight potential driver misconduct by recording a driver’s actions, but only in the event that the vehicle swerved unexpectedly or took some form of evasive action that could indicate erroneous or erratic driving. In the arbitrator’s view, some level of in-cab monitoring was justified because an employer’s business interests can supersede an employee’s right to privacy under specific circumstances.

Security strategies for business

Business owners should be aware that at any point, our legal landscape could shift and new laws could limit the use of biometric or facial technology when used in public spaces or workplaces. But I predict that governments will take a measured approach to balancing privacy and security concerns. It’s likely that we will see a tightening of privacy restrictions in Ontario and across Canada at some point. In the meantime, however, your focus should be on assessing your organization’s security vulnerabilities and taking an integrated approach to protecting your people and assets.

That means reviewing the plethora of tech tools available on the market and deciding which ones make sense for your organization based on its operational needs. Facial recognition technology may make sense for a retailer with several busy locations, for example, but could provide little benefit to a software development firm with much simpler security needs. Be prepared to customize your strategy and invest in security components that will make a decided impact in helping mitigate risk and advancing your organization’s strategic goals (e.g., not being robbed, having your data held hostage or seeing your commercial property or workplace invaded).

But first, take the time to understand your jurisdiction’s privacy laws. Make sure your security strategy doesn’t violate any rules when the time comes to implement cutting-edge—yet potentially controversial—security technology.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security