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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

This blog is part of our ongoing Wincon Team blogging initiative, designed to keep our employees up-to-date on company news and developments

It’s amazing just how quickly 25 years can fly by.

Back in 1992, I founded Wincon Security with very little experience in the industry. What I did have was an inkling that commercial property security services could be delivered more effectively. So, I took what little knowledge I had and set out on an incredible journey. A quarter century later, we’ve grown to become one of the Greater Toronto Area’s most respected security firms. We may not be the biggest, but I certainly think we’re the best.

Sure, I’m a little biased, but I think you would all agree that we do a great job keeping our clients’ properties safe and secure—not to mention putting a smile on their faces.

This year we’ll be celebrating 25 years in business by continuing to recognize our long-time employees and top performers, announcing exciting new initiatives and continuing to expand our footprint across the security industry. Despite a few headwinds in the form of new government regulations and related pressures, I know we’ll continue to grow Wincon and further solidify our position as a leading security service provider. And we’re going to communicate all of these great new developments to all of you in a new employee newsletter—starting with the one you’re reading here.

As part of this process I’ve been thinking a great deal about the many contributing factors behind our success as a company. We’ve made some smart strategic decisions and have gradually pivoted to becoming an integrated solutions provider, leveraging cutting-edge technology wherever possible to find new ways to secure our clients’ properties. Those are all important decisions that have undoubtedly fueled our growth.

But after a great deal of thought and reflection, I came to realize how we do business was less important than why we do it. We’re here to help keep businesses and residents safe. And that’s only possible thanks to your hard work. The real secret to our success aren’t just systems and processes—it’s people.

That’s especially true in our industry. On a daily basis, our guards and support staff liaise with our clients, as well as directly with the general public in retail and residential environments, for example. We’re on the frontlines responding to security calls, assisting condominium and apartment residents, helping retailers minimize shrinkage, and providing strategic advice to our clients as they seek to mitigate risk and guard against any potential disasters that might affect their properties. And those are only some of the services we provide!

But doing that well takes dedication, determination to provide the highest levels of service, collaboration and innovation. That’s what each and everyone one of you brings to the table, often in your own unique ways, allowing our team to positively impact our clients’ businesses. Some of you have strengths in different areas, of course, but you all share a passion for what you do, while bringing the utmost professionalism to the job every day.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that you can’t build a successful company on a concept. Whether you’re making widgets or providing services to the public, your people are always going to be your greatest asset. I’ve always known this to be true, of course, but as we celebrate 25 years I’ve been reminded just how much all of you mean to our company.

Keep up the great work and let’s strive for another 25 outstanding years of service!

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

The New Year brought with it new challenges for owners of small and medium-sized businesses across Ontario.

On January 1st, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act—better known as Bill 148—came into effect. The legislation makes significant changes to Ontario’s labour and employment law landscape, from extending paid vacation for qualifying employees, to making it easier to unionize. Other new compliance requirements will be rolled out this year and next.

But there was one major amendment that sent shockwaves across the province’s entrepreneurial community: an increase of the minimum wage to $14 per hour from $11.60, with another $1 jump slated for Jan. 1, 2019.

Almost immediately, business owners took action to protect their bottom lines. Some laid off workers, while others eliminated paid breaks and rolled back some paid benefits. The latter was the case at several Tim Hortons franchises in Cobourg, Ont., owned and operated by Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife, Jeri Horton-Joyce—the son and daughter of company founders Ron Joyce and Tim Horton, respectively.

In response to the Joyce’s cost-saving moves, Premier Kathleen Wynne decried the actions of the Tim’s franchisees and cautioned others who might consider similar changes in future. The Ministry of Labour promised to crack down on any organization that violated the Employment Standards Act to protect its profit margins in the wake of the minimum wage increase.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn followed by saying this: “The problem with the minimum wage was that the baseline was too low. We were doing it the right way, but we started from too low a place. So, what we don’t want to do is we don’t want to politicize this issue again.”

He’s right. ‘Politicizing the issue’ is exactly what should be avoided.

To be clear, our organization stands firm in its support for a strong living wage for our employees—many of whom earn at or near the minimum. In our view, providing adequate pay helps our staff make ends meet, helps ease the many financial stresses they might encounter, and helps them be better, more productive employees—not to mention engaged members of society who don’t have to struggle simply to put food on the table. That’s a win-win for our province and everyone across the political spectrum.

The challenge with raising the province’s base salary by nearly 30 per cent literally overnight is that it created an unbearable burden for entrepreneurs. And no, most business owners are not multimillionaires who can afford to shoulder the burden of such a rapid increase in overhead costs.

According to the Great White North Franchisee Association, which represents more than 50 per cent of Tim Hortons franchisees, the new minimum wage will cost the average Tim’s franchise $243,889.10 per year. Those numbers are staggering. Worse, they could send some franchises into bankruptcy. But the ripple effect doesn’t end with restaurants and food services companies. Other, far larger, firms such as Wal-Mart announced layoffs soon after the wage spiked.

I think we can all agree that our small and medium-sized business owners contribute a great deal to Ontario’s economy, including innovative new products and services, all while driving economic activity and helping to create jobs that fuel our province’s growth. A simple compromise—namely, a more gradual increase in wages—would have helped mitigate the impact of these changes.

It’s important to remember that entrepreneurs are not bullies. We’re simply trying to earn a living ourselves, while also keeping our staff employed in the face of crippling changes to the provincial business landscape. That’s not an easy task at the best of times—less so in the face of sweeping amendments to employment standards laws and compliance requirements.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

 

 

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

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

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

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

Complex security needs

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

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

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

Understaffed security desks

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

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

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

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

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

One of the most interesting aspects of running a commercial property security business is being able to work with clients that have previously engaged with other firms in our industry. Maybe this applies to your company.

What we’ve found is that many of our competitors deliver security plans that are generic, non-specific and inadequate. Why? Because many firms use templated action plans that can be standardized and rolled out time and again, no matter the client. While this helps maximize efficiency and profitability of the security firm, what I would call the McDonalds-ization of commercial property protection offers few benefits to clients.

No two commercial properties—be it a retail, commercial, condominium, office or industrial building—are the same. They all have unique needs that require a customized security plan that addresses your short- and long-term needs and goals. If not, your assets will remain vulnerable and an ideal target for the bad guys who might look to vandalize or break into your space.

And make no mistake, professional criminals know the security firms that are more diligent and detailed as compared to those that are not. They tend to prey on the latter and design their plans accordingly.

As a commercial property owner or manager, look for a security company that comes to the table with a tailored strategy suited to your needs—not someone else’s. With that in mind, here are four important questions to ask when engaging with a security firm and evaluating their proposed security program:

Does it reflect your distinct requirements?—Before signing on with a security firm, sit down with your staff and determine what you think are your organization’s commercial property security needs. Perhaps you store hazardous chemicals at your facility, for example, or operate on a 24-hour basis meaning you require round-the-clock protection. Whatever the case, it helps to have at least a basic understanding of your unique security needs. When engaging with a firm, make sure they ask those same questions. Again, many will offer a generic plan, but only a thorough security risk assessment can define the ideal approach for protecting your property. If your security provider isn’t willing to take that step, be prepared to look elsewhere for help.

Does it integrate technology solutions?—This is a very important consideration at a time when everything from high-resolution cameras to drones and robot security guards are revolutionizing our industry. Any coherent commercial property security proposal should include a relevant security component when applicable. That could be something as simple as the use of electronic checkpoints to track guards’ movements, or as complex as a complete integration of security systems across your IT infrastructure for ease in monitoring properties. Such considerations are no longer the domain of large, deep-pocketed security companies. They’re a pre-requisite for doing business in our industry, and a key element that you should expect to see in any security plan.

Is it priced right?—Price points vary greatly across the commercial property security industry in Canada. As in any sector, larger, reputable firms will generally charge more than their smaller competitors. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes industry behemoths will look to undercut their tiny rivals by offering security services at near break-even rates, particularly when they have other, highly profitable products and services to up-sell. As is the golden rule when buying any service, you only get what you pay for. Be just as wary of providers who under-charge as those who try to gouge clients based on perceived brand reputation and industry clout. Look for providers willing to work within your budget and establish a tiered rate card based on your individual property needs.

Does it scale?—The plan may be appropriate for today, but what happens when your facility-protection needs change, or you add more properties to your commercial portfolio? Can that security provider adjust its strategy to address those changing needs? Be mindful of how the security firm is managed, and particularly whether management is organized and willing to grow its business alongside yours.

It’s only once you have the answers to these critical questions that you can choose the security company best suited to protect your commercial property assets. And from someone with 25 years of experience in the industry, believe me when I say that it’s well worth taking ample time to come to the right decision.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a robot patrolling facilities such as factories or hospitals—providing help when needed, or protecting physical assets to ensure they remain protected and secure—was the stuff of pure science fiction.

Now, it’s a relatively accessible reality. Some would even say we’re nearing a point where robot security is becoming a mainstream, commoditized service. So, how did we reach this tipping point? Better yet, will we see a day when robots completely replace human guards?

Companies such as Hexagon, Gamma2 Robotics and Knightscope are making huge strides in the development of robot security software and robots that can autonomously patrol a facility at any time, the extent of their labour limited only by the charge in their batteries. Organizations have been receptive to the new technology due to a number of real-world factors ranging from the potential risk of injury to human guards, to the basic monotony of patrolling a facility dozens of times during the course of a shift.

Robots also provide cost stability and certainty. Their wages never increase because they don’t require a salary. They will never ask for overtime pay, nor do they require severance payments upon termination (or in this case, decommissioning). If you no longer require the robot’s services, unplug it, sell it or send it back to the company from which you’ve leased it.

With that in mind, robots may seem to be the ideal solution for any organization looking to secure their facilities. Or maybe not.

Robotic limitations abound

While robotic adoption and deployment will become easier, and the rollout will continue across the security industry as costs continue to fall, these roaming, futuristic devices will likely never replace human guards. Instead, we should consider them a utilitarian complement to the work of trained security personnel. Why?

First, humans provide operational continuity. They see and hear things that even the most sophisticated software and cameras can’t. A human’s ability to recognize potential danger or abnormal situations is still well ahead of the capabilities of current onboard robotic software. Robots can detect variations such as temperature differences or when a door, that should otherwise be locked, isn’t. But they still need to be programmed to detect such abnormalities. They also can’t apprehend intruders (yet!) or assist in the event of a situation such as a medical emergency. At best, they can only serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for someone watching a space through the robot’s onboard cameras, then relay a call for help to first responders.

They’re also not foolproof.

Last year a Knightscope robot patrolling the Stanford Shopping Center outside of San Jose, Ca., caused a stir when it ran over and bruised a toddler’s foot. The boy was OK, but the incident underscored the challenges that even the most complex algorithm and sensor systems can face when attempting to predict and react to unusual or erratic variables, such as the movements of a young child.

There’s also the issue of human and cultural acceptance, particularly with employees. Not everyone will love the sight of a robot roaming around their workplace, potentially monitoring their every move in cases where a facility is operational day and night.

That could all change in the future with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Robotics capabilities will also continue to make exponential leaps forward with the specific goal of avoiding incidents such as having a 300-pound robot run over a toddler’s toes.

A fit for some businesses—but not all

Still, the technology holds the promise of greater flexibility and affordability for organizations of all sizes, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.

If you’re not sure whether robot security guards might be the right fit for your organization, you’re not alone. In the months and years ahead, many business leaders will be asking the same question and calculating the potential cost savings of relying on R2-D2-like patrol guards over their human counterparts.

My recommendation is to analyze your security needs as an organization. Do the costs of adopting high-tech tools such as a robot outweigh the benefits of tapping the services of a traditional security firm? In many cases they won’t. Even robots need maintenance, not to mention the costs of managing their initial programming, which can be steep.

Any new technology should be suited to the environment you hope to protect. If yours is a high-tech industrial facility that requires high levels of security, or potentially even contains volatile chemicals or other hazardous materials, then a robot might make sense. If it’s a shopping mall where customer interactions are frequent and delivering a high-touch level of service is important, then sticking with professional guards is probably the best option.

What’s most important is to work with a security firm that conducts a holistic analysis of your operations and security requirements, provides a package of integrated solutions that are customized to your specific needs, and has high-tech tools such as drones, robotics, facial recognition, advanced surveillance systems and the like in their toolkit.

Robot security guards may or may not make sense when looking for options to secure your property, but as manufacturers continue to expand and perfect their capabilities, these droid-like patrollers should at least be on your radar as an option.

The Wincon Security Team